Coming into their latest match, Chivas USA are a team paradoxically confident and concerned about their form. They will attempt to win their fourth consecutive road match when they play the Colorado Rapids Saturday evening (6 pm PDT, Fox Sports West/KWHY/Direct Kick/MLS Live). Both teams have dealt with inconsistent play this season and are coming off losses last weekend, and it is a key match in a potential playoff race for both clubs.
If you missed it, be sure to check out the Three Questions Exchange with UZ White yesterday. Good stuff to help you get caught up with the Rapids.
Now for the preview:
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 9 points (3-4-0), 7th place in Western Conference, 10th place overall; Goal difference: -1 (4/5); Last five matches: W-L-W-W-L
Colorado Rapids: 9 points (3-4-0), 8th place in Western Conference, 11th place overall; Goal difference: -2 (8/10); Last five matches: L-W-L-L-LKey Matchup: Dan Kennedy vs. Matt Pickens
These teams have identical records at the moment. They are both teams trying to retool - Chivas are (hopefully) a season ahead of Colorado in the process, but Chivas hit rock bottom, while Colorado are two years removed from an MLS Cup title. Still, these clubs are in flux, and they could starting clicking and fire their way up the standings, or falter and stay near the bottom of the table. But heading into the match, they are even. The Rapids have both scored and allowed double the goals Chivas have, and Chivas' form has been better the last five matches.
I think the difference in this match could very well come to the goalkeepers. If both are playing well, goals will be hard to come by, and if either Kennedy or Pickens (or perhaps both) aren't at their best, it could make a major difference. The Rapids are coming off a loss in which Omar Cummings hit an excellent goal on the edge of the box after making a great run past Galaxy defenders. Although all of their scarce goals have come from crosses or corners into the box, Chivas have several players capable of scoring bombs from outside the box. I don't even think the potential formations are necessarily key in this match, as both squads have been making adjustments over the past few games, and neither squad has a system locked into place. As a result, both keepers will be given the task of pulling their sides to a result. And these guys have been busy: Pickens is currently second in the league in saves, with 26, while Kennedy is 5th with 24 saves. I don't necessarily know if they will be peppered with shots Saturday, but they will need to take care of the shots they see, no matter the volume.
Why Chivas will win this match: They are a totally different team on the road, and although their last win against Toronto showed some defensive frailties, they have previously looked like a playoff-caliber team on the road. What should help the team is the full return of Juan Pablo Angel, who I expect will start this match and will be expected to start contributing to the scoring straight away. If the defense can maintain their concentration for the entire match, as they have for most of the season so far, they can really frustrate Colorado. They are tied for third in the league for goals against, and I don't think this will be a free-scoring affair. If Angel, Miller Bolanos, Ryan Smith, and any other attacking players can get good chances on goal and convert some of them, Chivas should have an excellent shot to win. They know that Colorado is going through growing pains, and while they can be dangerous, this is a very good opportunity for the Goats to get a leg up on a conference rival.
Why Colorado will win this match: Sure, these teams are rebuilding, but Colorado has not shown they have dropped a level in the Western Conference pecking order just yet. Their new coach, Oscar Pareja, has brought in players so far who look pretty good, and he's only coached for seven matches. He may have a learning curve in figuring out formations, positions for his players, and in-game adjustments, but this isn't a bad team. And the return of Conor Casey may provide a psychological boost, if not an actual boost to the match, as he's returning from a long-term achilles injury and is expected to play the last 10-20 minutes. I don't want to jinx Chivas and say I don't think he'll be a problem, as he will need to shake a lot of rust off, but I think the Rapids have been looking for a forward who can lead the line, and Casey's return will probably help other players go back to their best positions. Above all, a team that has a three-game losing streak will have plenty of motivation to stop Chivas' road winning streak, and Chivas may face a losing streak of their own following the match.
Why this match will end in a draw: Neither team has drawn this season - so why do I feel this is a likely scenario? I think the inconsistency of both teams will lead them to play mediocre soccer, as opposed to one team blowing out the other. Both squads have a hard-nosed identity, but are trying to integrate style and beauty into their game, with uneven results. I doubt there will be many shots, but the play of the defenses and goalkeepers in preventing a plethora of shots and taking care of those that do take place is crucial, and there's a significant chance the match could get bogged down in the midfield. I think neutrals would prefer an exciting draw to a dull one, but these teams are pragmatic, and what's more practical than gutting out a 1-1 or 0-0 draw? Seems like a high possibility to me.
Colorado: Anthony Wallace (Achilles), Pablo Mastroeni (concussion-related), Jamie Smith (ACL - listed as doubtful), Conor Casey (Achilles - listed as probable), Martin Rivero (quad - listed as probable)