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Chivas USA vs. Portland Timbers: Three Questions

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Can you believe Chivas USA have a game coming up already? It's true, the Goats will be finishing up their five-game road trip Wednesday when they play the Portland Timbers (8 pm PST, Fox Prime Ticket). Ahead of that match, we welcome Geoff Gibson of the Timbers blog Stumptown Footy to get the scoop on his team ahead of the game. How have the Timbers been doing since Chivas last played them? Are they making a run for the playoffs? Let's see what Geoff has to say. After that, you'll see Geoff's questions about Chivas and my responses.

The Goat Parade asks Stumptown Footy:

1. As a first-year MLS team, one would expect the Timbers to have very low expectations this season. Yet it seems like the club and it's fans seriously believe the team can make the playoffs. Are the playoffs the overall goal for the season, and how has the team been performing to possibly reach that goal?

I think the play-offs are the goal for every team no matter where they came from. That said, did the Timbers FO and fans have a bit of an long hope when the season first started? Absolutely. And it's still there. The Timbers aren't completely out of the play-off picture yet (we'll see after Wednesday) and I think the fans, players, staff and even the owner Merritt Paulson are still striving to reach that level of success for the season.

Continued after the jump

The big problem with actually getting to the play-offs, however, is the inconsistencies regarding the team's home and away games. Without at least a couple more away wins the Timbers probably won't be looking at a play-off future this year. 

2. Portland has been rather active in the league this season via trades. How have those trades worked out, and are any of the new additions making a particular impact on the field?

Great! Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer are the two big guys who came in to help shore up the backline and they've made a world of difference. Mike Chabala, specifically, brings a sense of calm and decisiveness that Rodney Wallace could not. Lovel Palmer on the opposite side of the field brings better distribution and accuracy than either Jeremy Hall or Steve Purdy has in recent games. Both players have fit in quite well really, although that's not terribly surprising given that they were both players for the Houston Dynamo, the team the head coach John Spencer worked with last season.

The other trade was for Eric Alexander. I've heard good things about him, but he has yet to actually play a game given the recentness of the trade. I hope we can see him as a sub either on Wednesday or, more likely, by Saturday.

3. The Timbers won their first five home games in league play this season, before entering a difficult middle stretch where they could not get a home win for more than two months. They have, however, won the last two games at home. We all know about the fan support and terrific atmosphere at Jeld-wen Field, but do the Timbers have home-field advantage back?

Tough to say really. Playing at Jeld-Wen Field does afford a certain energy not found in other stadiums to the Timbers. That said, while I believe that is what motivated them earlier this year, I'm not sure that's what pushed them over the LA Galaxy or Vancouver Whitecaps in the last few weeks. Instead what we saw was consistent, meaningful control throughout the entirety of the game. They were consistent and I believe and hope we'll see the team playing more consistently throughout the remainder of the home games. 

Nobody likes to admit it, but the home field winning streak in the past was more luck than anything else. Aside from maybe the home opener the Timbers really were lucky to not see a couple draws and maybe even a loss against the likes of Philadelphia and FC Dallas.

Stumptown Footy asks The Goat Parade:

1. Looking back at the previous game where Chivas USA beat the Portland Timbers 1-nil, Chivas has only notched a handful of wins. What's the missing link in the team? Why isn't Chivas USA in a better position?

Immediately after their victory over Portland on June 4, Chivas lost three straight matches and took a full month to record a victory again. That three game losing streak was the low point of the season, with a formerly dependable defense floundering and an inability to keep leads when necessary. By July, it looked like the team has gotten back on track, but all season they have played steady, not spectacular, soccer. As a result, their home and away splits are very similar, and they are the only team in the league this season to never lose by more than one goal. All of this is to say that they are pretty much in the middle of the league pack.

During the transfer window, the big concern was if Chivas could buy a consistent goalscorer. The team waited a while, but picked up French midfielder Laurent Courtois, who scored his first MLS goal Saturday against Colorado, and perhaps more famously, Colombian forward Juan Pablo Angel, who also scored Saturday (his first game with Chivas). If the new additions and the usual characters like Nick LaBrocca, Alejandro Moreno, and Justin Braun can score at an increased clip, then this team has a much better shot at making the playoffs.

2. Chivas USA's biggest move of the year was bringing on Juan Pablo Angel who notched his first goal for the team in his first game. How does this success translate into Chivas USA success? How does he fit in heading towards the play-off push? Should we expect to see him here in Portland?

I think the big question is if Angel can find any consistency for the rest of the season. He is getting older, but his three goal haul from the 22 games he played with the Galaxy is very poor. I think after his goal Saturday there is some more hope that perhaps Angel didn't fit with the Galaxy's tactical system or gel with his teammates on the field, and if that is the case, then it looks like he is already acclimating to life across the hall at the Home Depot Center. But if this is the only goal he scores for the club, then it may not be as significant of a move as Chivas fans hoped.

Since Chivas haven't had to rotate their lineup much this season, I'm not sure if Angel will play Wednesday, but I would like to see him out there to get another shot after his infamous performance at the beginning of the month when the Galaxy lost 3-0 to Portland. If he can return to Jeld-Wen Field and exorcise the demons quickly, then I would imagine that's all the better for him and for Chivas. But if Justin Braun cannot play because of injury, then the chances that Angel will be playing Wednesday are much higher.

3. Who are some notable players to watch out for in Wednesday's match and what do they bring to the field?

The unquestioned MVPs of Chivas this season are midfielder Nick LaBrocca and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. LaBrocca has gotten a fair amount of attention around the league, as he was selected to the All-Star Game this season and is joint-leading scorer on the team with seven goals. He is the catalyst for Chivas' attack, and his emergence this season has been remarkable, certainly something unexpected when Chivas got him in a trade before the season with Toronto. But LaBrocca really seems to be a terrific star on a team-first group, and he's really helped to transform the ethic of the club.

As for Kennedy, in a league where good goalkeepers are relatively easy to find, it is difficult for some guys to get recognition. Kennedy is one of those guys. I think every week he demonstrates his worth to the team by making save after save, often bailing out his defense in the process. I think relative to the top keepers in the league, Kennedy needs to be considered among the best, and with the exception perhaps of Stefan Frei of Toronto, is an outstanding goalkeeper who has a weaker defense than the other top keepers.

Projected starting line up?

GK: Dan Kennedy
DF: Michael Lahoud, Heath Pearce, Michael Umana, Ante Jazic
MF: Ben Zemanski, Simon Elliott, Nick LaBrocca, Jorge Flores
FW: Juan Pablo Angel, Alejandro Moreno