After two games last week, Chivas USA got a full seven days off this week in preparation for their match against New York Red Bulls (Saturday, 7:30 pm PST, Galavision) at the Home Depot Center. It may be Carmageddon with the 405's closure over the weekend, but hopefully the marquee opponent will bring the Goats' fans in to see if Chivas can sweep the season series. In case you forgot, Chivas hit a high point so far this season when they defeated the Red Bulls in New Jersey May 15 3-2 off Justin Braun's hat trick. The win put Chivas on the league map for a time, before they struggled through June. Maybe this match will be even better for the home side?
Need to get ready for the game? Let's get started.
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 22 points (5-7-7); 6th in Western Conference, 10th place overall; Goal difference: 1 (24/23); Last 5 games: L-L-T-W-T
New York Red Bulls: 28 points (6-4-10); 2nd in Eastern Conference, 5th place overall; Goal difference: 10 (34/24); Last 5 games: L-T-T-W-LKey Matchup: Robin Fraser vs. Hans Backe
Anytime a new coach gets a job, it is difficult to tell if he will be up to the task. Midway through the 2011 season, I think Robin Fraser is doing a really good job. He has tinkered with his lineup a bit, changed what doesn't work, and changed tactics to fit his players or the opponent. It truly seems like he knows what he is doing so far, and his game plan against New York in the first meeting was terrific. Obviously, Chivas also benefited from Bouna Coundoul's erratic goalkeeping and positioning, and that won't be on display in this match, as new signing Frank Rost will be getting the start. But it looks like the team buys into Fraser and his system, and Chivas fans can be confident he is ahead of the curve as a first-year coach.
While Hans Backe has the most talented team on paper in MLS, his team has been underachieving, despite competing for the Eastern Conference title (that's how talented the Red Bulls are). Obviously, it isn't his fault that so many players have battled injuries and been absent on international duty, but people are really starting to question some of Backe's decisions. He doesn't usually name a full bench, rarely uses all of his substitutes, and doesn't rotate his squad unless absolutely forced to do so. Perhaps the most damning example came earlier this week in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match against the Chicago Fire, when he sent no starters and did not even travel to the game, instead entrusting his second assistant with the task of coaching the team. MLS teams often play weakened squads in the USOC, but the 4-0 score in favor of Chicago probably flattered the Red Bulls, to be honest. Nobody faults teams for prioritizing some competitions over others, but that was ridiculous. Backe may end up being a risky if shrewd coach, but his recent decisions have left many scratching their heads, and the head coaches' decisions may ultimately play a significant role in deciding this game.
Why Chivas will win this match: They have already beaten New York once this season, and that game really provided a blueprint against the Red Bulls that many teams have successfully followed. Although the New York location may feed into it, there is a sense that the Red Bulls have a circus surrounding their team, and that may be part of the reason for the inconsistent results. Thierry Henry complained this week that he has to play on dangerous turf around MLS and is tired of giving interviews. Maybe he won't be fully focused come gametime?
Perhaps the biggest opportunity Chivas will have is that new NYRB goalkeeper Frank Rost will be starting without ever practicing with the team. He is supposed to be a major upgrade over Coundoul and Greg Sutton, but throwing him into the game straightaway is asking a lot from him. To capitalize, Chivas need to pepper the Red Bulls' goal with shots and crosses and get as many bodies in the box as possible in order to confuse Rost and his defenders. A lack of familiarity has to be worth one goal for Chivas, right?
Why New York will win this match: Despite being inconsistent, they are one of the most talented and dangerous teams in the league. They are coming off the the loss last weekend to DC United, where the Red Bull rental Dwayne de Rosario exacted his revenge on his former club, as well as the ridiculous midweek U.S. Open Cup performance. So they may be motivated in order to silence the critics. And despite Henry's irritation, he is capable of playing angry, so that may not bode well for the Goats. Furthermore, last time New York played in the Home Depot Center, against the Galaxy, they played to a scintillating 1-1 draw that was one of the highlights of the MLS season. If they feel comfortable enough to play that well again, Chivas might as well get behind the ball and absorb as much of the Red Bulls' attack as they can.
Why the game will end in a draw: The Chicago Fire are on pace to break the MLS season record for draws in a season, but the Red Bulls are right behind them. They have 10 so far, and while they don't want to keep tying, they are comfortably in the playoffs so a draw will not kill them. For Chivas, they know they've sprung a surprise once this season against New York and will probably be pushing their luck to do it again, so 4 points in the season series against New York would be a fantastic result. Chivas will likely start with a possession-oriented attacking mindset early in the game, but if New York looks dangerous they will probably switch to a defensive strategy in order to try for a point.