The season is here! Chivas USA are set to kick off their 2012 MLS campaign by hosting the Houston Dynamo Sunday evening (4 pm PST, Galavision). Hope springs eternal, as they say, and there's no better time to have hope than at the very start of the season. While one game won't determine the whole season's outcome (or probably won't), it will be nice to see which teams show up when the games actually count.
Since this is the first game for both teams, they are starting from the same position in the standings. This will be their first and only meeting this regular season, so the Goats will want to make it count. Last season, the teams split the season series, with Houston winning 2-1 at home and Chivas winning 3-0 at home. There are two relevant streaks at play here. Chivas' win against the Dynamo last season was their first in five years, so they have some catching up to do in the all-time series against Houston, while Houston haven't won their season opener the last five years. Could this bode well for Chivas? Why not?
Let's jump in and preview the match:Key Matchup: Chivas defense vs. Dynamo attack
We ended last season worried about the Goats' defense, and we start this season in the same mindset. As I wrote yesterday, the defense is perhaps the single biggest concern heading into the season. This match will be a good test for Chivas' defense for a couple of reasons. First, Chivas have shipped out half of last year's starting backline, and brought in James Riley at right back and John Valencia at center back. Both guys are experienced, although Valencia is new to MLS, and both come from winning teams. There is an expectation their experience with winning will rub off on the rest of the squad, and they will be expected to bolster the defense from this first match.
Another reason that I think this will be a good test for Chivas is that Houston's forward line is not stellar, and last year they scored a lot on set pieces. I sincerely hope they have worked on set piece defense in the preseason, but am I particularly afraid of Brian Ching, Will Bruin and Calen Carr? In a word, no. While all three had their moments in 2011, I think Houston's forwards are among the weakest collectively in the league. So if Chivas can't bother to stop them in this opening match, yeah, there's going to be some problems.
Why Chivas will win this match: They really crushed Houston in this fixture at the Home Depot Center last season. I know a lot has happened in the interim, including losing hat-trick hero Justin Braun and the Dynamo playing in the MLS Cup final last year, but Houston is not a dominant team. Plus, they won't move into their new stadium for a few months, so while they will be motivated to win early and avoid the kind of hole Sporting Kansas City went into at the start of last season, the new stadium effect will not be in place for awhile yet, and so Chivas will be able to avoid that mojo.
And again - hope springs eternal. A problem last season was losing motivation, both within individual matches and over a span of games. So Chivas ended the preseason on a poor note - so what? They can start fresh here and with Juan Pablo Angel's contract situation straightened out for the year, they can look ahead to the games that count. There will be some nerves among the many new Chivas players, but there may also be some great moments from the very start.
Why Houston will win this match: They lost MLS Cup in the HDC in their last competitive match. They will want to exorcise that demon, and against the team in the HDC that is decidedly weaker is as good of a chance as they will get. I still think the Dynamo plays boring but useful soccer, so they will not dazzle neutrals, but they have a style that works. Their emphasis on height and on playing a kick and rush style is like watching a team from the 1980s - but since they are the only team to really embrace it, the novelty often works for them. In particular, if Luiz Camargo is clicking after settling in last season, and if Brad Davis has a season like his MVP-caliber performance last year - a big if - Houston will probably be in most matches they play. They can score off set pieces, and on playing the ball over the defense, both problems for Chivas last year. And with an underrated defense, it will be tough for Chivas to get good chances on goal. As a result, a win is certainly possible for the visitors.
Why this game will end in a draw: It's the first game of the season. Both teams are trying to figure out the best lineups and formations. They aren't used to being in a pressure situation and in 90 minute fitness for several months. There will be some sloppy play from both sides. I don't expect a blowout by either side, and a draw is probably a fair bet, likely 0-0 or 1-1. For the sake of the fans at the game, let's all hope there are goals, right?