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Colorado Rapids Vs. Chivas USA: Three Questions

COMMERCE CITY, CO - AUGUST 20: Each side trying to keep their eyes on the prize (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
COMMERCE CITY, CO - AUGUST 20: Each side trying to keep their eyes on the prize (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
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Another week, another opponent. This time around, Chivas USA are set to take on a fellow Western Conference team in the Colorado Rapids. Both teams have gone through considerable change the last couple seasons, and are most likely direct rivals for a playoff spot this season. Ahead of the match, I talked to UZ White of the SB Nation Rapids blog Burgundy Wave to learn more about the team. Thanks very much to UZ for his time in answering my questions!

The Goat Parade asks Burgundy Wave:

1. The Rapids hired new coach Oscar Pareja in the offseason. What changes has he made to the squad and tactics so far in his tenure, and what are your initial impressions of him as a head coach?

There's been tons of changes so far in both the style of play that the team has been using and the roster itself. Right when he came into the picture, the Rapids started scouting out a ton of South American talent, dropping guys like Danny Earls and Caleb Folan - the European guys that Gary Smith had collected while he was manager - to make room for the new guard. Most of the starting XI these days is unrecognizable compared to the past few years with Jaime Castrillon (Columbian MF), Martin Rivero (Argentinian MF) and Luis Zapata (Columbian LB) being the three biggest new names.

It's the new style of play that has gotten most of the attention from the Pareja regime, though. After years of playing counter attack based defensive football - mostly in a rigid 4-4-2 and defense filled 4-5-1 - the team has started a transition into playing a possession and pass based game more similar to the style that Real Salt Lake has pioneered the past few years, in a 4-3-3 formation to boot! So far it's been very rough, but that's what we expected to happen with Pareja still being new to management and most of the team being unfamiliar with each other. Pareja has shown an unfortunate penchant for overthinking himself in some situations with some questionable moves on game days but he's shown a good ability to make halftime adjustments and his talent scouting has proven to be top notch so far, so there's little that we can complain about. It will take some time to get everything gelled together and we know that.

2. Is there a player or two who have stood out for their performances this season? Who would you consider to be Colorado's most important player right now?

The stand out player so far has been Drew Moor, but that's absolutely no surprise as he's been one of the most solid center backs in the entire league for a very long time and plays every minute of every game for Colorado. Now, the most important player is a bit more of a complex question to answer. You would think Omar Cummings would be up there in that regard since he's the top goalscorer on the team and in a new attack minded system that would seem to be the biggest need on the team. I would say that Jeff Larentowicz, playing the lone defensive midfielder spot in the 4-3-3, is the key to the entire thing working.

Larentowicz plays an incredibly important 'pivot' role, one of the hardest positions that someone can play. All distribution goes through him, be it backwards to the defense, forward through the middle or out to the fullbacks to make a run up. His decisions make everything happen and the Rapids 4-1 loss to New York showed just how important it is to have a guy who can play that position very well there every week. Fortunately, he's been very solid so far this season playing there even as the offense has sputtered.

3. Colorado have obviously had recent success in MLS, but with the new coach, what are your expectations this season? What will constitute success?

At the start of the season, we had absolutely no idea because there was so much new about the team that we couldn't parse them. At this point, I'd have to say that a playoff appearance would be considered great success, with next year being the time that we will start to dream of cup runs again with the new coach and players finally all in their rhythm.

4. (Bonus) Expectations for Saturday's match against Chivas?

A draw at least with a goal or two is what we're looking for against Chivas. The offense has been awful the past few weeks against some of the most talented teams in the league, which we kind of expected, but we will really start getting worried if we don't see at least a goal against the good but not great Chivas defense. Dan Kennedy getting hot again is a rather worrying scenario, though.

Burgundy Wave asks The Goat Parade:

1. Speaking of new coaches, I've said before that I loved the Robin Frasier hire for Chivas. After a year of getting everything together, how has he progressed with the team since taking the Goats' helm?

I think Fraser has had mixed progress so far, but it looks more positive overall. He didn't have a full offseason to prepare after being hired before the 2011 season, and there was considerable roster turnover. But after a poor finish last season, there was another wholesale clean out, and more than half the roster this season is new. The good news is that it looks like quite a few of those new players are coming good. In particular, Oswaldo Minda has been a key addition at defensive midfielder, and his Ecuadorean compatriot, Miller Bolanos, has looked very sharp the last couple of games on the wing. James Riley has been added to the defense, and his ability to get up the field gives opponents another player to worry about on the attack, and center back Rauwshan McKenzie has finally landed with an MLS club willing to give him minutes, and he has impressed.

I think this team looks better in the earlygoing in 2012 under Fraser, and a tough schedule and some unlucky breaks have prevented them from getting points at home. This is a big year for Fraser, but if they make the playoffs this season, it will be a successful year. If they falter at the end again, his future with the club might be in doubt.

2. Chivas is undefeated on the road with no wins at home, a decent number of games into the season too. Is there a particular reason the Goats are taking it to their road opponents but can't win at HDC?

The bizarro road/home form so far this season is the biggest mystery for Chivas. They have looked like two completely different teams, frankly, with the home side playing good defense but the attack unable to get any traction, and the road side playing confident and assured team soccer. The easy answer that people who don't follow the team give is that Chivas obviously don't draw enough fans to home games, but except for the match against Vancouver when heavy rain kept most fans away (I know, but Southern Californians are wimpy like that), the attendance has been similar to past seasons. Alejandro Moreno kicked up a bit of a controversy a few weeks back when he was quoted as saying the team needed more fan support at home, but my position on the matter is that it is hard to bring new fans into the fold unless a team can actually win on a regular basis.

Sooner or later, this all-or-nothing split is going to end. I was really hoping they would beat the Philadelphia Union last week at home to end the winless (and scoreless) streak, but the Union had exactly one good attacking play on the night, and spent the rest of the match beating Chivas up. But Chivas could not overcome Philly's tactics, and they need to figure something out fast. In the meantime, I think having too much confidence heading into road matches is dangerous, and eventually they will get beaten away. Overall, I just hope the positive form overcomes the negative very soon.

3. Other than Dan Kennedy, who has been the biggest name for Chivas so far this season?

Yes, Kennedy is huge to the team. I would also say Minda has been key in Chivas' improvement so far this season. He scored the winner against Toronto FC a couple weeks back, but he's not going to contribute to the offense regularly. He's a ballwinner, and his playing style is quite physical, which Chivas needed. I think he is the kind of player that will bother opponents, which is good, but he'll probably get a red card at some point. So far, he's been playing smart, and he could be a fixture in the lineup for years to come.

Another important player so far has been Ryan Smith. He was acquired from Sporting Kansas City in the offseason, and while his departure from SKC was controversial, he was dealing with family matters in England, so it seemed he had bigger issues on his mind than soccer. But the personal matters have been dealt with, and he's been a very important player for Chivas. He hasn't scored yet this season, although he seems good for at least a few goals, but he set up both goals in Chivas' comeback win at Portland. His speed, crossing ability, and ability to dribble at defenders is something Chivas were lacking last season, and he looks to be another savvy acquisition in the offseason by Fraser and company.

4. Same as yours, expectations for the match?

I feel like a draw is likely for this match. Although picking up another road win would be great, I think a draw is a better result than a loss, obviously. Both teams look to be finding their rhythm, and I think it will be a close match. Maybe both teams will get their first draw of the season Saturday.