CARSON, CA - JUNE 04: Nick LaBrocca #10 of Chivas USA braces himself for contact as David Horst #12 of the Portland Timbers goes for the ball in the second half during their MLS match against the Portland Timbers at The Home Depot Center on June 4, 2011 in Carson, California. Chivas USA defeated the Timbers 1-0. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
The homestretch of the season is here, and this week the games come one right after the other. On Wednesday Chivas USA take on the Portland Timbers up north (8 pm PST, Fox Prime Ticket). It is the final match of a five-game road stretch, and to this point, Chivas have taken five points. Without going overboard, the game at Jeld-Wen Field is as close as a must-win for the Goats as any game to this point this season. There are nine games left in the season for Chivas, and they probably need to get to 45 points to make the playoffs. They're at 31 right now, so they need at least 14 points to get in. I'll be writing about the numbers breakdown and the playoff odds for Chivas soon, but suffice it to say that if Chivas cannot get a win in Portland, their chances of getting into the postseason become significantly worse. With the stakes seemingly so high, let's get on with the preview to get you ready.
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 31 points (7-8-10); 6th in Western Conference, 11th place overall; Goal difference: 4 (32/28); Last 5 games: W-L-W-T-T
Portland Timbers: 29 points (8-12-5); 7th in Western Conference, 13th place overall; Goal difference: -9 (32/41); Last 5 games: W-T-L-L-WKey Matchup: Chivas forwards vs. Timbers defense
Game one of the Angel experiment worked wonders, and while a goal every game cannot be expected, certainly more goals are expected the rest of the season from Juan Pablo Angel. As I noted in my recap of Saturday's game against Colorado, Angel put in a good shift, but he and Alejandro Moreno were often on different wavelengths as it was the first time they played together. As they get more comfortable, and as Angel gets more comfortable with Justin Braun, hopefully some chemistry, and then goals, will result. If the forward line can score goals at a higher rate, it will take some of the pressure off of the defense and hopefully lead to more victories. It is worth noting that with three games in seven days, there will likely be squad rotation. With the advanced age of Angel and Moreno they may not be the starting forward line both against Portland and on Saturday against Real Salt Lake. Still, over the season, when the forwards play well, the team performs better, so a good effort by the forwards, whoever may be leading the line, is essential.
For the Timbers, the additions of Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer have shored up their defense since being obtained from Houston earlier this season. They still have the fourth-worst goal difference in the league, but have only allowed 1 goal in their last two home games, both victories. If Portland's defense can control Chivas' forwards, then it will probably be a long night for the Goats. When the Timbers have their act together, they get the job done, but those successes have been really inconsistent. So the group that wins this battle will probably tip the balance in their team's favor.
Why Chivas will win this match: They are the stronger team, if not by a lot. They won June 4 in the first meeting between the clubs 1-0, and it was a tight match, but Chivas were able to get the victory. Despite being on the fringe of the playoff picture for nearly all of the season, Chivas have consistently been in the mix. Portland are now only two points behind Chivas, so they have fight left in them, but they have been somewhat out of the hunt for the middle portion of the season. I don't want to assert the Timbers will roll over, but this is a do or die match for the Goats. It is one of those "six-pointers" that will put real distance between Chivas and the Timbers and this is the kind of opponent that Chivas need to expect a victory against. The pressure is on, but this is the must-win game, and Chivas need to rise to the challenge (is that enough cliches in one sentence? Good).
Why Portland will win this match: They are under pressure, but as a first-year team in the league, a playoff appearance would be pretty remarkable, so the pressure is lower than for Chivas. They are also riding high on a two-game winning streak at home, including a 2-1 victory over their Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday. The team is starting to gel in anticipation of the last couple months of the season, and their form in the middle of the season may not be indicative of their true level in the league. Plus, they have arguably the most significant home-field advantage in the league. Their field is very narrow, meaning it will be tough for Chivas to find space on it. But they also have a passionate and vocal fanbase that sits remarkably close to the field, making for a unique environment for visiting teams. It will be the first time for Chivas to play at Jeld-Wen, so it would not be surprising if some players, especially the youngsters, get a little rattled at the game. Let's hope that doesn't happen, though.
Why this game will end in a draw: Given the choice between one point and no points, Chivas will take the former. It remains concerning that the team continues to play poorly, and if they don't correct their mistakes on the fly, they will lose eventually. The good news the last three games is that Chivas have earned 5 points despite playing badly, so hopefully they can get back on track and get the victory. Still, with their relatively poor form and the Timbers' improved run, they could meet in the middle and battle to a draw. I bet this outcome will not be preferred and both teams will go for the full three points in this game more than usual, but a draw could certainly result.
Chivas USA: Zarek Valentin (quad)
On injury report, but expected to be available for Portland (courtesy of Mao of Mao's football show): Brian Umony (knee), Bright Dike (quad, listed as probable), David Horst (hip, listed as probable), Jack Jewsbury (hamstring, listed as probable), Troy Perkins (hip, listed as probable), Rodney Wallace (hamstring, listed as probable)