CARSON, CA - OCTOBER 02: Freddy Adu #11 of Philadelphia Union heads the ball as Nick LaBrocca #10 and Blair Gavin #18 of Chivas USA look on in the second half during the MLS match at The Home Depot Center on October 2, 2011 in Carson, California. The Union and Chivas USA played to a 1-1 draw. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
After a couple of weeks of successful road performances, Chivas USA are back in town and hope to get their home form going Saturday when they host the Philadelphia Union. The Union have struggled out of the gate this season, but notched their first victory last weekend, winning 1-0 at home to the Columbus Crew. Ahead of the match this week, I chatted with Scott Kessler of SB Nation Philadelphia Union blog Brotherly Game in order to get to know a little more about the visitors. Thanks very much to Scott for sharing his insight with us!
A quick note before we jump in: our discussion ran a bit differently than previous versions of the Three Question Exchange, so you'll see a bit more back and forth. Enjoy!
The Goat Parade asks Brotherly Game
1. Philadelphia made quite a few changes to the roster in the offseason. Who are some of the new additions, and how are they doing so far this season?Gabriel Gomez is probably the most notable of the offseason moves this year. He was inserted into the starting lineup from the start of the season and hasn't looked like losing his spot. In most games he's been solid, if not better that that. The most appealing part of his game for people who have watched the Union since their creation is his spot piece service, in this case freekicks. He's quite talented at long ball or crossed in freekicks and is the first player in the Union's history to really make a defense think when striding up to send in a ball. Once he was moved forward, out of an anchor role, his box-to-box nature really began to show and he's been influential in pushing the ball up the field despite having a defensive midfielder reputation after his first couple games.
How about Lionard Pajoy? Do you expect him to be a good player who can stick in MLS?
He is still a question mark. Pajoy has shown flashes of skill at moments, but he's yet to mesh well with a second striker and couldn't figure out exactly how he wanted to play as a lone striker against the Columbus Crew. The team hyped his speed, strength and eye for goal, but I haven't seen the speed and he's scored only once. That's not to say he's been a disappointment because a lot of the time the midfield just hasn't been up to par in terms of creativity and linking play.
2. Philadelphia has had a slow start to the season. With the turnover during the offseason, did you expect the Union to struggle in the earlygoing? And what is the team's main goal this season?
I honestly don't know at this point if I personally had a definite thought as to whether or not the team was going to succeed or fail out of the starting gate. I was torn between labeling them as a giant question mark or buying into the youthful, talented team that seemed to have been assembled. At this point I have to think that the goal is still to succeed more than the Union did last year and actually win a game in the playoffs, but this team doesn't seem to know what it wants to do from game-to-game. Long term it's to be the most skillful, talented and fast team in the league based on Nowak's personnel moves.
3. Chivas fans will be curious to hear how folks in Philadelphia feel about Freddy Adu. He missed some time already this season with the U.S. Men's National Team U23s, but how has he been playing for the Union? Is he a key player on the team?
He's something and I don't know what that is at the moment. I think another week to see exactly how he plays in Nowak's system after returning from the under-23 national team will give a fairer look at his potential role moving forward, whether that is as a winger or central attacking midfielder. As of right now he is neither key nor critical.
Do you think it was a good move to sign Adu last summer?
As of right now, no. Not at his price or his performance thus far. There's still hope, and time, for that to change.
4. Last question from me: what do you expect in Saturday's match?
A draw. That's the best the Union have done in LA in two years and it's what they've done twice against Chivas in the Home Depot Center.
Brotherly Game asks The Goat Parade:
1. Chivas has been all or nothing this season with three wins and three losses, taking nine points from six games. At what point do you think the team will be able to hold or falter for a draw? Or will this be a year of straightforward results?
At some point, of course Chivas will reverse their form on the road and at home, and get some draws over the course of the season. I think one of the biggest factors slowing Chivas down in the first month of the season was their schedule. They lost 1-0 to Sporting Kansas City, currently on an absolute tear through the league, and beat Real Salt Lake, another top team, 1-0. Their opening day opponent, the Houston Dynamo, would probably be higher up in the standings if they didn't have early season byes, and even the Vancouver Whitecaps are a much improved team this season.
While the first month of the season was obviously disappointing, as they took 3 points out of a possible 12, they have beaten two opponents in two weeks who are not nearly as strong. And over the course of the first six matches, Chivas have shown considerable improvement. There are a lot of matches left to be played, but there is considerable optimism surrounding the team at the moment.
2. While the Goats have scored more goals than the Union, four to three, they have also appeared to be suffering from a lack of offense. Was trading Justin Braun a mistake?
Justin Braun was a hardworking player who was liked by the fans, but he's not exactly lighting it up for Montreal, is he? I think he goes through hot streaks, but he only scored in four matches for Chivas last season, so he didn't really demonstrate that he can be the centerpiece of a team's attack.
The issue for Chivas is that they need a focal point up top. Casey Townsend could potentially serve this role eventually. Alejandro Moreno is a support striker, as is Cesar Romero. Juan Pablo Angel is a primary attacker, but he has been out the last five matches with a concussion, so his absence really hurt Chivas. He might be back Saturday, so that could help Chivas kickstart their attack.
Sounds a lot like the Union's forwards situation, in that no one has asserted himself as the center of the attack, except Chivas has plenty of veteran experience up front.
Exactly. Angel and Moreno are great to have this season, and hopefully some of the youngsters can learn from the veterans and take over the reins in a season or two.
3. On a different note, the Chivas midfield has been talked about a lot nationally for some shrewd moves that have really paid off. Can you discuss that at all?
Sure. Nick LaBrocca had a breakout season last year, and he has rebounded from a bit of a slump. But Chivas have a new holding midfielder, Oswaldo Minda, who has been fantastic so far this season. He is from Ecuador, and has played every match so far this season. He is a great ballwinner, rampages through the midfield, and passes well. He also surprisingly got a goal last weekend against Toronto. Minda seems to play the "pest" role well, and I think opposing teams will be likely to hate him for his physical play. But all of the top teams in MLS have a player who performs this role, and so it's great to see a player who can effectively control the midfield for Chivas.
And another Ecuadorean, Miller Bolanos, showed considerable promise in his first start last week. An attacking player who can play in a variety of positions on the field, Bolanos came to Chivas with considerable hype, and while one start is not a big sample size, he assisted the winning goal off a corner kick and linked up well with his teammates. I hope Bolanos stays in the lineup based on that performance.