The U.S. Open Cup is back! Chivas USA open their 2014 campaign, hopefully the start of a long run, with a big game against the Carolina RailHawks on Saturday in Cary, North Carolina (5 pm PT, stream on CDChivasUSA.com). Chivas and Carolina are playing for the third straight year in the tournament, with the teams splitting the previous two results. Can the Goats avenge the loss from 2013, or will the NASL side get the better of their MLS opponents once more?
If you are new to the Open Cup, it is a one-and-done tournament, like NCAA March Madness for basketball. There have been three official rounds of the 2014 USOC already, with the American MLS teams entering the tournament in this, the fourth round. Chivas USA have never won the Open Cup, but they have twice been semifinalists, in 2010 and 2012, falling both times to the Seattle Sounders.
Let's preview this match!
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 0-0-0 (1st game in 2014 U.S. Open Cup)
Carolina RailHawks: 1-0-0 (USOC: Defeated Charlotte Eagles 2-0)
Let me tell you once again why this game is so important: Chivas USA is expected to rebrand after this season. They have never won any proper silverware under the current name. They are not involved in the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League competition. Although there is still plenty of soccer left to play in the 2014 MLS season, their chances of winning the Supporters Shield (currently in 18th place, out of 19 teams) or MLS Cup (currently in last place in the Western Conference, 10 points out of the last playoff position) look pretty dim, let's be honest.
But while the U.S. Open Cup isn't an easy tournament, it is an eminently winnable tournament, even for a team that's struggled as much as Chivas. After all, D.C. United had a historically bad season last year in MLS but won the Open Cup. If that doesn't give you hope, I don't know what would.
It's just five games! Come on CUSA, even if you are horrible in league play the rest of the way, winning the USOC would make this season a success. But it all starts with this game, against the RailHawks, who again, proved they could beat Chivas just last year. This competition, for as long as Chivas are in it, should be the organization's top priority.
Why Chivas will win this match: They should be in a regular match rhythm, since they don't have to play a midweek game as is customary most years for the Open Cup. That means they should also play their first choice lineup (HINT: WILMER CABRERA, PLAY YOUR FIRST CHOICE LINEUP). And even if there have been struggles this year, there is unquestionably more talent on this roster this year than there was last year. Also, the coach wasn't fired right before this game this year, so hopefully morale will be pretty good (and that draw against the LA Galaxy last week should help on that count as well). The other advantage with this season's team is that most of them weren't around for last season's loss (just three starters from that game remain on the roster this year, with one, Oswaldo Minda, guaranteed not to play), which wasn't too horrible until the game went to extra time, and then Carolina just started crushing the Goats. And even though Carolina can't be taken lightly, let's be real: Chivas remain a first-division side, and should expect to beat the RailHawks. That's the bottom line.
Why Carolina will win this match: I can completely see a scenario whereby Cabrera won't take this game all that seriously, and will play a weakened lineup, or will mentally cruise a little bit, and the team will come out flat and disappoint as a result. For the highs the Goats have reached so far this season, there have been a lot of lows, too. Sure, some of that came from a new group coming together and going through some growing pains, and some of that came from strange/borderline/unfair officiating. But as we saw last year, and as we've consistently seen with the RailHawks, they are definitely capable of beating MLS opposition. That they did it just last year against Chivas will certainly give them confidence they can do it again, and unlike Chivas they have a group of players held over from last year who played in the win. That's right, Carolina's got stability, a strange word that Chivas USA scrubbed out of their vocabulary some time ago.
Why this game will end in a draw: Because it's the Open Cup, technically it can't. But I will say that like last year, if this game is tied at the end of 90 minutes, the edge will most likely swing over to the RailHawks, since they are the nominal underdogs and will be playing at home. If a winner isn't decided by the end of regulation, chances are Chivas aren't having a good day, and that will bode very badly for their prospects.
Carolina: Toni Stahl (rib - questionable), Nick Millington (injury information courtesy of @ByNeilMorris)