As we get closer to the start of the MLS season, I’m sure everyone is wondering who we are going to see on the field for Chivas USA. While the roster does not have to be set until March 1st, we are starting to see it take shape. This article is just a preview, and we will definitely update our depth charts as we learn more about who is retained by the team.
The easiest category to start with is goalkeeper. It looks as if we will not be seeing any changes to this position from last year, with Dan Kennedy being named captain, and the only trialist in the position, Antonio Rodriguez, going back to Mexico. Both Tim Melia and Patrick McLain are listed as backups on the team website, and have played significant minutes in preseason matches so far.
Defense seems to be the biggest question mark for right now. The only two listed on the website that have played in preseason are Bobby Burling and James Riley. While Rauwshan McKenzie and Ante Jazic are both named on the website, we know that McKenzie was let go. As for Jazic, his status is still unclear. Emilio Orozco, Steve Purdy, Carlos Borja, Mario de Luna, Joaquin Velasquez, and Walter Vilchez have all gotten minutes in preseason, but the team has not announced the signing of any of them. Since it looks like there is a lack of defenders on the roster as of now, I would not be surprised if the team signed a couple of them. Vilchez, Velasquez, and de Luna have started the past two preseason matches, which could be an indication of the team signing a couple of them. It is also worth remembering that Jorge Villafana can be utilized as a defender, and that trialist Carlos Borja played as a right back when he was previously with the Goats. The preseason matches so far have demonstrated that we are lacking strength in this position, but there does not seem to be any indication of where Chelis will go with the position. He continues to employ the 3-man defense, which is unfamiliar territory for all of us. It is interesting, however, that most of the current trialists in camp are defenders. I would hope this means that there is the intent to sign a couple of guys and strengthen the position.
Another player to note who has not seen any time with the team yet is Juan Pablo Ocegueda. The U.S. U-20 youth and Southern California native recently signed with Chivas Guadalajara while also turning down an invitation to the Mexican U-20 squad in order to play for the U.S. team that will attempt to qualify for the U-20 World Cup. Neither Ocegueda nor Chivas (USA or Guadalajara) have confirmed that he will join Chivas USA, and Ocegueda has tweeted that he will not answer questions about his future with Chivas USA. However, many media outlets have stated that the left back will be on a season long loan to Chivas USA after CONCACAF qualifying ends. This will be an interesting story to keep an eye on, especially as the roster begins to take shape.
When it comes to the midfield, the current "roster" stands as follows: Ben Zemanski, Laurent Courtois, Miller Bolaños, Oswaldo Minda, Marvin Iraheta, Marky Delgado, Shalrie Joseph, Carlos Alvarez, and Eric Avila. At this point, I would expect to see all of these names still on the roster come March 1st with the exception of Shalrie Joseph. Alicia previously outlined the uncertainty that exists with Joseph’s contract, which we found out a bit more this week. He was on trial in Seattle, cut after a couple of days, but is still on our books. That would mean that the Sounders were also not interested in picking up his large contract. Joseph also took the opportunity to share with the media that he knew from Day 2 of camp that he wasn’t in Chelis’ plans and seemed to have a negative opinion towards the coaching staff (not for the first time in his career, right?). If Chivas USA cannot offload him by March 1st, I think the biggest question then is how he will factor into the team.
With that said, the remaining midfielders in camp, as we know so far, are Rodrigo Lopez, Josue Soto, Daniel Antunez, and Giovanni Casillas. Casillas seems to be getting the most minutes so far of the four, and assisted Correa’s goal against Gangwon FC. This could mean a lot, or it could mean very little. One of Chelis’ biggest complaints about MLS during preseason was related to injuries and the inability to "cure" them quickly (as I discussed with Matt and Alicia, we think this is probably related to the medicine players are allowed for treatment due to doping rules). He stated his frustration with injuries, especially because they have been preventing players like Kennedy and Zemanski from seeing playing time during this preseason. Additionally, Delgado picked up a groin injury after the game against Chicago. These injuries probably make it difficult to see where players will fit in, especially if Chelis has not seen how someone like Zemanski would fit into the new system. This also precludes us from saying what will happen there. I would like to say it’s safe for Zemanski to keep his place on the roster this season, but who knows? I think, however, our starting midfielders will come from the group that is listed on the team website. All of them have been starting regularly in preseason, with the exception of injured Zemanski. At this point, I would guess that Chelis is evaluating his backup group.
Similar to the goalkeepers, our currently rostered forwards are Tristan Bowen, Juan Agudelo, and Jose Correa. I would expect all three of them to be on the roster this season, and most likely all as starters. Bowen really made his mark in the preseason game versus Gangwon FC with a brace, and has been named by Chelis has a component of his roster this season. I would expect maybe one more forward to be signed for depth purposes, possibly two depending on which players are selected for the midfield. But with Bolaños a frequent scorer for the team (including the preseason), forwards may not be necessary.
My biggest question with the forwards is the potential loss of Agudelo midseason. While it is at least some months away, he will be free to leave MLS this year, and many believe he will. Do we sign someone now who can learn the system, train with the team, and be prepared to increase his minutes in the summer? Or do we wait and find a replacement then? He has spent a lot of time training abroad, and was very interested in signing with Celtic. I would fully expect him to leave, and think Chivas USA needs to plan accordingly.
Players in camp whose positions are unknown are Julio Morales, Leopoldo Cruz, and Narciso Cuevas. Meanwhile, supplemental draft picks Jose Diaz and Joe Franco have not seen the field in preseason, while Paul Islas did initially. Again, it’s uncertain as to where they stand with the team. I can’t say how any of them factor in, but based on the fact that not much has been seen of them, I don’t expect them to stick around.
Based on the indications so far this preseason, let's speculate on the starting lineup March 2. Assuming everybody is healthy (and still available):
Goalkeeper: Dan Kennedy
Defense: Bobby Burling, Walter Vilchez, Mario de Luna
Forward: Miller Bolaños, Juan Agudelo
Like how the roster is taking shape? Wish some other players would see more time? Let us know what you think!