CARSON, CA - JULY 16: The coach is coachin' (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
To conclude our series on evaluating Chivas USA at the approximate midpoint of the season, today we'll take a look at the coach, Robin Fraser. Fraser is a rookie head coach after being an assistant under Jason Kreis at Real Salt Lake. Chivas were moving on after an unsettled period under Martin Vasquez, and hoping they could build a sustained winning tradition in MLS. It is still very early in the Fraser era, but signs so far look pretty positive for the Goats.
Since this report card only concerns one person, let's take a slightly different approach and first compare Fraser with past Chivas coaches' records.
All statistics are through the first 20 games:
2011, Fraser: 23 points, 5-7-8 record
Continued after the jump2010, Vasquez: 19 points, 5-11-4 record
2009, Preki: 25 points, 7-9-4 record
2008, Preki: 23 points, 6-9-5 record
2007, Preki: 36 points, 11-6-3 record
2006, Bob Bradley: 26 points, 6-6-8 record
Based on the points and records, it looks like Fraser is basically in the middle of the pack, not as low as 2010 and nowhere near as good as 2007. But it is important to explain a few caveats in these comparisons. First, with expansion of the league, the schedule has expanded, particularly in the last two years, so while the 20th game in 2006 took place about a week later than this season, in the years in between the 20th match was in August, sometimes late into August. With that, the shorter season means that the 20th game comes at a different point in the season, sometimes much closer to the end than the midpoint. But for comparison's sake, we need to make do. Furthermore, expansion has also expanded the player pool somewhat since Chivas entered the league in 2005. While in theory the player pool is enormous, as it encompasses the entire planet, most players of course come from the United States and Canada, and more teams in the league means more American and Canadian players overall, which means less-talented players are now playing in the league with more slots available.
I have to say I was a little surprised to see Fraser's record to this point was not better compared to some of the other years. Obviously that 2007 season was a highpoint for the club in their short history, but I think the poor season last year made me remember the past less fondly. That Fraser is only four points ahead of Vasquez's pace last year is slightly concerning, except the playoffs have also expanded this season to 10 teams, and Chivas remain in the hunt, so that represents a benefit for the squad.
Above all, Fraser will be evaluated at season's end on the criteria of qualifying for the playoffs. Again, they are not comfortably in the playoff picture at this point, but they have been in or within shouting distance since April. Nobody cares in they are the last team in, because if they make it, it will be a success, and in past years (like 2010 and 2009) the last team to qualify for the playoffs won MLS Cup. I don't want to get carried away here and make promises Chivas may not be prepared to keep, but suffice it to say that a playoff berth represents a new season and an opportunity for the Goats, and they will be playing with house money. But the playoffs are the goal here in the regular season, and frankly at this point it seems like a realistic one.
In an intangible sense, it feels like Fraser is doing pretty well, right? He has experience in the league as a player, as an assistant coach, and he has an understated style that is professional and reassuring. He started the season tinkering with different formations, including a 4-3-3 set-up that didn't feature the best players in the best positions. He has mostly employed a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond, but he has adjusted that to a flat midfield when game conditions necessitated it. Most of his substitutions make sense, although he sometimes makes puzzling moves (taking off a red hot Marcos Mondaini for Chris Cortez, starting Justin Braun on the right wing for the season, and preferring Michael Umana to Andrew Boyens in central defense). But no coach makes moves that every fan understands and agrees with. I think the most important component is that he isn't so rigid that he can't make changes. Flexibility is useful and he seems to be willing to experiment and make adjustments.
Publicly, it seems Chivas players also buy into Fraser and his system. Granted, Chivas gets relatively little media attention, so players get fewer chances to spout off if they were unsatisfied (compared to say, New York Red Bulls and the relative circus that surrounds them). But players seem to believe that Fraser is competent and they will be rewarded with playing time if they work hard. That counts for a lot, especially for a squad with no stars and in the middle of a rebuilding project.
As I already mentioned, the playoffs are the goal this year, and if Fraser gets the Goats there, he will have a successful season. Secondarily, he and the front office staff will need to select some players to bring in the new transfer window, and there is pressure for the club to bring good players who can lift the team from the moment they arrive. They need to get a player that will be better than Benny Feilhaber in order to justify letting him slide past them on the allocation order earlier this season. The next several weeks will be a very important time for Fraser, for Chivas, and for the 2011 season, but it looks like he has the team pointed in the right direction.
Fraser's midseason grade: B
What do you think of Fraser so far? Leave a comment below.