Yesterday marked the last day of the preseason for Chivas USA with a 5-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. The Goats got off to a decent start with a strong control of possession, and two dangerous shots on target, one from Casey Townsend and one from Lahoud. However, things began to go sour once San Jose capitalized off a counter and Chris Wondolowski scored in the 27th minute.
Possession and play became sloppy, and there was really no cohesion between the different components on the field. The first touches were bad. Play became much more defensive and it seemed as it the players were only keen to close out the half without letting in another goal. One player who negatively stood out to me in this game was Minda, and his tendency to turn over the ball a lot, or foul when he was unable to get possession. I also thought that he did not do enough to help with tracking back and defending. At first I questioned the play of Nick LaBrocca. I think LaBrocca has been a more defensive midfielder this season, and I’m not sure it’s the best place for him. We all know what an asset he was to this team last season in the playmaker role, and it looks as if Fraser has taken him out of that. This was extremely apparent in this game. More often than not, he was playing back behind with the center backs to help them out. This could have been offset with more help from Minda, who wasn’t helping the offense much either. There needs to be a better cohesion between the two center midfielders so that the wingers (Courtois and Lahoud in this game) can have an easier time going forward and creating plays.
LaBrocca playing deeper could also do with the lackadaisical motions of the defense. Often times Heath Pearce and James Riley were seen out of position and Jorge Villafana and John Valencia were left to clean up the mess. I’m not sure what’s going on with Pearce this offseason (could he be in despair over the loss of his roommate Zarek Valentin?), but it seems his head is just not in the game.
The second half started off much like the first. The Goats maintained possession, and seemed to be creating chances until Justin Morrow scored for San Jose off a set piece. Again, play went south and Chivas USA was unable to control the ball. They built up a bit more and had some chances but nothing too close. The play just went south after the influx of substitutes in the second half, particularly when LaBrocca came out for Vagenas (and no, I am not just saying that because I am not a fan of the guy). LaBrocca fouled a San Jose player yet ended up taking the brunt of the tackle and was unable to really find his bearings after that. The sloppiness of passes increased, and the inability to lock down defense really showed. The third goal was due to absolutely horrid defending and a lack of closing down on the San Jose players.
Allowing San Jose to score two goals in the last ten minutes of play, both times off of 1-2 pass shots really demonstrates the lack of organization in the back. Zemanski and Romero were ok, but were unable to make a huge impact. Besides that, probably three fourths of the second half were just bad and signified a new low point for the team. Speaking with Scott French, Robin Fraser said after the game "Everyone should be so embarrassed that we come into this week with some resolve that this can’t continue." I think that’s probably the best way to end the recap of this game. The Goats ended the preseason 3-7-1, with a record 1-5-1 against MLS opponents.
So, where does this leave the team moving forward? It really remains to be seen. I will admit that as it currently stands, I am feeling a bit complacent towards the team and the direction they are going in. While I was only able to see two games this preseason (the San Diego one being the other), the biggest problems seem to be the amount of turnovers and the inability to really capitalize on possession. Based off these two games, I wonder how a starting midfield would look with Smith, Courtois, LaBrocca, and Lahoud (should they field a 4-4-2). Or, if fielding a 4-5-1, add Bolanos in there, with Angel as the lone striker. No matter what, I don’t think that we have a solidified starting line up. Another thing to note is that Jorge Villafana played at left back today with Ante Jazic on the bench. Should Villafana continue to be called up to the US U23 Men’s National Team, obviously Jazic would play there, and rightly so. However, they both bring in different skill sets and it would change the dynamic of the left side of the field.
As previously mentioned, another key problem was the lack of offense. This isn’t anything new for the Goats, as it was one of our main problems all of last season. I do think this could be altered with Ryan Smith starting. He and Lahoud have played well all preseason together. Both he and Lahoud helped create some chances when they played in this game, but I think they play better with each other. Courtois also impressed, as I’ve always heard about him but have never had the chance to see him play. I thought he did well to recover the ball when he could, and had some good overlaps with Villafana. However, I think he plays better with Smith than Lahoud.
Something else to note is a continued lack of depth in certain positions. While we have the bodies this season, the skill set seems to leave a lot to be desired. This was extremely evident when LaBrocca came off the field. It really exacerbated a problem in the back and just set everything off into a downward spiral. For once, I think our options up top are the best all around. The other options off the bench are just not ready as of now. They may be as the season goes on, but that’s not the way to start a season in my opinion.
I know this has been a very negative look at the end of the preseason, but with the opener just a week away, there are still a lot of changes that need to be made. This team is not ready to compete. Especially with the unbalanced schedule and more games being played against Western conference teams this year (the "stronger" conference in MLS), it’s all a bit scary, for lack a better word. However, looking at the quote Robin Fraser gave to Scott French, we can only hope that the necessary changes will be made in order to move forward.
What are your thoughts about the preseason and the team moving forward? What changes need to be made? Leave your thoughts and comments below!