CARSON, CA - MARCH 26: Will it be this much of a struggle this time around? (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
With a Chivas USA game against the Colorado Rapids this weekend, it's that time again! For this latest edition of Three Questions, we welcome UZ White of the Rapids blog Burgundy Wave to get us up to speed on how the Rapids are doing since the two teams last met way back in March, when Colorado defeated the Goats. What is in store for Chivas this time? We'll have to wait for Saturday, but in the meantime, why don't you brush up on your Rapids knowledge?
The Goat Parade asks Burgundy Wave:
1. In the first meeting between the Rapids and Chivas this season, on March 26, Colorado won 1-0 in a rather dull match. Since that loss, Chivas have really turned their season around and are now in the playoff hunt. How have the Rapids changed since that victory, and how do you feel about their chances at repeating as MLS Cup champions?
Honestly the team as a whole has not changed much, but the identity of the offense has changed a great deal. We started Quincy Amarikwa and Caleb Folan in that game trying to emulate the Conor Casey - Omar Cummings tandem with the big man and the speed man, and kept trying to do that unsuccessfully for a long chunk of the season as one of the two was seemingly always injured. Now the Rapids have become a slow defense's worst nightmare as they have employed an Omar Cummings - Sanna Nyassi forward grouping to some brilliant success the last few games. The two of them have all of the mental links that Casey and Cummings always seem to have but with twice the speed all around - it's helped them score a combined five goals and five assists with each other in the games they've played.
Continued after the jumpPast the new-look offense, it's the same old Rapids. A possession-hungry defensive oriented four in the midfield who spend their entire game feeding the strikers and a strong and steady defense in the back keeping the games close no matter what the offense does. As for the question of Colorado repeating as MLS champions, I feel better about their chances than I probably should. Casey being injured has been quelled by Nyassi's emergence but last year in the playoffs it was Casey who dragged the entire team on his back through the slog to the MLS Cup with his clutch goals against Columbus and Dallas. If the team can continue to play the way they have been though, they've certainly got a shot.
2.This year, Colorado is in the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time in the current format. The Rapids got off to a good start in group play this week with a victory in their first match against Salvadorean club Isidro Metapan. How seriously are the Rapids taking the Champions League, and do you think the squad has the depth to compete simultaneously in multiple tournaments?
Rapids head coach Gary Smith has publicly stated that he wants his team to do well in CCL and that he is going to 'aggressively' pursue victories in the group stage, especially at home. The depth on the team depends on which position you're talking about. At striker we have at least five players that could start on any given day with very little drop in skill level - you all saw how Macoumba Kandji's return went against Metapan! [Editor's Note: Kandji scored two and assisted on the third goal in Colorado's victory Wednesday] We are also fairly rich in depth on the wings in midfield and in the center and right side of the defense. On the left side and in the central midfield are the areas that worry me most; Smith was forced to start Scott Palguta and Joseph Nane as his second choice players against Metapan and those two simply are not going to cut it against teams any better than El Salvadorian ones.
3. The Rapids have a team without a clear superstar, and their hardworking team dynamic is something that Chivas also are trying to implement under first-year coach Robin Fraser. Who do you consider to be the most indispensible player on the Rapids, and who do you think is the Most Valuable Player this season (if those players differ)?
Drew Moor is the answer to both of those questions and it's not even a close race. Moor has played literally every single minute for the Rapids in every single competition since joining the team at the start of last season, and is actually slated to set an MLS record if he plays all 90 against Chivas on Saturday. The man is made of iron, plays incredibly clean and finesse filled football in the back and is one of the best defenders in MLS when it comes to positioning. He's not the fastest guy in the world but you can never tell because he's always just in the right place at the right time every time. People laud the Rapids picking up guys like Jeff Larentowicz and Brian Mullan but it was Moor who secretly made the Rapids defense one of the more skilled in the league these past two seasons.
Burgundy Wave asks The Goat Parade:
1. Picking up Robin Fraser as head coach in the offseason was a fantastic move in my eyes for Chivas, a team that had been lacking much of an identity since the salad days of 2007. How has the team improved since Robin came aboard? Has there been much of a notable change at all?
Fraser has been the single most important addition to Chivas this season. He had no experience as a head coach, but his time serving under Jason Kreis in Real Salt Lake as an assistant coach obviously provided good training. I suppose one of the advantages for Fraser was that the roster was almost completely overturned, so he was able to implement a system more easily, and it has worked remarkably well.
Fraser started the season vowing to have a defense-first approach, which wasn't exactly surprising considering his experience as a defender in his playing days. I think the early emphasis on defense has served the team well all season, except for a tough stretch in June when they lost several leads because of defensive errors. But the lack of a reliable goalscorer on the team meant that Fraser had to really make more of an effort to find an offensive game, and with the emergence of Nick LaBrocca this season, Chivas have been scoring goals somewhat in spite of their personnel. Fraser has also demonstrated his ability to make formation changes depending on the opponent and has made in-game adjustments when necessary. All of this is to say that Fraser has built a true team that works as a unit on and off the field and his players fully support him and the system. It looks like Fraser has a promising career as a coach ahead of him, and Chivas are very lucky to have him.
2. Give me a youngster or perhaps fairly anonymous Chivas player we might not know much about who we might want to watch out for on Saturday.
With three new players coming into the team during the transfer window (midfielder Laurent Courtois, defender David Junior Lopes, and forward Juan Pablo Angel) I think there will be some line-up changes in the next few games and it is tough to say who will be playing and when. I think Courtois could really help the team as a wing in providing distribution to the forwards, but he is still getting into match fitness so he may not play a full 90 minutes Saturday.
The player the Rapids need to watch out for is goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. He is finally playing consistently for the first time in his career without injury issues, and he is having a fantastic season. Seemingly every week I don't think Kennedy can bail out his teammates yet again, but he does it almost every week now. I think I've been conservative in ranking Kennedy among the league's goalkeepers this season, but with his consistency and ability to make spectacular saves, I truly believe he belongs in the top class. He hasn't done it alone, but without Kennedy, Chivas would be nowhere near the playoff chase at this point in the season.
3. Like you said about the Rapids, Chivas is a team lacking any sort of superstars and getting by on hard work and a tight team dynamic. (No, JPA doesn't count as a superstar any more.) Who is the most important player on Chivas when it comes to their successes?
Besides Kennedy, Nick LaBrocca has been doing the heavy lifting on the offensive end and is essential to the team's success. Obtained in a trade from Toronto FC in the offseason, Chivas fans didn't really think they were getting anybody special, but LaBrocca has parleyed a lack of an available dynamic playmaker on the team at the beginning of the season to an all-star selection and a career year. He is tied for the team lead in goals scored this season with seven, but he performs consistently game in and game out. Now that teams have realized how important LaBrocca is in the Goats' attack, they have tried to shut him down, and some weeks it has worked. This will be the next test for LaBrocca in his development, where he will need to learn how to play with the spotlight and defensive focus on him. But hopefully the new players on the team will take some of the pressure off LaBrocca and give him the space to thrive in the homestretch this season.