Chivas USA get the national spotlight tonight, as they host the Chicago Fire this evening at the Home Depot Center (8 pm PDT, ESPN Deportes). Both teams are coming off losses, have high expectations for 2012, but have had inconsistent form coming out of the gate. In other words, they seem like they are on parallel paths at the moment. This is also their only meeting in the MLS regular season, so both clubs will be looking to pick up vital points.
If you missed it, take a look at the Chicago perspective from Ryan Sealock in the Three Questions feature from yesterday.
Let's get ready to preview!
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 9 points (3-5-0), 8th place in Western Conference, 12th place overall; Goal difference: -5 (4/9); Last five matches: L-W-W-L-L
Chicago Fire: 8 points (2-2-2), 5th place in Eastern Conference, 13th place overall; Goal difference: -1 (7/8); Last five matches: W-L-T-W-LKey Matchup: Chivas attack vs. Chicago defense
We know the deal: Chivas haven't scored at home this season, and have lost all of their games 1-0 at the Home Depot Center. Technically, they could fail to score and still get a point off a 0-0 draw, but the reality is that they need to start scoring, now, if they want points. They are facing a Chicago defense that is going through some turmoil in the middle due to injuries and suspension. German international Arne Friedrich is the newest European signing, and he's getting adjusted to his new environment and the MLS style. While he could turn out to be a shrewd signing, he is 32, has faced significant injuries within the past year, and is acknowledged to probably not be fully match fit at this point. On top of that, the other regular starting center back, Jalil Anibaba, is out for this match as he was suspended after his conduct in the Fire's match last week against Seattle. In his place, rookie Austin Berry is projected to get his first MLS start against the Goats. So, an aging player who's new to the league, and a rookie who is seeing his first minutes as a professional - seems like a golden opportunity for Chivas.
The burden is on Chivas to make Chicago pay for their makeshift backline, however. Simply put, this team has not looked dangerous in the offensive third at home this season, and if they come out with another listless and unfocused attack tonight, Friedrich and Berry are going to look like world beaters. In addition, Chivas' strength in attack this year has been on the flanks, but Chicago's regular full backs will be playing and will be expected to neutralize Ryan Smith, Miller Bolanos, Laurent Courtois or whoever else plays on the wing. Chivas need to make a concerted effort to play centrally into the box, and switch quickly between the wings and the middle. If they continue to replicate the form they've shown so far at home, it's most likely going to be a long night and increase the frustration even more. There's no guarantee there will be changes to the lineup and formation, but I am guessing Robin Fraser will try something different and perhaps play two forwards in this match to try and get goals for this team.
Why Chivas will win this match: On form, Chivas don't look particularly dangerous heading into this match. But the struggles of Chicago this year, and the belief that Chivas are a better team than their record would indicate gives fans hope they can prevail. As I keep saying, they cannot stay scoreless and winless at home all season. At some point, things will click and they will demonstrate their quality. But they need to reverse the poor form sooner rather than later, because folks like myself who have touted them as a much-improved team will look increasingly delusional as the losses pile up. The national spotlight is on them, they are hungry, and they know they, and perhaps more importantly, the fans, deserve a good result. Chicago is a decent team, but if Chivas really think they should be in the playoffs, they need to show they can beat the decent teams in the league.
Why Chicago will win this match: Obviously, the form of Chivas, both in the last two weeks, and overall this season at the HDC, gives the Fire considerable cause for optimism heading into this match. Although they are also eager to pick up points, the pressure will fully be on Chivas in this match, and so Chicago may be relaxed enough to grab the upper hand, while Chivas may tighten up based on the expectations. If that's the case, and if Chivas continue to struggle to score, then the Fire may only need a single goal to pick up a valuable three points. Plus, it can't be forgotten that Chicago has attacking weapons of their own. Dominic Oduro torched Chivas last season, and will be the primary weapon, but Marco Pappa had a terrific "Olimpico" goal off a direct corner kick last weekend and can pop up with a timely goal from time to time. Sebastian Grazzini pulls the strings in the midfield and can contribute as well, so Chivas' defense will need to be back to their regular sharpness, or else they could fall apart like they did last week. Chicago won't take this game lightly, but they have to like their chances.
Why this match will end in a draw: Both clubs should feel confident. Each team has considerable strengths and flaws. It will likely be a tight match. A scoreless match, a low-scoring affair, a goalfest - I think all are potentially on the table for this match. For the neutrals, a high score would be ideal, and frankly, I think Chivas fans would love a 4-3 win, and would even find considerable happiness in a 3-3 or 4-4 draw. But 1-1 is also a likely possibility assuming Chivas actually score tonight. Three points are ideal, but a point would obviously represent an improvement for the Goats.
Notable absences (using the latest injury report, from Tuesday):
Chivas: Ben Zemanski (knee - listed as probable)