Ok, the homestretch is truly here for Chivas USA. Sure, they have an 'away' game against the Galaxy coming up, but they will be playing at the Home Depot Center and sleeping in their own beds for the rest of the season. The first game in this four game homestretch to finish the season comes Saturday, when Toronto FC visits (7:30 pm PST, Direct Kick/Matchday Live, KDOC). TFC has had a season full of ups and downs, with a first-year coach and a great deal of roster turnover. Sound familiar? Well, I think the ups and downs, and the roster turnover was much more magnified for Toronto than even the Goats this season. The clubs last met way back on April 2, when they tied 1-1, the first point Chivas earned on the season. They are both pretty far down in the standings, but again, with all the new players coming in for TFC, it will be like playing a whole different team.
Both teams still have a mathematical chance at the postseason, although neither has any practical chances, so this one is mostly for pride and to end the MLS regular season on a high note. But crazier things have happened, I suppose. With that, let's get you ready for the match.
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 32 points (7-12-11); 7th place in Western Conference, 13th place overall; Goal difference: -2 (36/38); Last 5 games: L-L-L-L-T
Toronto FC: 30 points (6-12-12); 8th place in Eastern Conference, 16th place overall; Goal difference: -20 (32/52); Last 5 games: W-L-T-W-W
Key Matchup: Danny Koevermans/Whoever starts as forward for Toronto vs. Chivas defense
If you look at the stats above, Toronto is sitting below Chivas in the standings, and their goal difference is worst in the league. But that obscures the fact that TFC have won three of their last five games and are tied for having the third-hottest form over the last five matches. While it looks like the team is starting to gel and are using the success they are having in the CONCACAF Champions League to fuel a resurgence in MLS, the addition of Dutch striker Danny Koevermans has really been significant. Since joining in July, he has scored 6 goals in 6 MLS matches, and had both goals in TFC's win on Saturday against the Colorado Rapids. Koevermans was a considerable risk, as a 32 year old striker signing to a designated player contract, but it looks like the risk has paid off very well so far.
The big question, however, is if Koevermans will even play against Chivas. He played midweek in TFC's Champions League match against Tauro, where he scored the winner. Toronto has another CCL game on Tuesday at home, so with the travel to Los Angeles and back, sandwiched between games in a competition Toronto actually has a chance at, means Koevermans and many other starters may not feature at all against Chivas. Now, one never knows if a second-string player is motivated to impress the coach and will shine out of nowhere, but needless to say playing the second team ought to improve the Goats' chances considerably. I don't think Koevermans is unstoppable, but given Chivas' defensive problems lately I don't think anybody would mind facing an easier challenge in order to get the backline some confidence. Of course, if a backup strikeforce torches Chivas, yikes. Let's hope that's not in the cards in this match.
Why Chivas will win this match: Again, my confidence level will depend on what lineup Toronto plays and if key players like Heath Pearce play. I'm going to venture that there will be at least some squad rotation for TFC against Chivas, so I have to say I am feeling optimistic about this match. Coming on the heels of a confidence-raising second half performance in the 2-2 draw against DC United on Wednesday, I think Chivas have renewed reason to believe they can beat a team like Toronto. I think the injury to Heath Pearce and the lack of squad depth, as well as the pressure put on them to make the playoffs put the team in a tailspin the last month, but Wednesday's result gives them hope they can get a win here. Since the pressure is effectively off, hopefully Chivas will go out and go for a victory in order to finish the season strong. Frankly, this is the easiest game left in their schedule, so if nothing else, they'll want to win this match to improve their point total on the season.
Why Toronto will win this match: I'm guessing pretty much every team Toronto has beaten lately took them lightly. This is a franchise with a lot of bad times and there have been plenty of poor performances this season. But their recent form has really been a transformation, and while it is too little too late to really change their fortunes significantly this season, they can't be taken lightly. They also have literally no pressure to perform in MLS this year, so unlike Chivas they can play without any real burden so long as they have hope in the Champions League. And despite Chivas clawing back to get a point Wednesday, they played poorly in giving up two goals and for a long time in that match it looked like the same old story. The team and the fans obviously hope they've turned a corner, but perhaps that was a blip in what will be a sustained slide to finish the year. The lineup will likely indicate TFC's ambitions in this match, but they have a lot more confidence at the moment than the Goats.
Why this match will end in a tie: They tied in their last meeting. Their talent level is probably pretty similar, and while Chivas looked to be a superior side for much of the season, perhaps the sides are evening out. A draw or loss puts Chivas out of the playoff hunt altogether, so that may be in the back of their minds as they take the field, and may cause them to tighten up. And if Toronto is able to get the first goal (or more) Chivas' chances at a win will drop dramatically as they have been using a ton of energy trying to come from behind in every single game for several weeks. As a result, a draw is far from inconceivable in this match.
Chivas USA: Paulo Nagamura (foot), Heath Pearce (hamstring, listed as probable)
Toronto FC: Adrian Cann (knee), Joao Plata (hamstring), Demetrius Omphroy (knee, listed as doubtful)