Fresh off a truly heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers on Wednesday, Chivas USA are back in the saddle again, as they host Real Salt Lake tonight at the Home Depot Center (7:30 pm PST, Fox Soccer). If you thought the Portland game was a must-win for Chivas, this one is all the more so. Chivas likely need 14 more points to make the playoffs, and including tonight's match only have eight more games to get that amount. It is absolutely imperative they get wins here in the homestretch, starting with this game. Obviously, Real Salt Lake is one of the best-run organizations in the league, and has been one of the best teams the past few seasons. Coupled with that, the previous match between these teams was a match to forget all around, as Chivas played down two men for the entire second half and Marcos Mondaini tackled Javier Morales and broke Morales' ankle in the process. RSL won the match 1-0 on a late goal by Will Johnson, but it was an absolute nightmare game for both sides.
Will the bad feelings of that last game carry over to this one? Will Chivas be able to breakthrough and beat RSL? We'll have to wait until tonight, but in the meantime, we'll get you ready for the match.
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 31 points (7-9-10); 7th in Western Conference, 12th place overall; Goal difference: 3 (32/29); Last 5 games: L-W-T-T-LReal Salt Lake: 36 points (10-7-6); 5th in Western Conference, 6th place overall; Goal difference: 12 (32/20); Last 5 games: L-L-W-L-L
Key Matchup: Chivas forwards vs. RSL defense
Recently, I've been highlighting the form of the forwards in match previews. Although there have been games this season where the strikers were ineffective but the team could score from other positions, it is not a surprise that when the forwards score, the team usually gets a result. Since the team to this point in the season have been in every game (never losing a game by more than a goal), the play of the forwards can be a harbinger for the team's overall form. And although the forwards have been very inconsistent this year, Justin Braun and Alejandro Moreno, as well as Juan Pablo Angel, have played well of late for the Goats. I expect Angel to start, and if the team uses a 4-4-2 formation Braun will probably feature up top as well. If these two can get on the same page and find the ball from the midfielders, they will improve Chivas' chances in this match tremendously.
Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake are tied for the stingiest defense in the league, and the experience of the backline and Nick Rimando makes RSL a very difficult test for any team. In Chivas' case, this will be one of the biggest tests of the season, but if they are truly playoff-caliber, they need to prove their mettle against the best. Jamison Olave has been out with a knee injury suffered in the MLS All-Star Game last month, but may be ready to start tonight. If that's the case, the test becomes that much harder for Chivas.
Why Chivas will win this match: It is a tall task, but Chivas know RSL is not infallible. They have lost four of their last five matches, losing to Columbus, Kansas City, Toronto and Houston during that stretch. Those teams are all in the Eastern Conference, perceived to be generally weaker than the West, but those teams span the entire length of the East standings. For a team believed to be invincible at the start of the season, RSL has fallen considerably, and while still being a talented team are not the dominant force they have been in the past. As a result, Chivas need to take heart from RSL's mistakes, and realize they have improved significantly since the last match between these teams. Chivas are in better form, the last loss notwithstanding, and played RSL very closely in the previous match despite having a two-man deficit for the majority of the game. It will not be easy, but the resilience of this squad and the various players who can provide a spark mean this team can pull it off.
Why RSL will win this match: They may be in a poor run of form, but RSL can spring back to their exemplary form in no time. They have perhaps the deepest squad in the league, so while other teams would be hopeless with the amount of injuries the team has, they can slot other players in and lose little in the process. Nick Rimando is a top five keeper in the league, Kyle Beckerman is having another strong season, and Fabian Espindola has found his inner villain in a number of stadiums around the league. They are clearly a class above Chivas and in order to solidify their season before the playoffs, need to get back into form. This could be the start of an endstretch run to fire them into the playoffs, and if that happens, watch out MLS.
Why this game will end in a draw: Both teams play cautiously, and I doubt a blowout is in order for either side. The match will likely be tight and cagey, and hopefully there will not be any disciplinary issues for Chivas like last time. Rimando and Kennedy are both top keepers and will probably make for a low-scoring game. As ever, Chivas would settle for one point above no points, and the talent imbalance could make for a perfect atmosphere for a draw. If a draw does result, expect 0-0 or 1-1.
Chivas: Paulo Nagamura (foot), Michael Lahoud (ankle), Zarek Valentin (quad, listed as doubtful)
Real Salt Lake: Javier Morales (ankle), Chris Wingert (wrist), Ned Grabavoy (adductor, listed as doubtful), Arturo Alvarez (knee, listed as questionable), Fabian Espindola (knee, listed as questionable), Jamison Olave (knee, listed as questionable), Nick Rimando (back, listed as questionable), Jean Alexandre (knee, listed as probable), Alvaro Saborio (knee, listed as probable)