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Preview: Chivas USA at Sporting Kansas City, July 9, 2011

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Does it feel like Chivas have played two games in less than a week? That's because they have. And guess what? They have another game on Saturday! It is your lucky week. Chivas travel to take on Sporting Kansas City at their new stadium, Livestrong Sporting Park, for the first time (4:30 PT, Galavision). They are riding a wave of optimism after their 2-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday, and look to split the season series with Sporting KC, who beat Chivas 3-2 in the first game of the season. After defeating Chivas in that opening match, they settled into a slump as they were on a 10-game road trip to open the season. Since opening their stadium, their form has improved rapidly and they are shooting up the Eastern Conference standings. So what is in store for these teams Saturday? Let's take a look.

Tale of the tape:

Chivas USA: 21 points (5-7-6); 6th in Western Conference, 9th place overall; Goal difference: 1 (23/22); Last 5 games: L-L-L-T-W

Sporting Kansas City: 21 points (5-6-6); 4th in Eastern Conference, 11th place overall; Goal difference: -1 (22/23); Last 5 games: W-T-W-W-T

Key Matchup:  Chivas midfield vs. SKC midfield

Both teams have had their ups and downs in the first half of the season. These teams are capable of energetic play, wonderful long-range goals, and deadly dull scoreless draws that nobody ever watches again. The key to controlling this game will be to see which midfield can control the possession and tempo of play. Sporting Kansas City has perhaps the deepest forward corps in the league, and they will not be easy to match up against since Coach Peter Vermes rotates the strikers all the time. But if that forward line, regardless of who is playing, does not get service from the midfield, then their chances of scoring drop dramatically. A similar principle works for Chivas. Obviously, good link up play is necessary to get the forwards involved in the game, but the midfield is actually scoring a large proportion of Chivas' goals this season. So if the Goats' midfielders can actually get some space and time on the ball, they can be very dangerous for KC's defense.

Why Chivas will win this match: They are getting their mojo back! Sure, they struggled mightily in recent weeks, but every team that gets a new coach and overturns most of their roster is bound to. The fact is that Chivas are playing pretty well, if inconsistently, and there is every reason they can break KC's home unbeaten streak. They have already played once this season, and can make necessary adjustments. Chivas have thrived playing under pressure on the road, and if they have sorted out their problems giving up leads, they will be on the charge once again. Added to that, Nick LaBrocca is on fire at the moment. Can he make it three games in a row where he scores?

Why Kansas City will win this match: They have that unbeaten streak at home, for starters. They looked dire at the end of their road odyssey, but getting some home cooking has reinvigorated them. Graham Zusi went from being a punchline to an ace free kick specialist. Aurelien Collin has improved their defense. The forward line-by-committee is impressive, as Omar Bravo, Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong, and Kei Kamara have all chipped in on the scoring when others have slumped or been injured. As long as their defense lets in one fewer goal than their offense can score, they will be riding high.

Why the game will end in a draw: Both teams are coming off midweek games, and they each had to travel once this week. Additionally, given the time of year, it will likely be very hot and humid at the game, which may affect fitness levels. As I mentioned above, both teams are capable of scoreless draws, but they have also been involved in several high scoring ties, so 3-3 would not be out of the realm of possibility considering both teams struggle at times defensively. Additionally, they are level on points at the moment, and their talent level is probably roughly equivalent (ok, maybe KC has a few more names, but they probably aren't far apart). Given the fixture congestion, they would probably be happy with a point.

Notable absences:

Chivas USA: Alejandro Moreno (Venezuela national team), Jimmy Conrad (concussion), Ante Jazic (calf), Paulo Nagamura (quad)

Sporting Kansas City: Konrad Warzycha (knee), Craig Rocastle (knee), Davy Arnaud (sports hernia), Seth Sinovic (hamstring)