Chivas USA finish the home component of their 2012 season Saturday against the Colorado Rapids. And while the Goats did get a comeback draw in their last match against Colorado, they have appeared to be particularly vulnerable against the Rapids. Of course, they haven't looked like world-beaters to a vast swath of the teams in the league this year, but considering the Rapids are only two points and two places ahead of them in the standings, it might come as a surprise that Chivas have been mostly outplayed in their games with the Rapids.
The secret to getting a result Saturday has to be preventing defensive mistakes. This is not much of a secret, but Colorado have been savvy to attack Chivas in ways that few other teams have, and their offensive weapons seem to have a major advantage on Chivas' defense.
There have been three components that Colorado has used that has given Chivas fits. The first is speed. Omar Cummings has been the main speedster on the Rapids for a few years, and his ability to blow by defenders certainly picks at a weakness on the Goats' backline. Considering Robin Fraser's shuffling of the defense the past few months, Danny Califf, Rauwshan McKenzie, John Valencia, Bobby Burling, or Shalrie Joseph (or perhaps other players, who knows) could be playing center back Saturday. None of these players has the speed to keep up with attackers with above-average pace.
The second issue is that Colorado has been adept at sending multiple players on runs at once. Unlike Chivas, who are often quite decent at crossing but seldom have players in the box to capitalize on them, Colorado routinely sent multiple players up towards the goal on an attack. Kamani Hill scored two goals back in April by cleaning up the chances in the box, and Tony Cascio was dangerous in both matches by stretching the field wide and then moving back towards the box. Between those two, Cummings, and Conor Casey in substitute minutes, Colorado has routinely sent numbers forward, and their efforts have been rewarded against Chivas, as they have scored five goals against Chivas so far in two games.
Finally, the third, and perhaps most crucial component is that Colorado has capitalized on Chivas' timely mistakes. If Joseph starts at center back (or starts at all, really) Chivatown will unquestionably be thinking of his gift to Brian Mullan in the second match, when he simply allowed Mullan to strip him in Chivas' box and caught Dan Kennedy unaware with a quick goal. It was perhaps the most boneheaded play in a season full of them (ok, I'll reserve judgment until I reflect once the season is over) and yet it fit the pattern shown by the final 10 minutes in the first Colorado match, when Chivas quickly gave up three goals, on several mistakes. Ante Jazic pulled Jeff Larentowicz down in the box and gave up the penalty kick, Heath Pearce failed to clear a ball in the box properly when his sliding tackle didn't actually go far enough, and the team collectively botched the play on the final goal of the night.
What's promising? The Rapids aren't immune to mistakes themselves. Tristan Bowen made his season debut off the bench and set up Juan Pablo Angel's equalizer in the second match with a cross that was deflected off of Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens. It was a play that Pickens should have stayed on his line to deal with, but coming out to try and clear the cross gave JPA the opportunity to pounce, and he did. The hope, therefore, has to be this: if Chivas can minimize their defensive mistakes (by ideally keeping a clean sheet), and if the attack can continue the good work from the last match, they may be able to get the better of Colorado, who have turned out to be a surprising bogey team in 2012.
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