Chivas USA are coming off a tough loss to start the season, but why not get right back on the horse and see if their fortunes change in game two? They'll be hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday evening (7:30 pm PST, KDOC/MLS Live/Direct Kick). The Whitecaps are coming off a dominant 2-0 victory last Saturday against the Montreal Impact, which is a fair result but one has to wonder how dominant Vancouver was and how abject the Montreal was in that match. This game against Chivas will probably help calibrate the Whitecaps' new look to a much greater extent. Last season, these teams drew 0-0 and 1-1 in their meetings. The first result was rather positive for both sides, who were trying to find their footing, while the second draw was a major disappointment for Chivas, who could not beat a team that was really starting to falter at that point in the year.
But it's a new year, and both teams have made major changes to their respective rosters. If you haven't already, be sure to take a look at the Three Questions interview with Benjamin Massey about the Whitecaps.
Let's get down to the preview:
Chivas USA: 0 points (0-1-0); 7th place in Western Conference; Goal Difference: -1 (0/1); Last game: L
Vancouver Whitecaps: 3 points (1-0-0); 4th place in Western Conference; Goal Difference: 2 (2/0); Last game: W
Key Matchup: Chivas defense vs. Vancouver's offense
This sounds like a broken record, I know, but until the team, coaching staff, and fanbase can start trusting the defense we have to remain nervous about their prospects. Last week's result was very disappointing, and the Chivas' defensive performance was nearly flawless. That said, nearly all of the Goats' midfielders were also playing defense, and I don't anticipate anything different heading into this match. Robin Fraser may give another player an attacking intent, but still, that would mean seven guys will be primarily playing defense. Compared to Houston's attack, the result may be Chivas "parking the bus" against the Whitecaps because Vancouver has a far more dynamic and competent attack than the Dynamo. Still, until the defense demonstrates 90+ minutes of a good performance on a consistent basis, this is probably how Fraser will stack the lineup.
Meanwhile, if Chivas indeed give 7-8 players a defensive objective, Vancouver may put 7-8 players on the attack. Not only will Sebastien Le Toux, Camilo Sanvezzo, Eric Hassli and Davide Chiumiento have plenty of chances Saturday, but full backs Young-Pyo Lee and Alain Rochat will also push forward and get involved on the flanks. Again, they looked dominant last week, but it's unclear if they looked better because Montreal is bad, or if Vancouver is good. Their attack will probably be very strong all season. Can Chivas keep them out of goal altogether? If they do let any goals in, will they be able to get goals of their own? It sounds pretty tough, admittedly heading into the game, and the projected absences of Juan Pablo Angel, Alejandro Moreno, and Michael Lahoud make it even tougher.
Why Chivas will win this match: They really did take care of business for more than 90 minutes last week against the Eastern Conference champions. It wasn't always pretty, and they did get an unlucky bounce to lose the point, but Chivas had a good start to the season, the loss notwithstanding. They will be hungry to overturn the prior result to get the season kickstarted in the right way, and while Vancouver is improved, it is an open question as to how much. Added to that is the uncertainty about Vancouver's road form - they were really bad most of last season away from home, and Chivas may be able to capitalize on any hesitation on the part of the visitors. Finally, if Chivas can get an attack going, they may be able to get one over on Vancouver's defense, widely regarded heading into the season as their major weak spot. I certainly wouldn't expect Fraser to approach this game as a shootout, but if Chivas can get their offense going, and control possession, especially in Vancouver's end, it could be a surprising result to many.
Why Vancouver will win this match: If this were basketball, there's a chance Vancouver would get possession after possession after possession, while Chivas would effectively hand the ball over each time they got it. The centerpiece of Chivas' attack, Juan Pablo Angel, probably won't play. Casey Townsend, Cesar Romero, and/or Miller Bolanos will be starting. Between the three of them, they have zero MLS career starts. If Chivas couldn't get an attack going last week, their prospects this week look even worse. Meanwhile, Vancouver may have to score a single goal to get three points on the road, which doesn't seem like a particularly tough task considering the offensive options.
Why this game will end in a tie: In reality, it is early in the season, and both teams will probably be trying to get their bearings. At the end of the season, we'll obviously have a much better idea of how these teams stack up against each other, but while Vancouver has gotten far more press attention for their changes, the reality is that these teams are pretty evenly matched at this point considering the sheer number of new players to MLS. I also think both sides would be happy with a point, so while expectations are that the Whitecaps will have many 4-3 scorelines this season, both coaches will probably do their best to avoid a high scoring match. I even think both sides would be happy with a 0-0 score, and if Chivas fail to score two games in a row but get the point, we'll take it in this early point in the season.
Notable absences (to be updated later Friday):