Chivas USA are indeed back to competitive matches starting this weekend, and the next opponent on the docket is the Colorado Rapids. Chivas' 3-0 win over the Rapids in the preseason in Las Vegas gave Goats' fans some hope that improvement was in the air, and so far, that has been the case in MLS. But now these teams play for reals, and Colorado is coming off a big win last season, over their bitter rivals Real Salt Lake, so they're feeling pretty good.
In order to get a sense of how it's going in the Rockies, I spoke with Bulldog Ben of SB Nation Rapids blog Burgundy Wave. Big thanks to Ben for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks Burgundy Wave:
1. The Rapids got their first win of the season last week, but from all appearances, it appeared they have been playing better than their record would indicate. With a slew of key players going down because of injury and suspension, which players have emerged so far this year and taken advantage of the opportunity to play?
The RapKids have been playing better than their record would indicate: yes, that's a fair assessment. I think it's pretty clear who has really emerged this year and taken advantage of their opportunity to play: all of them, save for Steward Ceus. Not to single Stew out, but he's been the only backup guy who didn't acquit himself well this year (that howler at Dallas, for example). But everyone has been making the most of it this year. DeShorn Brown, Dillon Powers, Tony Cascio, Chris Klute, Shane O'Neill... all of them have been performing well beyond what I think Major League Soccer reasonably expects of rookies.
There hasn't been a single rookie or youngster that I haven't been impressed with. Not one. RapKids forever.
2. I have to ask about Clint Irwin. Chivas USA fans saw him last year in the U.S. Open Cup, playing for the Charlotte Eagles, and he looks like the real deal in MLS. How do Rapids fans feel about him? I could be way off in looking at the situation from a distance, but is it possible that he could replace Matt Pickens even after he recovers from his broken arm?
Rapids fans LOVE him. But that's not a surprise. Rapids fans generally love two kinds of players: guys who take other guys on one-v-one and good goalkeepers. Well, goalkeepers in general. Rapids love them some goalkeepers. Clint Irwin has also done something that Matt Pickens never did, which is save a PK. Yeah, I know, pretty stunning, right?
Clint is the real deal, and it's his attitude more than anything else that tells me this guy is ready for prime time. He works like a star, he has the mentality of a star goalkeeper, and that's going to take him places. As of right now, especially given Pickens' poor performance in the Union game earlier this year, I don't know if the #1 is still Matt Pickens' as soon as he comes back. Pareja is the kind of coach that says "look, I'm going to play who is best at the position right now, the one who works the hardest and proves himself, regardless of who you are to this club." And right now? That's Irwin.
3. How can Chivas possibly exploit Colorado's defense Saturday? Is there a style or component of the game that has been a particular weakness?
Chivas is using a high-pressure system right now, something similar to what San Jose and Seattle did last year. And if you'll remember, the Rapids did not do well against those teams (we lost to them every time). And if Preseason is prediction... Chivas USA could actually pull out a win here if they stick to this high-pressure intense game that they play.
Colorado has really only shown defensive weaknesses on set-pieces. That's pretty common though when you have a young team, or a team in transition: set pieces cause absolute chaos and if you can't pay attention to the small details you can die by them. And the Rapids have shown in the past two years that they lack that kind of concentration. What they did in the RSL game was try to manage the amount of set pieces that happened in their final third.
Our defense looks light-years improved from last year's, and that's not just due to Irwin stepping up, that's due to just having better depth and better personel. Drew Moor now has an able back-up in Shane O'Neill. At this point, I would not be surprised or shocked if they start Shane at CB regularly while Diego Calderon is out for the next few months. Marvell Wynne moving back to RB was a good move as well. The only guy I worry about is Brian Mullan at fullback. But then again, we've got a solid youngster in Chris Klute to step up if Mullan isn't the guy.
Offensively, Colorado has problems with things coming together for them in the final third. BUT they do score goals, and they score goals on good goalkeepers too. Putting two past Nick Rimando from the run of play is not easy. So I wouldn't count them out there even against a guy like Dan Kennedy. Chivas USA has to hope Edson Buddle can't hold the ball up as well as he does, and has to hope that a guy like DeShorn Brown doesn't suddenly start finding his scoring form. Atiba Harris also recently had his best game in a Colorado shirt, so watch out for him. He's an opportunist who wins every ball in the air that comes to him. No really, check that last game. He's huge.
Midfield-wise, I think Colorado is in good shape. Hendry Thomas is one of the best anchor men in the business, bar none. He's incredibly intelligent on both sides of the ball. Powers is also a bright boy. I expect Nick LaBrocca to get the start at Chivas, and he's an intelligent player as well. The midfield is really where Colorado puts its brains to work. Watch for Thomas' distribution. The Hendry Thomas long-ball is absolutely a threat every time because he's so good at picking out a guy in a dangerous position to make something happen. Watch our goal against RSL again. It all starts with Hendry.
The guy I'm most worried about with Chivas USA is Eric Avila. I've always liked his game and El Chelis just seems to get him in a way that other coaches haven't. I also like Carlos Alvarez and Juan Agudelo, but I'm not as worried about them as I am about Avila-- he seems like the creative fulcrum of the team, the idea man.
4. (Bonus) Prediction for Saturday?
Both Chivas and Colorado have played with a lot of heart and a lot of passion and they've just been great to watch this year. This should be a good game, I think. But I think Chivas, being at home and being in somewhat better form right now, I think Chivas can get this one done. I think this will be something like a 2-1 game, or 3-2 Chivas. I'm just hoping for a good entertaining game from two coaches that like to play "a muerte" relentless attacking football whenever they can.
You can find my answers to Ben's questions here.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!