CARSON, CA - MARCH 26: Can the Goats split the season series? (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Continuing their five-match road trip, Chivas USA travel to Colorado to take on the Rapids Saturday evening (6 pm PST, Direct Kick/Matchday Live). In the first three games of the trip, the Goats have a loss, a win, and a draw, respectively, and hope to add points that will provide crucial for the playoff chase. They have 10 more matches on the season, and losing points will be more and more detrimental as the end of the season approaches. For the Rapids, they are enjoying a fantastic run of form, with four wins and a tie in the last five games, and are coming off a midweek CONCACAF Champions League victory in the group stage opener on Wednesday. Needless to say, they are feeling good, and are playing like a championship team. They are not getting the headlines, but it may play in their favor at the end of the season when they can sneak up on opponents for the second year in a row. But first things first: Saturday's game.
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 30 points (7-8-9); 6th in Western Conference, 12th place overall; Goal difference: 4 (30/26); Last 5 games: T-W-L-W-TColorado Rapids: 40 points (10-6-10); 4th in Western Conference, 4th place overall; Goal difference: 5 (37/32); Last 5 games: W-T-W-W-W
Key Matchup: Chivas' forwards vs. Colorado's forwards
These clubs have a remarkably similar profile, despite the difference in the standings. Both are centered around a team ethic, have no superstars, and have shuffled the lineup considerably during the season. They are not among the most popular clubs in the league, and are generally perceived to be punching above their weight. And you'll notice their goal difference is almost identical. I think the key will be the play of the forward lines in this match. In the previous meeting between the clubs, Colorado won 1-0 on March 26 on a first-half goal from Quincy Amarikwa. In that match, Chivas controlled possession in a dull game, but Amarikwa's quick breakthrough beyond the Chivas defense made the difference. I think the match will be close whatever the outcome, and so the play of the forwards, whether it is on Colorado's side or Chivas', will likely prove essential. Of course, predicting who will be playing up front for either side is a fool's errand. Justin Braun is definitely out, so I would predict Alejandro Moreno and Juan Pablo Angel will be starting, but Marcos Mondaini could also feature for the Goats.
Why Chivas will win this match: This may sound counterintuitive, but they've played poorly the last two weeks, yet managed to get four points in those games. I really hope Robin Fraser has focused on tightening the team's focus on the field, making sure they are holding onto the ball in midfield for long stretches, and ensuring the defense works as a unit and focuses on their positioning. The last time Chivas played poorly for a stretch, in June, they lost several matches, and I think it is at least partially Fraser's responsibility to make sure the team can improve without dropping points. If the team has rededicated their focus despite the relative media circus of the week surrounding JPA's arrival and Jimmy Conrad's retirement, they are capable of picking up three points.
Another factor that may help Chivas in this match is that they had a week to prepare for the game, while Colorado had the midweek Champions League match. Obviously, this could work in reverse, but the Champions League is a new experience for the Rapids and I think their lack of experience could hurt them in league play. But it will be up to Chivas to play their best in order to capitalize on the Rapids' potential distractions.
Why Colorado will win this match: They have that advantage all Colorado teams have: altitude. I think sometimes it makes a difference, and often has no impact, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless. I would expect all three subs will be used by Chivas, but maybe a bit earlier than normal to possibly mitigate the fatigue. But I think Colorado has a more talented, and certainly more experienced team than Chivas. In some respects, Colorado is farther ahead in their evolution than Chivas, although one can't assume Chivas will be inevitably win the MLS Cup in the next season or two. Omar Cummings has come into form as he's returned from injury, and his speed has got to be concerning for a pretty slow Chivas defense. Caleb Folan has been inconsistent, but he seems like he is getting the hang of the league. Veterans Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni have stepped up with timely goals and provide the experience and grit the team needs. And that Champions League win midweek may help their confidence even more. They want to move up into the top 3 of the Western Conference and get an automatic playoff bid, and that can help provide motivation Saturday.
Why this game will end in a draw: At the risk of putting my foot in my mouth, Colorado is a more talented team than Chivas, but I don't think significantly so. One thing that distorts the points discrepancy, at least in theory, is that Chivas have played two fewer games than Colorado, so if they won both of them, and this match, they could end up right behind the Rapids. I am not confident enough to predict this scenario, but it could happen. Both teams overachieve in general terms and the fact that their defensive records are so similar means they will probably play conservatively and quite reactionary. Of course, if each team is waiting to react to the other team, it could make for a really boring game. But I think they are more than capable of playing at an identical level and picking up a point. Both teams will want three, but one point will be more useful than zero to each team, so I doubt they will go for broke.
Chivas: Justin Braun (abdominal strain). And Jimmy Conrad won't be back, as he has officially retired.