Eyes will be on Casey Townsend and company Saturday in Portland. (Photo Credit: Denzel Eslinger/RSL Soapbox)
Chivas USA have played the most difficult schedule of any team in the league so far this season, and they will have a new opportunity to get on form when they play the Portland Timbers Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field (7:30 pm PDT, KDOC/KWHY/Direct Kick/MLS Live). I don't want to undersell the Timbers, as they seem to have some very good players, but they are on a two-game losing streak, and morale has dipped as a result. Chivas' morale has dropped as well, after the highs the previous week after beating Real Salt Lake to get their first win of the season, but they will need to refocus and try and take care of business in Portland.
If you missed it, check out the Three Questions Exchange with Geoff Gibson of Stumptown Footy from Wednesday, as well as my article yesterday on how Chivas could use a result in Portland to shake off the turning point from the 2011 campaign. Now, let's turn to the match itself.
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 3 points (1-3-0), 9th place in Western Conference (16th place overall); Goal Difference: -2 (1/3); Last four matches: L-L-W-L
Portland Timbers: 4 points (1-2-1), 7th place in Western Conference (12th place overall); Goal Difference: 0 (6/6); Last four matches: W-T-L-LKey Matchup: Chivas attack vs. Portland defense
Yep, I'm flipping the script this week, and there's every chance that the Goats' defense could prove to be their undoing. But the results so far have shown that the defense is indeed playing well. The problem that has unfolded is that the attack is incoherent. We all know they have scored one goal all season, and there simply needs to be more. If Chivas can score, then their chances of getting a win or draw are good. If they are banking on getting a scoreless draw to get a road point, forget it. The Timbers have given up a goal to every opponent this season, and given up the first goal in each match at that. They have been battling injuries among the center backs and the faltering form of their full backs, so the onus is on Chivas to take care of business. If the attacking corps can build a rhythm and get legitimate chances on goal, then they will be moving forward in their development as a team. If they can't capitalize on a team with a makeshift backline and confidence issues, then they will fall further behind the 8 ball.
It will be up to Robin Fraser, as well as the players themselves, of course, to put the players on the field who can get the offense going. Casey Townsend will likely be on the field again. Juan Pablo Angel returned to training yesterday, but I don't think he's ready to go, although we'll have to see what the Friday injury report says and whether he travels with the team to Portland or not. Alejandro Moreno, Miller Bolanos, and Cesar Romero should be in the mix to play, and one of them should probably play up top alongside Townsend. If Michael Lahoud is healthy, hopefully he can get his first minutes of the season as well. And Nick LaBrocca and Ryan Smith (and Laurent Courtois, if Lahoud can't go) will need to click on the attack and provide good service to the forwards, as well as get some shots on goal themselves. The defense needs to play well, but this is a major test for the offense.
Why Chivas will win this match: They played very well in their last road match, and their opponent in that win just handed the Timbers a last-second loss. In addition, both teams are hanging their heads, but Chivas have more optimism heading into this match. They may turn out to be a better road team this season (although we need a larger sample size to know for sure) and they got good experience in the preseason when they played in the tournament up in Portland. In an atmosphere that resembled a regular season match, Chivas got experience playing on the Timbers' field, and two factors of that field could really help them. One is that Jeld-Wen has a narrow field, especially compared to the Home Depot Center, and so there won't be as much space for the players. I think the turf is more significant. I know Portland fans are sensitive about this, but I think Chivas (not to mention other visiting teams) had considerable difficulty dealing with the ball on that field in 2011. Getting three matches in the preseason up there gave the Chivas' players an opportunity to acclimate to the pitch and get used to how the ball plays on it. So a small advantage the Timbers might have had last season could be mitigated by the Goats' game experience.
Why Portland will win this match: They will have far more pressure and motivation to win this match, and they are at home. The Timbers want to establish their home field as a fortress, and considering their upcoming matches to tougher teams, they want to wash the bad taste out of their mouths before moving on. Chivas are a team with a rough schedule so far, but there certainly look to be holes in their game, and Portland will try and take advantage. Their attacking players, from Kris Boyd to Darlington Nagbe to Jorge Perlaza and others, will try to get behind Chivas line and make runs between Chivas defenders. They will also try to maintain as much possession as possible, and just attack Chivas relentlessly, hoping an onslaught wears the visitors out.
Why this game will end in a draw: In the preseason, the second teams of both sides played to a 1-1 draw at Jeld-Wen, with a goal from Romero for Chivas. About half of the players in that match could start in this match for Chivas, but there will be turnover. Still, I think these teams are at a reasonably similar level. I don't think either side will blow the game open, and it will most likely be a very tight affair. As a result, a draw is a reasonable prediction, and it would be a result that both sides will feel ambivalent about. Points are crucial, but three points are really what the respective teams are looking for.
Chivas: Michael Lahoud (hamstring - listed as doubtful), Juan Pablo Angel (concussion), Peter Vagenas (rib injury - listed as questionable)
Timbers: Futty Danso (foot), Eddie Johnson (concussion), James Marcelin (hamstring), Hanyer Mosquera (concussion), David Horst (hip - listed as doubtful), Kalif Alhassan (groin - listed as questionable), Sal Zizzo (knee - listed as questionable)