CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Fraser: Needs to prep his team in the calm before the next storm (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)
Fresh off Chivas USA's big win in the U.S Open Cup last night over the Carolina RailHawks, spirits are high and it seems almost a shame that the team has a 10 day break from matches due to the international period. But with the span of games later this month, the Goats need to take advantage of the rest period. Considering they were the third-oldest team in the league as of mid-April (those stats have probably shifted a bit with the departures of Heath Pearce and Michael Lahoud and the additions of Danny Califf, Juan Agudelo and Jose Correa), Chivas need to use the break to recharge and refocus on improving their teamwork and overall quality of play. Added to that, Ante Jazic and Oswaldo Minda will be back with the team after international duty with their respective countries, and hopefully Nick LaBrocca's hamstring injury will be on the mend, if he cannot fully recover during the downtime.
The games will come thick and fast beginning June 16, when Chivas will host Real Salt Lake. This game promises to be a battle (metaphorically speaking) since Chivas will want to replicate their success at Rio Tinto stadium earlier this season and get another result against RSL, while RSL will want to prove Chivas' earlier win was a fluke and will probably attempt to crush the Goats. It should be a cracker to kick off the next phase of the season.Then, four days later (June 20), Chivas will host the Montreal Impact in their second midweek match of the season. The teams played a scrimmage in the preseason, but to my knowledge, this will be the first competitive match between the clubs, and with Montreal's ties to Chivas, including coach Jesse Marsch and forward Justin Braun, this will probably also be a key match. Montreal has played much better than many expected so far this season, their first in MLS, but Chivas will have to expect to get a result from that game. It also helps that they won't have to travel across the continent for the midweek game.
Chivas will have to travel for the following match, however, which comes Saturday, June 23, when they face FC Dallas for the first time in 2012. Dallas were a clear level above Chivas in 2011, but they have struggled considerably this season, and are currently sitting two places below Chivas in 8th in the Western Conference. Dallas has quality players, so they could spring to life at any moment, but perhaps if Chivas have some momentum from the RSL and Montreal matches, they can grab some more road points against FCD.
Finally, Chivas wrap up their whirlwind stretch when they resume U.S. Open Cup play Tuesday June 26 when they host the Charlotte Eagles in the quarterfinal round. Although the Eagles have upset FC Dallas and the San Antonio Scorpions in successive rounds and cannot be taken lightly, Chivas know they have a fantastic opportunity to get to the semifinal round and will be eager to continue their 2012 Open Cup run. Considering it will come at the end of a busy stretch means they will need to be fit and focused for this game.
And that's why this rest is vital. Chivas have been playing well of late, and have a six-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. They will want to keep the momentum going through the next slate of games, but four games in 10 days is a demanding schedule, no doubt. Robin Fraser will certainly rotate the lineup, probably more than he has all season, and he may need to prioritize certain matches over others. I'm sure he'll go all out for the RSL match, as well as the Charlotte game, but the two in the middle could see more rotation and a look to keep the starters fresh for the most important matches.
At the same time, however, I think the Montreal and Dallas games are also important as they represent opportunities to get much-needed points in the league. Chivas are in 6th place right now, just one place out of the playoff slots, although the 5th place team, the Vancouver Whitecaps, hold a four point lead over the Goats. While a game here or there will force Fraser's hand in picking a reserve-heavy squad over the course of the season, he needs to be careful in not conceding necessary points too often. I think Chivas still have a shot to make the playoffs, but if they do make it this year, it will probably be very close. They need to stay focused on the season-long goal, as well as the game-to-game goals. Here's hoping this break gives Chivas time to rest, recuperate, and train with their eyes on multiple prizes.
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