The 2011 MLS season winds to a close Saturday for Chivas USA, as they host the Seattle Sounders at the Home Depot Center (7:30 pm PST, Direct Kick/Matchday Live). These teams are ending the regular season in two different mindsets, as Chivas are finished after the match but the Sounders are set to get their MLS Cup campaign underway next week in the playoffs. Both teams will want to get a win to end the regular season on a high note, so expect a competitive game. The last game between these clubs, on August 13, ended in a 0-0 draw where a saved Alvaro Fernandez penalty kick by Dan Kennedy maintained the point for the Goats. That match was one of the last good performances by Chivas before their late-season slide ultimately doomed their playoff hopes. The Sounders have the second-best record in the league and seem firmly in place as the second-best team in MLS, but Chivas lost 1-0 last week to the best team in the league, so maybe the odds will improve for Chivas this week?
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Let's get you ready for the game!
Chivas USA: 36 points (8-13-12); 7th place in Western Conference, 14th place overall; Goal Difference: 0 (40/40); Last 5 games: L-T-W-T-L
Seattle Sounders: 60 points (17-7-9); 2nd place in Western Conference, 2nd place overall; Goal Difference: 17 (53/36); Last 5 games: W-W-W-L-W
Key Matchup: Chivas defense vs. Sounders attackers
If this looks familiar, it is. Ever since the defense collapsed collectively in late August, it has been hard to have a lot of faith in them. That said, they improved in the last few weeks, even if it was too late to turn the ship around for this season. I think Chivas played a fair, if ultimately defensive performance against the Galaxy last week. Not to be a jerk, but even if Chad Barrett is having a banner year, it is still embarrassing to have him beat your team not once but twice in a season. So there's work to do for the defense. With Seattle, players like Fredy Montero, Alvaro Fernandez, Mauro Rosales (who is expected back from injury), and even defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, can all torch opposing defenses. They also have supporting attackers, from Lamar Neagle, Mike Fucito, and perhaps Sammy Ochoa to round out a pretty potent offense. It will not be easy for Chivas, but they can take pride in their last performance against the Sounders and try not to get burned.
I think Chivas can also take heart from their potential backline. Left back should be a lock with Ante Jazic. The center backs will be two of these three: Heath Pearce, Andrew Boyens, David Junior Lopes. They might rotate during the game so as not to overextend Pearce in his return from a hamstring injury. Right back has a couple of options, with Zarek Valentin the likely pick, although there's a chance Michael Lahoud could also feature. Given that most of these guys have been in the starting rotation this season, that may help them put in a good performance against the Sounders.
Why Chivas will win this match: Not to sound like a downer, but I think the very best odds for Chivas will occur if Seattle rests a lot of starters. If that is the case, it isn't a no-brainer, as the backups could seek to impress Sigi Schmid before the playoffs begin and come out swinging. But I thought Toronto FC would play a bunch of second-stringers when they played Chivas last month and they played a full-strength lineup, and Chivas ended up cruising 3-0. Of course, I'm not suggesting TFC and Seattle are on equal talent levels, because they are not, but stranger things have happened. The other factor that may help Chivas is that Seattle may either play distractedly (looking ahead to the playoffs) or cautiously (to avoid injury). Also, Chivas players are on the record recognizing they need to look good in this game in order to keep a place on the squad next season, so hopefully that will motivate them to come out guns blazing, metaphorically speaking.
Why Seattle will win this match: They may not want to get injured, but they may want to stay sharp heading into the postseason. The word on the street is that a pretty strong lineup will feature for the Sounders, and the expected return of Rosales will be key as he will be looking to get back to fitness as quickly as possible. Their away record this season is almost identical to their home record, so they are a team to be reckoned with even away from Century Link Field. Plus, they are using the Galaxy as their yardstick. If the Galaxy beat Chivas last week, there's probably a small motivation in the backs of Sounders' minds that they need to beat Chivas too to keep pace.
Why this game will end in a draw: It happened last time, so it certainly wouldn't be a surprise a second time. The different objectives for the respective teams and possibly adjusted lineups mean that the talent and effort levels could be pretty even. I think Chivas want to leave with 3 points to end the season on a high note, but given the strength of their opponent, I think they would settle for a point.