Chivas USA's Game Plan: Major Physicality with a Dash of Skill

You shall not pass, says this new Chivas USA team - USA TODAY Sports

Tell us your metaphors for this style in the comments below!

Chivas USA won again yesterday - the second time in three games! Lest you think I'm being a bit simple here, remember that this team went multiple months without a win to end the 2012 season, so I'm starting with the little things.

On a tactical/planning front, Chivas USA coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola's methods have been fascinating so far. From uneven formations to his much-discussed three-man back line, to the rotation of the squad and the post game press conferences, which have been must-see events, Chelís has been fascinating to follow so far.

But I want to highlight some of the nuts and bolts of the style he's instilled into this team. They are obvious on some level, but the combination is not something you normally see in this league: physicality with a dash of skill sprinkled in.

Clearly, the manager realized his team was going to have a talent deficit in nearly every game this season, and so the teamwork element and building up the group as a unit has been a hallmark of the approach so far. On top of that, how can a less-talented team disrupt an opponent's attack and demand some respect? Play physical soccer.

I think when Americans imagine Mexican soccer, they imagine free-flowing, attacking, possession-based soccer. Sure, some teams in Mexico play like that, but when you watch Liga MX, you also see plenty of plays that probably wouldn't even be tolerated in MLS.

So far, Chivas lead the league in fouls committed, with 76, nine ahead of the next team, New York Red Bulls. And lest you think Chivas have just been involved in games that have been very physical all around, they have only suffered 45 fouls, putting them in 13th place, and last among teams that have played four games to this point. Fouling isn't a coincidence - it appears Chelís has effectively taken Oswaldo Minda's game and applied it to the whole team, and while the team will surely concede penalties and (justified) red cards, it has been effective in three of four matches.

Beyond the physicality, Chivas are actually getting goals from small bursts of skill. Clearly, this team has some talent, with Juan Agudelo, Eric Avila, Giovani Casillas, and a somewhat-underperforming Miller Bolaños, Jose Correa and Tristan Bowen. The team has had other players step up to score as well, from Minda to Edgar Mejia and Joaquin Velazquez, as well as the rookie Carlos Alvarez. The squad is clearly stacked with young players, guys who haven't proven themselves previously in their careers, and guys just getting into the pro ranks, but there is some skill there as well.

The Goats currently lead the league in goals scored with eight. They are, however in the middle of the pack as far as total shots, with 43 (New York leads the category with 62), and they only have 13 shots on goal, putting them in 14th place overall, and last among teams which have played four games.

Consider that for a moment: Chivas have scored eight goals (seven proper goals, one was an own goal) on just 13 shots on goal. Normally, teams that can't get shots don't score, and having a better than 50% conversion rate is remarkable. For context, the two teams just behind Chivas in goals, FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew, each have about twice the number of SOG that Chivas has.

The question, then, is whether Chivas can maintain this success with these brief bursts of skill. It would seem likely that they can't sustain this scoring rate, so they will need to increase their shots if they want to keep scoring regularly. Still, the mix of physical play and hits of skill has been effective, and Chelís appears to be writing a new blueprint in MLS in the first month of the season, so who knows? It seems like just about anything is possible at the moment.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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