Another week, another opponent. This time around, Chivas USA are set to take on a fellow Western Conference team in the Colorado Rapids. Both teams have gone through considerable change the last couple seasons, and are most likely direct rivals for a playoff spot this season. Ahead of the match, I talked to UZ White of the SB Nation Rapids blog Burgundy Wave to learn more about the team. Thanks very much to UZ for his time in answering my questions!
The Goat Parade asks Burgundy Wave:
1. The Rapids hired new coach Oscar Pareja in the offseason. What changes has he made to the squad and tactics so far in his tenure, and what are your initial impressions of him as a head coach?
There's been tons of changes so far in both the style of play that the team has been using and the roster itself. Right when he came into the picture, the Rapids started scouting out a ton of South American talent, dropping guys like Danny Earls and Caleb Folan - the European guys that Gary Smith had collected while he was manager - to make room for the new guard. Most of the starting XI these days is unrecognizable compared to the past few years with Jaime Castrillon (Columbian MF), Martin Rivero (Argentinian MF) and Luis Zapata (Columbian LB) being the three biggest new names.It's the new style of play that has gotten most of the attention from the Pareja regime, though. After years of playing counter attack based defensive football - mostly in a rigid 4-4-2 and defense filled 4-5-1 - the team has started a transition into playing a possession and pass based game more similar to the style that Real Salt Lake has pioneered the past few years, in a 4-3-3 formation to boot! So far it's been very rough, but that's what we expected to happen with Pareja still being new to management and most of the team being unfamiliar with each other. Pareja has shown an unfortunate penchant for overthinking himself in some situations with some questionable moves on game days but he's shown a good ability to make halftime adjustments and his talent scouting has proven to be top notch so far, so there's little that we can complain about. It will take some time to get everything gelled together and we know that.
2. Is there a player or two who have stood out for their performances this season? Who would you consider to be Colorado's most important player right now?
The stand out player so far has been Drew Moor, but that's absolutely no surprise as he's been one of the most solid center backs in the entire league for a very long time and plays every minute of every game for Colorado. Now, the most important player is a bit more of a complex question to answer. You would think Omar Cummings would be up there in that regard since he's the top goalscorer on the team and in a new attack minded system that would seem to be the biggest need on the team. I would say that Jeff Larentowicz, playing the lone defensive midfielder spot in the 4-3-3, is the key to the entire thing working.
I think this team looks better in the earlygoing in 2012 under Fraser, and a tough schedule and some unlucky breaks have prevented them from getting points at home. This is a big year for Fraser, but if they make the playoffs this season, it will be a successful year. If they falter at the end again, his future with the club might be in doubt.
Sooner or later, this all-or-nothing split is going to end. I was really hoping they would beat the Philadelphia Union last week at home to end the winless (and scoreless) streak, but the Union had exactly one good attacking play on the night, and spent the rest of the match beating Chivas up. But Chivas could not overcome Philly's tactics, and they need to figure something out fast. In the meantime, I think having too much confidence heading into road matches is dangerous, and eventually they will get beaten away. Overall, I just hope the positive form overcomes the negative very soon.
Another important player so far has been Ryan Smith. He was acquired from Sporting Kansas City in the offseason, and while his departure from SKC was controversial, he was dealing with family matters in England, so it seemed he had bigger issues on his mind than soccer. But the personal matters have been dealt with, and he's been a very important player for Chivas. He hasn't scored yet this season, although he seems good for at least a few goals, but he set up both goals in Chivas' comeback win at Portland. His speed, crossing ability, and ability to dribble at defenders is something Chivas were lacking last season, and he looks to be another savvy acquisition in the offseason by Fraser and company.