Chivas USA's first match of the 2012 MLS season is exactly two weeks away, and there's one big preseason event before then: the Portland Timbers Tournament. With the Goats playing their first match tomorrow, I figured it would be nice to do a quick preview on the event.
Chivas will join the tournament host Portland Timbers, the San Jose Earthquakes and Swedish side AIK in the round-robin action. The Timbers and Earthquakes will likely be Chivas' direct competition this season, and with playoff slots projected to be at an absolute premium in the Western Conference, getting the best of comparable teams will be key to their fortunes in 2012. As a result, this tournament will provide a good tuneup. Furthermore, AIK is also in preseason training, and finished second in the Swedish top division last season, so they will probably be a strong test for the MLS clubs.
As I noted when the tournament was first announced, there is another significant benefit to playing in this tournament for Chivas, as they will get a chance to acclimate themselves to the turf at Jeld-wen Field. I know Timbers fans insist the turf is so close to grass and the effect of the turf is overstated, but based on my observations, I think it plays considerably differently than grass. Chivas will have three preseason matches to adjust to the speed and bounce of the turf, which I think will be helpful come the regular season. Will it make such a difference as to swing points for the Goats? Maybe, maybe not, but a single point could make a real difference by season's end.
Chivas' first match is against AIK tomorrow at 5 pm PST. If you are interested in learning more about them, check out this post on the SB Nation Timbers' blog Stumptown Footy, which details the fan culture and thoughts from the Swedish fans' perspective about the tournament and MLS.
The second match of the tourney for the Goats is Thursday, March 1 at 7:30 pm PST against the Timbers. Since this match comes just three days after the first, I am assuming Robin Fraser will rotate the squad and give some of the backups significant minutes during the tournament, but I'm not sure if he'll play a mixture of starters and backups during the whole tourney or if he'll do a starter-backup-starter arrangement over the three games. I assume he wants to stay competitive but won't go all out since it is the preseason, so I'm expecting a mix of starters and backups in each game. Also, I'm not sure how the substitutions will work in this tournament. If three subs are allowed, then Fraser will have to consider his lineups more carefully over the matches, but if unlimited subs are allowed, he may make wholesale changes within each match.
The tournament wraps up for Chivas on Sunday, March 4 at 2:30 pm PST against the Earthquakes. I found another useful post on Stumptown Footy, this time an interview with Robert Jonas of SB Nation Quakes blog Quake, Rattle and Goal. Jonas seems pretty happy about the changes the Quakes made in the offseason, and considering Chivas finished two points behind San Jose in 2011, Goats fans will have to hope Chivas made better offseason changes than the Quakes.
All in all, I expect a "competitive" tournament, in that the MLS teams were rather close in talent level in 2011 and all four teams will look to get ready to use the matches as a yardstick heading into the season. Portland will likely have a big advantage, with the hometown crowd supporting them, but I think the Goats can give a good showing. Once again, however, I have to repeat my mantra: I don't care about the results of these games, win, lose or draw, as long as Chivas get results during the regular season. If they get blown out in all three of these matches, yes it will hurt a bit, but it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things IF they can play well and get points when the games really count.
One last note: Scott French notes at ESPN that the only matches that will be streamed online will be those involving the Timbers. I can't say I'm at all happy about this, as that means Chivas fans not at the tournament will only be able to see their second match. The first game is tomorrow, so we may not be able to do anything, but maybe put some pressure on Chivas, the Timbers and MLS on twitter? It can't hurt, right? Let's lobby them together and see if they can adjust the streaming schedule.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!