It has been a dream start to the season for Chivas USA fans following the mess that was 2012. Sitting second in the West, Chivas have so far defied the preseason predictions of many pundits who can't seem to make their minds up over the Goats' project. The influx of Latin Americans and the exodus of US players has been heavily criticised but seems to be working to their advantage considering their performances so far.
Their heavy opening day defeat against Columbus Crew was quickly erased, winning three of their last four games including last weekend's 2-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps. Similarly, the Rapids come into Saturday's game confident after a victory in part two of the Rocky Mountain Cup over Real Salt Lake despite having what seemed like a whole team out injured and let's say a rather unhelpful referee.
Apart from the fact that Chivas USA is likely to line up in a sort of 3-5-2 formation with attacking wingbacks, it is more or less an unknown as to what the majority of the line-up will be. There have been a few integral fixtures in the team, namely Dan Kennedy, Mario de Luna, Joaquin Velasquez and Edgar Mejia, who have started all five games but there has mostly been a rotation policy in effect by head coach José Luis Sanchéz Solá (Chelís). Bobby Burling, Juan Agudelo and Eric Avila have all been involved in every game indicating that Chelís may be beginning to find a comfortable starting eleven fives games into the season.
The formation preferred by Chelís allows Chivas to throw men forward when attacking as well as jamming the midfield when the opposition have the ball. The wingbacks are basically defensive wingers, positioned reasonably high up the field but charged with getting back to defend when needed. This means that on crosses they tend to arrive late in the box over the shoulder of the opposing fullback, epitomised by Avila's fine volley last weekend against the Whitecaps. In the centre of midfield, it is usual that two of the three sit, screening the backline and setting up attacks while the other plays a more advanced role in behind the front two.
In terms of injuries, Chivas are suffering from a few themselves with Agudelo questionable for Saturday indicating he may be likely to start on the bench; Miller Bolanos out with an ankle injury; Oswaldo Minda ruled out with a hamstring injury and both Jose Correa and Edgar Mejia questionable but should be available for a starting spot if needed. This leaves many question marks in terms of who's going to line up come Saturday evening.
The defence will most likely stay the same, made up of Burling, de Luna and Velasquez along with Dan Kennedy in between the sticks. It's probably their weakest area on the field with many opportunities for the Rapids front line to take advantage of. DeShorn Brown could have a field day with his pace against them if given the chance and once again provides us with our best hope in terms of a goal threat. Also, Edson Buddle will cause problems if he can force a match-up with de Luna who he has a pretty decent size advantage over.
The two deeper central midfielders, Mejia and Minda, play a disciplined role protecting the defence and will stifle any attacks through the middle. This means we may have to play wider, exploiting any space left by the wingbacks when they bomb forward. It could be useful to play Tony Cascio as an out-and-out winger because he will get some joy down the left-hand side along with Atiba Harris on the right who tends naturally to drift out wide. The rookie Carlos Alvarez has started the season in a spritely fashion, being involved in the last three games, scoring one and having a hand in another against the Whitecaps. Hendry Thomas will be tasked with shutting him down for the ninety minutes.
Going forward is where Chivas have been especially impressive, with their 10 goals being spread fairly evenly across their team. The focal point of their attack is certainly Juan Agudelo but the amount of scorers so far shows that their fluid attack can threaten on many levels. When they go forward they tend to get it forward quickly and with the pace of the likely starters, Tristan Bowen and Juan Agudelo, Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne (assuming that Shane O'Neill is likely to be dropped- which I wouldn't agree with but hey, I'm not the boss!) will have to keep their wits about them. Brian Mullan and Chris Klute will have to make sure they don't venture too far forward and play a supporting role, rather than an attacking one, to the wide midfielders for the Rapids.
The key in this game is to suffocate their fluid offense as they have a habit of swapping positions and dragging defenders out of position. The Rapids defence is going to have to stay disciplined and stick to their positions whilst Thomas is going to have a job on his hands breaking up play whenever possible. Going forward, exploiting the flanks and getting crosses or dragging players out of position and creating space in the centre might be the best way to get at this defence. They aren't the most mobile of centreback trios and therefore unleashing the pace of the speed merchant that is DeShorn Brown could unlock Chivas USA's backline. If we are successful in doing these things, I could see the Rapids coming out of this match-up on Saturday with their second win of the season with many big players still on the treatment table.
Possible Chivas USA line-up: Kennedy; de Luna, Burling, Velasquez; Avila, Villafana; Iraheta, Alvarez, Mejia; Bowen, Agudelo