It's been three weeks of growing admiration for Chivas USA, capped off by an emphatic 4-1 win over the Chicago Fire last week, so can the Goats keep the good momentum plugging along? They get their next test in the 2013 campaign Saturday when they host the Vancouver Whitecaps at the HDC (7:30 pm PT, MLS Live - that's right, still no local TV deal). While Chivas are coming off a win, the Whitecaps are coming off a tough 2-1 loss on the road to the Houston Dynamo, a game that looked like they would win until the end. So, will Vancouver bounce back, or will Chivas show their superiority over a new team? That's why we play the games, but in the meantime, we can preview this one.
If you missed it, check out my Three Questions interview with Eighty Six Forever from Thursday.
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 7 points (2-1-1), 2nd place in Western Conference, 3rd place overall; Goal Difference: 2 (8/6); Last four matches: W-D-W-L
Vancouver Whitecaps: 6 points (2-1-0), 5th place in Western Conference, 8th place overall; Goal Difference: 1 (4/3); Last three matches: L-W-W
Key Matchup: Chivas defense vs. Vancouver attack
I'm back to the old tried and true. Allowing an average of 1.5 goals a game isn't too bad, and if the offense matches or outscores the opponent, the number of goals allowed isn't such a big deal from game to game. Still, Chicago gave Chivas some trouble, despite the scoreline and despite only getting their first goal of the season last week, and Vancouver is bound to be much tougher on the attack. Similar to the LA Galaxy, they are a team that can attack from various positions on the field, and will look to overwhelm Chivas with numbers pushed forward. And while Bobby Burling has filled in nicely for an injured Walter Vilchez, I wouldn't necessarily bank on the primary defenders week in and week out. Call it skepticism, but I think they are building, and slip-ups are certainly part and parcel of the process.
For the Whitecaps, the attack will likely be led by either Darren Mattocks, who unleashed an impressive goal last week, or Kenny Miller, who has started the season off well. Miller may sit out after playing for Scotland during the week, but Mattocks remains one of the most impressive young forwards in the league. In midfield, Daigo Kobayashi has impressed early on, and hit a stunner of a goal of his own a couple weeks back, while Gershon Koffie plays a box-to-box role that includes him getting in on the attack from time to time. Combo forward/mid Camilo Sanvezzo could feature as well, and he can be dangerous, frequent benchings and inconsistent form notwithstanding. From the back, fullbacks Young-Pyo Lee and Alain Rochat push forward and also combine in the offensive third, and will probably try to stretch Chivas out wide and provide space in the middle of the field for their teammates. Look, it's early yet, but Vancouver looks to have plenty of weapons, and it will be a substantial test for the Goats.
Why Chivas will win this match: They have the momentum right now, and they aren't afraid of their opponents. Chelís isn't just entertaining - the guy knows how to coach too, and he's shown so far that he can make adjustments in-game probably as well as any coach in the league. If Chivas stick to what's worked so far, in keeping their opponent off the scoresheet until well into the second half, then getting in on the act and scoring after the hour mark themselves, they can certainly grab three points. It makes for nervy soccer, but it has been largely effective, so if they can frustrate Vancouver (in more ways than one) they can notch another win. Plus, this team doesn't seem to be afraid of playing at the HDC, and so the psychological burden appears to be gone. This team will just play, no matter where it is, and that certainly bodes well for this match.
Why Vancouver will win this match: Chivas have never gotten a win over the Whitecaps. Sure, that history dates back all of two years, but in that span the Whitecaps have beaten Chivas twice (the teams have tied three times), once at home and once on the road. The scoreline in that Chicago win was a little unfair to the Fire, and plus they aren't a good team at all. Vancouver is a better team than Chicago, and they could very well be a better team than Chivas. If they can score early, if they can score often, and if they can frustrate Juan Agudelo and the Goats' counterattack, they will probably be able to beat Chivas. The season is early, and while Chivas have been getting the headlines, Vancouver will no doubt be motivated to put their stamp on March as well.
Why this match will end in a draw: As I mentioned, three of the five previous meetings between these teams were draws, and while both teams have completely retooled their rosters multiple times over in that span, they do seem to have the knack of playing each other closely. Especially if the game ends up being a scoreless stalemate well into 80 minutes or so, a draw may end up being the result once more. Chivas haven't had a shutout yet this year, so it could also be a draw with goals, but a draw isn't unlikely. I think it could be a good result for Chivas too, although when the team is getting wins, it's hard not to expect three points as often as possible.