To conclude our series looking at Chivas USA at the middle of the 2012 season, we turn to coach Robin Fraser. In his second season in charge of Chivas, the pressure is on Fraser to improve on their 2011 performance. To be fair, Fraser only joined Chivas shortly before the 2011 season, and didn't get a full offseason to retool the roster. This past offseason, however, Fraser had the time, if not perhaps the full budget, to find the players he wanted.
How has Fraser performed so far in 2012 as coach? Let's take a look at it from several different angles:
Personnel: Although Fraser has not been solely responsible for signing players, he's worked with Jose Domene to transform the roster in a year and a half. Considering only seven players currently on the roster precede Fraser's time with Chivas, it is safe to say the roster has been completely transformed by Fraser and Domene. What is the impact of all these moves?There's no need to go through the entire roster again, but it seems on balance that Fraser has made significant upgrades at a variety of positions. Most successfully, the defense has been transformed, with Ante Jazic the only holdover. Trading for Danny Califf, signing Rauwshan McKenzie after he was cut from Real Salt Lake, and essentially swapping James Riley for Zarek Valentin have all been successful moves so far this year.
At striker, it also appears that Fraser and Domene have upgraded the talent, although the goals have been hard to come by. Bringing JPA back again this year was certainly a good move, although he is certainly in the twilight of his career, and Juan Agudelo and Jose Correa are perhaps the most promising players on the roster. Even Casey Townsend and Cesar Romero have shown potential in limited minutes.
Defensive midfield is also a strength, with Oswaldo Minda being perhaps the most important signing of the offseason. Getting Peter Vagenas as a backup has also been effective, and even Nick LaBrocca and Ben Zemanski have played well in a holding midfield role. But attacking midfield seems to be the problem at this point. Although the Goats have a plethora of midfielders, they have failed to score and produce the service to the forwards that is necessary for a successful team. Frankly speaking, the team seems to be lacking a player or two who can create and score in the midfield. What does this mean about Fraser's personnel moves? I'm guessing he doesn't have the budget to get an elite midfielder, although there are certainly potential bargains to be found around the world. On balance, there seems to be a good core of players, but the results make it clear the team is still a copule players short.
Lineup selections: The running joke with Fraser is that he never starts the same lineup twice in a row, and when I'm asked for the "likely lineup" by other bloggers, I am always at a loss. Just because I can't predict the lineups doesn't mean they are ineffective, however. I think the coach prioritizes squad rotation through the midfield and strikers, and considering the problems for other teams in the league that use the same lineup every game, it seems a prudent strategy. That said, there has to be occasional questions about the actual selections and the rotation for the sake of rotation. On balance, Fraser's selection policy seems to work well, but sometimes his lineups seem doomed from the start. It is a tricky balance, but the lineups seem solid more often than not.
In-game adjustments: I think this is the arena where Fraser has struggled the most recently. When players seem to be on the cusp of scoring, he'll sometimes yank them from the match. When he has subs in his pocket and he's chasing a result, he'll sit on those subs. Once this season, against the Portland Timbers, he was able to outcoach John Spencer at halftime and overhauled the gameplan to come from behind and get a win. That was a great result and demonstrated Fraser's ability to adjust. But Spencer is out of a job and Fraser often seems a bit slow to make much-needed subs and adjustments. This is something I've harped on lately, but I would like to see better in this arena.
Results: In 2011, Chivas USA had 18 points through the first 17 league games. This year, they have 20 through that span. The good news, then, is that they are on a better pace at this point compared to Fraser's first year in charge. The bad news, though, is that Chivas are on pace to get 40 points for the season, which would certainly be better than last season's 36 points in the final total, but the current projections for the final playoff spot this season are in the 44 to 46 point range. This means that Chivas are within striking distance, but they'll need to make up some ground and do better overall in the second half of the season. In 2011, the Goats faded badly to end the year, and the hamstring injury to Heath Pearce left the defense completely out of sorts when the team needed the best performances. Can Fraser get his players on the same page of a good gameplan for the rest of the season? We'll need to wait and see how they perform, but this is unquestionably a key stretch for the coach. Although many fans have been frustrated by the lack of offensive rhythm this team has carried throughout the season, Fraser does seem to have a good program in place - it's just a matter of how effective it can be. He's not coach of the year at this point, but neither is he the worst coach in the league.
Fraser's Midseason Grade: C
What do you think? Leave a comment below!