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Chivas USA are set to get back on the horse as they host Real Salt Lake Saturday evening at the Home Depot Center (7:30 p.m. PDT, Prime Ticket/KWHY). The Goats have been on a brutal stretch of late, and are looking to find a bright spot in the homestretch, while RSL is coming off a week in which they clinched a playoff berth for the fifth straight season. Are these teams in different positions? Oh yes.
That said, Chivas and RSL have split the season series to this point, as Chivas won the first meeting 1-0 while RSL won the second game 3-0. Can Chivas do the unlikely and win the season series? We'll see soon enough, but let's preview the match first.
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 28 points (7-15-7), 9th place in Western Conference, 18th place overall; Goal Difference: -24 (21/45); Last five matches: L-L-L-L-L
Real Salt Lake: 49 points (15-11-4), 3rd place in Western Conference, 7th place overall; Goal Difference: 6 (40/34); Last five matches: L-D-W-L-W
Key Match-up: Chivas midfield vs. RSL midfield
Look, I changed it up. But I didn't change it for the sake of change. Instead, I think the midfield battle could be decisive in this match if Chivas were to get a result. See, the defense is still a concern, but the rate by which they've let in goals has returned to reasonable levels in recent weeks. That doesn't mean they can't have a bad game, as they still have a knack for making boneheaded plays, but they've bounced back recently. And the offense is also a concern, as they haven't scored in 352 minutes of gameplay, which is nearly four full matches. The Goats are stuck on the joint-worst goals tally in MLS history, so if they score even one more goal, they will overcome that ignominious distinction. So the attack needs to get its act together and actually get the ball in the net if they want points.
But the game may be dictated by the midfield play of both sides. Certainly, on paper, RSL looks stronger than Chivas. But Chivas have gotten the better of them this season, and Oswaldo Minda in particular was a big part of that result. The question is who will actually play in the midfield for the Goats. The big issue since Shalrie Joseph's arrival in my mind has been the fact that Joseph and Minda either don't gel well while on the field, or Minda is benched in favor of Joseph. This boggles my mind. Besides the defensive midfielder situation, there will be questions of what the formation will be and which midfielders will fill out the spots. Will Nick LaBrocca be involved? Ryan Smith? Any other number of midfielders? Might we see Marky Delgado or Marvin Iraheta make their professional debuts? Who knows? But if there can be some kind of connection between the players on the field, if they can overcome the poor results and bad play, then maybe they can overcome the likes of Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales.
Why Chivas will win this match: It doesn't look good on paper. But bad patches are bound to end at some point. That's pretty much all I have by way of optimism. Can they get a win? Sure. Will they get a win? Uh...we'll see.
Why Salt Lake will win this match: Well, if optimism is at a season low for Chivas, that makes RSL's task seem considerably easier. There's a big difference between being a good team having to face a less-talented but motivated side and facing a demoralized team, and Chivas look like the latter. So RSL could cruise, potentially easily. But I think what is more likely is that they will have to deal with some fight by Chivas, before overwhelming them, and a single goal should be sufficient to get the win.
Why the game will end in a draw: Here are two factors that could help Chivas ever so slightly (if they actually have their act together): Jamison Olave is suspended, and his replacement, Chris Schuler, is just coming off a long spell out of the lineup due to injury, and RSL has clinched a playoff spot, and although they are still concerned about their position in the playoff spots, the big priority will be to ensure the key players stay healthy through the end of the season. That means there could be some players rested, some players less inclined to go in hard in tackles, and a defense that might be a bit rusty. Could Chivas capitalize on RSL taking it easy? Perhaps, and I would guess that the team would celebrate if they even got a draw. Ok, maybe not, but the sense of belief could start to return.
Chivas: Tim Melia (back - listed as doubtful)