Countdown to Kick Off: Will the Chivas USA defense be a liability again in 2014?

Is Burling up for the task? - Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Is the backline really ready for the prime time of an MLS regular season?

With the 2014 MLS Regular Season set to kick off over the weekend, we are gearing up for the start of the games that count by looking at some of the biggest questions facing Chivas USA on the field this year. Today, it's time to take a look at the team's defense.

Chivas USA have had one of the worst defenses in the league for several seasons now. In the last two years, the team has gone through sustained slumps where opponents scored four, five, even six goals on the Goats. Last year, they had two such slumps, on their way to allowing 67 goals, or just a hair under two per game. Needless to say, that's not a recipe for success.

Given the problems with the defense, perhaps it is unsurprising that the backline has been rebuilt once again heading into this season. In fact, no starter from last season's opening match remains on the roster. Bobby Burling is the longest-tenured defender on the team, and he joined the team this time around in August 2012.

Fine, if the players who were around weren't up to it, then it certainly makes sense to replace them.

Here's the big question, though: Is this year's corps of defenders better? Actually, are they good enough to keep Chivas competitive in MLS all season?

On paper, they appear better. After all, they actually have full backs this year.

But while Tony Lochhead is an international who has MLS experience, he didn't light the world on fire in his last stint in North America, and his last club team has been near the bottom of the A-League standings the last couple years he was there.

Meanwhile, it appears Wilmer Cabrera is set to start Eric Avila at right back. Avila started last season as a right wingback for Chelís' defense, but he's not really a defender. While the idea by Cabrera to make sure Avila remains on the field sounds pretty good on paper, can he really hack it when left-sided attackers will be licking their chops to go at him?

Of course, if the center backs are dominant, then that can paper over a lot of the cracks at full back. However, I don't think it is a stretch to say that while the center back corps may be better than last year, they may still not be very good. Carlos Bocanegra provides leadership and an ability to head the ball well, but any speed he has left him years ago. If Burling is paired alongside him, which appears to be Cabrera's favored pairing, the result is that any team with any speedy players will just blow by the central defenders.

The result? Two shaky full backs and two shaky center backs. Doesn't sound very promising, I have to be honest.

I think the good news is that the defensive midfield position is going to be pretty solid this season. Oswaldo Minda is back and hopefully he can have a healthy campaign free from off-field drama. Agustin Pelletieri and Dani Fragoso look like they'll get plenty of reps beside Minda, and it appears Cabrera will field two holding mids, which is an acknowledgment that the defense is plenty shaky.

So the holding mids will hopefully provide cover, which should help, though the defenders still will have a lot of work to do. The other question is whether the rest of the defenders can emerge and claim a starting spot beyond the first match. Of course, the presumed decision to go with Burling over Andrew Jean-Baptiste appears to be strange, but hopefully the youngster can get involved pretty fast.

Then there are the unknowns at MLS level of Andrew Ribeiro, Fejiro Okiomah, and Donny Toia. What about Carlos Borja -- where will he play? Eriq Zavaleta?

It really seems like Chivas have upgraded the midfield and forward positions in the offseason, but the questions really remain for the defense. Can these players help make the Goats competitive in 2014? We have less than a week to start finding out the answer, but hopefully they are up for the task...all season.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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