Chivas USA have a quick turnaround in action this week, moving on from their Wednesday loss to Portland to host the Philadelphia Union on Saturday evening (7:30 pm PT, Time Warner Cable Deportes). Both teams have struggled this season, with the Union also coming off a loss, as they were the victims of perhaps poor timing in a 4-1 spanking by a Landon Donovan-led LA Galaxy last weekend. Both fanbases feel a mixture of pessimism, that this game will go wrong too, along with hope that this could be an opportunity to get a much-needed win. As for how it will shake out, well, we will learn that tonight.
If you missed it, be sure to check out the Three Questions feature for this game from Friday.
On to the preview!
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 10 points (2-6-4), 9th in Western Conference, 18th place overall; Goal Difference: -9 (13/22); Last five matches: L-D-W-L-L
Philadelphia Union: 11 points (2-7-5), 9th in Eastern Conference, 17th place overall; Goal Difference: -8 (16/24); Last five matches: L-L-W-L-L
Coaching battle: Wilmer Cabrera is new to the head coaching position in MLS and is still learning the ropes. John Hackworth is the league's sixth longest-tenured head coach, which is kind of surprising given that he's just now approaching two full years on the job. Despite that, there's a sense that Hackworth's job security is at stake, while Cabrera certainly has free reign at this point to feel secure in his post.
I think the big question for this game will be how these coaches approach it, and carry out their respective gameplans. Both teams are pretty similarly constructed, with a smattering of quality veterans, some surprising youngsters, a very suspect defense, and plenty of inconsistency. The Union have the upper hand in the sense that their group has been together longer, and there's been far less roster churn, but the Goats have the advantage of bringing a group together for the first time, and (theoretically, at least) getting progressively better as they gel.
On some level, the coaches can only do so much to prepare the group, and the players will be responsible for coming out flat if that indeed happens. But it's safe to say at least one fanbase, possibly both, will groan at the starting lineup and/or substitution patterns in this game, and that this probably won't be the most elegant soccer game the league has ever seen. Still, this is an opportunity for the respective coaches to try and pick off a relatively easy opponent. Especially considering this will be the only meeting between these teams, they can't waste the chance.
Why Chivas will win this match: Their opponents are among the most vulnerable they'll meet this season, and they can't afford to waste games like this not picking up full points. The Goats are actually slight favorites in this game, and given that they didn't have to travel across the country for it, I suppose that counts as an advantage. But if Chivas can put up multiple goals in this game, I think that will be a good omen for their prospects, as Philly have shuffled their defense continually this season and have had some real problems as a result. Of course the aim in soccer is to score, but the later Chivas leave it to put goals on the board, the more likely they're going to draw, or worse, actually lose to the Union. Is it an actual must-win game? Nah, just because Chivas' playoff hopes are very slim at this point anyway. But it's as close as we'll see, at least until Montreal comes to town in July.
Why Philadelphia will win this match: Though Union supporters are very much down on their team at the moment, the actual quality between these two teams is more or less even. On paper, that gives Chivas a great chance, of course, but to walk into this game thinking a game is nailed on for the Goats is foolish. The Union are certainly looking at this game with the same opportunistic eyes as CUSA, and they'll be hungry to get a result at the same stadium a week after getting blown out there. And while their striker play has been very disappointing this year, in midfield they have a few players who can change the game, from French newcomer Vincent Nogueira, who is quietly having one of the best debut seasons around the league, to Maurice Edu, a box-to-box midfielder who can nonetheless put the team on his shoulders from time to time, to another new player, Cristian Maidana, who has been very inconsistent so far, but in games where he's played well, he's played very well. Even under-the-radar reserves like Leo Fernandes, who started the season very well, could catch Chivas by surprise. If Chivas are looking to score early and often, believe me, the Union will go for the same course of action, and have a strong chance of pulling a win off, too.
Why this game will end in a draw: Even match-up? Check. Two teams near the bottom of the standings? Check. Seven red cards between these teams in league play (to be fair, five have been on Chivas' side)? Check. There's a great chance both teams will end up disappointed by a draw here. And frankly, despite the desire on both sides, a draw seems like a likely outcome. Of course, a red card will likely tip the scales in one team's favor, but this is bound to be a gritty, unfashionable game, and it could lead to a tie.