Chivas USA are set to celebrate at least half of their name Thursday, as they travel to FC Dallas for the teams' second meeting of the season on Independence Day. Chivas beat Dallas 3-1 last time they met, in March, and since then, their form has been completely opposite, as FCD has been at or near the top of the standings all season.
In order to get a sense of how it's going down Dallas way, we welcome back Brian Wachholz of SB Nation FC Dallas blog Big D Soccer to tell us how it's going with his team. Thanks to Brian for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks Big D Soccer:
1. Dallas still seems to be plugging along, although they have dropped a bit in the standings. How has it been going of late, and is the team trying to push for the Supporters' Shield?
The team has suffered some midseason injuries, but I don't see them losing any more steam. Quality depth is far greater this season than in years past. The club will continue to fight for the Supporters' Shield and aim for a strong run in the playoffs. The summer months seem to be packed with midweek games, so it is bittersweet to be knocked out of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. FC Dallas was extremely hungry for the centennial edition of the trophy which bears our owners' name. However, in the cold logical space of my brain, I can see the silver lining in being able to focus on just one competition. Expect FCD to remain at or near the top of the table.
2. When the season started, it seemed like FCD had a bit of a goalkeeper controversy, and Raul Fernandez was somewhat inconsistent to start the season. In recent months, he's become a significant factor in the team's success. What's the ceiling for him in MLS, and do you feel like he's finally gotten his sea legs?
It was less controversy and more competition. Kevin Hartman was let go in the offseason. This gave Chris Seitz and newcomer Fernandez a battle for the starting place between the sticks. Raúl has come on strong though and established dominance with the playing time he has received. As you mentioned, he was shaky at the start of the season. I can't imagine the culture shock coming from Peru to France to Texas. The defense has really worked hard to come together and learn each others' quirks as the season progresses. Raúl has had to adapt quickly to learn a new language and communicate with his team. While there is a significant Spanish speaking presence on the roster, the best XI defense is 75% native English speakers. Raul will go far in this league so long as he keeps working and making those flying saves. We are proud to have a CONMEBOL #1 on our team.
3. Which player has been especially impressive to you in Dallas' success this season?
Michel has been a great surprise. I remember in preseason hearing that he is a natural leftback and would be brought in as depth to help push Jair Benitez. I don't know whether it is due to Michel or not, but Jair has been playing great this season. Michel hasn't rarely even played leftback. He has slotted into defensive midfield very nicely for FCD, and his set piece service is second to none. You may recall his olympico which won Goal of the Week #12.
4. Prediction for the match?
FC Dallas Stadium is going to have great atmosphere. The annual 4th of July match regularly sells out and ends with fireworks, both on and off the field. I think this will be a hard match for Chivas. Even missing a few starters, I expect FCD to push a shutout and win 2 or 3 to 0.
Big D Soccer asks The Goat Parade:
1. Unfortunately, it didn't seem like Chélis had enough time to really put his stamp on the club. The front office has wasted no time though, and we've started seeing some of the player announcements of who is coming and going. Can you shine a light onto what the overall vision is for the Chivas USA roster reorganization?
Hmm...overall vision? I'm not sure I really have a bead on that yet, since they've made one major move (Carlos Bocanegra) and are rumored to be making a few more in the transfer window. At the risk of providing a wholly-unsatisflying answer, I think we're waiting to see what will actually come through this month.
Bocanegra's addition provides a much-needed upgrade in defense, although questions persist at the now-relevant full back positions, after new coach Jose Luis Real switched to a standard four-man defense. Although the midfield overall is the strongest segment of the roster (not that it couldn't also stand to get some upgrades), the forward situation is dire at the moment, and new forwards must be brought in as soon as possible, since the team will have no more than two available against Dallas. The team has dropped players like it is going out of style, including a few that I wish weren't leaving, but with Bocanegra eligible in a little over a week and with other moves hopefully on the horizon, we'll get a sense of the direction of the latest rebuild.
2. There have not been a lot of goals scored by the Rojiblancos. Juan Agudelo and Tristan Bowen lead the team with two each. Does CUSA have an eye on a potential striker to come in and add to the tally? or is this rooted deeper in the midfield?
It is undeniable that Chivas have struggled with providing service to their strikers at times this season, but their midfield flank play has turned into their best offensive weapon at this point. The main problem in my mind is the number and quality of forwards on the roster. I wrote about this recently, that Chivas were down to about four forwards on the entire roster. Since Tristan Bowen declared he's really a winger, and since Miller Bolanos was (in my mind unfairly) cut, that leaves three: Jose Correa, Julio Morales (who was at the U-20 World Cup with FCD's Richard Sanchez), and Jose Manuel Rivera. Morales was rumored to be returning to his parent club, Chivas de Guadalajara, but we'll have to see what his status is. Rivera has played in midfield about 85 percent of the time he's been on the field so far this year, so that leaves Correa, who has set up one own goal and done little else this season.
This is why I think fans were so unhappy about the Agudelo trade. Yes, in theory it makes sense to try and get value on an expiring contract. But Agudelo would have given Chivas far more value over the rest of the season than a measly $75,000 in Allocation Money. It's not a coincidence that when he got hurt, Chivas' scoring dried up completely. So that was a disaster. But with the transfer window open, hopefully the team can actually pick up some quality forwards who will literally score more than twice a season.
3. What's going on with Eric Avila? Will he be in LA or Guadalajara?
Chivas USA announced this week that Avila's trial at Guadalajara is over and that he's back in California for the rest of the season. From a Chivas USA perspective, this is great news. I don't begrudge Avila taking a chance on playing in a great league, but I was pretty upset with the club for taking a player with talent away from a team that has a major shortage of talent.
I'm sure we won't get a straight answer on this, but the question to me is whether Avila truly didn't make the cut in Mexico, despite the glowing praise from Chivas coach Benjamin Galindo, or if the backlash to the organization's gutting of the roster didn't persuade management to dial back their farm team aspirations a bit. Either way, I'm glad he's back in MLS, and I hope he can help the Goats make some tangible improvements over the second half of the season.
4. Expected starting eleven?
What do you think? Leave a comment below!