Justin Braun may have a homecoming of sorts Saturday at the Home Depot Center. The former Chivas USA forward, now with Real Salt Lake, will be facing Chivas USA for the second time this season, if he gets on the field. His first action against the Goats came on June 20, when he was still with the Montreal Impact. Braun came off the bench for the final 27 minutes, and while he had one excellent chance, he wasn't able to get a goal on the team that discovered him.
The big question is whether Braun will actually get a chance to play. While he scored 24 regular season goals and a playoff goal in his Chivas career, it is safe to say he's struggled to find a place on his subsequent teams. Obviously, he was traded away by Montreal coach Jesse Marsch in July, a spell that resulted in zero goals and one assist for the big man. Braun started just five of a possible 20 league matches for the Impact, while coming off the bench an additional seven times. Part of the problem was that although Marsch originally intended to stock his team with MLS veterans, the ownership group clearly wanted some marquee names, or at least some guys who played in Europe. Bernardo Corradi was successful early before picking up a season-ending injury, while Marco Di Vaio joined the club in the summer and was expected to have the attack built around him. And young Brazilian Felipe Martins emerged seemingly out of nowhere to become an offensive force.
What did that mean for Braun? The bigger names plus the lack of production on his part meant he was expendable. So, he was moved on to Real Salt Lake in exchange for a draft pick. This change of scenery was very interesting, as Braun grew up in Salt Lake City. In addition, having Jason Kreis, a veteran forward who is considered one of the best in league history, as Braun's coach was expected to pay dividends for the inconsistent Braun.
So, how has it gone so far with RSL? Well, it seems like much of the same, as Braun has only made one league start and one sub appearance in MLS play since joining the club, out of a possible 10 games. Since he hasn't had much playing time, just 87 minutes with RSL, he hasn't really had a fair shake to show what he's capable of. But he's also buried on the depth chart, with stars Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola leading the line, and long-term deputies like Paulo Jr. with the trust of Kreis. Braun looks like he is on the outside looking in.
So, is it likely Braun will make an appearance against Chivas? Probably not, but perhaps Kreis will take a flyer on Braun, especially with RSL already clinching a playoff berth and his history at the HDC.
Perhaps the bigger question is whether Braun will fit in at RSL in the future, and if Chivas miss him. The first question cannot be answered at the moment, but we can provide a provisional answer to the second. You're no doubt aware that Chivas have scored fewer goals than any team in the league this season, and with Braun scoring 17 goals over the past two seasons with the Goats, it appears his absence is huge.
But remember: to this point in his career, Braun is a very inconsistent player. Despite scoring eight goals in 2011, he only scored in four matches all season. Could Chivas use eight goals? Of course. But Robin Fraser never seemed convinced by him, and I think it is unlikely he would have escaped the bad mojo following the current Chivas attacking corps around. Still, we'll never know for sure. But if Braun takes the field against Chivas, and if he scores a goal, you better believe there will be a lot of Chivas' fans lamenting over the loss of "Braunzilla" once again.
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