Chivas USA have had a rough stretch in recent weeks, and their prospects Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes - the first team to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs in 2012 - look dim. But let's take a practical angle on this match. Chivas have had an awful time stopping their opponents from scoring at will, and San Jose put a four-spot on the Goats just two weeks ago. Although the scoreline was sadly not much of a surprise, the way in which the Quakes scored was. Instead of the potent strikeforce of Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart, and Alan Gordon putting in the goals as usual, San Jose scored three goals off of free kicks on the day. Perhaps even more surprising is that they were the first goals off direct free kicks all season allowed by Chivas.
So, was that match the start of a troubling trend, or a blip? Should Chivas focus on stopping the free kicks, or on stopping the forwards against the Earthquakes?Obviously, the easy answer would be that Chivas should focus on both problems, stopping both the forwards and the set pieces. Still, the team has been spread so thin in the back and been torched so consistently, Chivas probably need to really hone in on one issue or the other.
A promising (I use that term lightly) sign last week was that Chivas only allowed two goals against Seattle (another tough team). Obviously, two goals was too many, as they still lost, but at least it is within rather reasonable limits, better than four, five, six goals a game.
But above all, I still think the focus needs to be on stopping the three-headed hydra up front. If Wondo, Lenhart and/or Gordon start scoring early in the match, they will almost certainly score often. In contrast, giving up three free kick goals in a single match is embarrassing, but it is hopefully an aberration. One of the free kicks scored, by Ramiro Corrales, came off a quickly taken kick, and that element of surprise is both unfortunate and something that should be rather easily fixed in training. The other set piece goals came as a result of having a wall that was too small and not having the outfield players on the same page as goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. Again, it isn't "easy" as nothing with this team is easy right now, but the set piece situation should be fixed fairly easily.
But the run of play has been a real problem for the Goats. Failing to mark players making runs, botching an offside trap, getting confused between multiple players making runs, allowing crosses to come off easily and for players to get on the end of crosses, general lack of pace and poor positioning - the errors are numerous. Chivas' defense does not believe and it shows, but they have to redouble their efforts and really work hard to avoid shipping goals in the run of play. The focus has to be on that, and if they can keep San Jose to zero (audacious, I know) or one goal, they could have a fighter's chance in the match.
It seems like the team has fallen all the way to their form in March, but there are still eight games left in the season. What the players have been saying is true: they have to play for pride of the team and the club, for respect, for their jobs. Working on the defense has to be the priority Saturday, and they have to truly believe. Otherwise, who else will believe for them?
What do you think? Leave a comment below!