Chivas USA are racking up some impressive air miles this week, as they are set to take on the New York Red Bulls Wednesday on the east coast (4 pm PDT, Univision Deportes/MLS Live). Both teams are coming off victories last Saturday, with Chivas defeating the Galaxy and the Red Bulls beating the Montreal Impact. New York is the hottest team in the league in the moment, as they've won five straight matches. This despite missing Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez through much of that stretch, plus a raft of other injured starters. But something's got to give between these teams, and Chivas will try to replicate the 3-2 victory last May at Red Bull Arena. Can they manage it? We'll find out soon, but let's preview the match.
If you missed it, check out the Three Questions Exchange with Dan Ferris of Once a Metro from Tuesday.
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 13 points (4-6-1), 6th place in Western Conference, 12th place overall; Goal Difference: -5 (7/12); Last five matches: L-L-L-T-W
New York Red Bulls: 25 points (8-3-1), 1st place in Western Conference, 2nd place overall; Goal Difference: 8 (25/17); Last five matches: W-W-W-W-WKey matchup: Chivas defense vs. New York's attack
The Red Bulls are averaging more than two goals per game so far this season. Their leading scorers, Henry and Kenny Cooper, are second and third in the league, respectively, in scoring. While some of their recent wins have been by closer margins, their attack has been very successful so far this season. While my contention is that Chivas need to work on their offense more than their defense overall at this point in the season, the game plan for this match would dictate that defense needs to be prioritized.
Although Henry's status for this match is uncertain, as he is close to being back but may be held out until the Red Bulls' return from the international break, Chivas need to prepare for the dual possibilities that Henry and Cooper will start up top, or that Cooper will be sharing the load more with the midfield. Meanwhile, Chivas will have a strong defense, although I wouldn't be surprised if Ante Jazic is rested for either this match or Saturday's and we may see John Valencia. But the point stands that Chivas will need a team effort, from the defense, from the midfield, and of course from Dan Kennedy to limit New York's scoring. Keeping a clean sheet will be a terrific achievement, while limiting them to a goal would also be great. If they can do that, then the offense will need to step up and keep pace with the Red Bulls. If they play for a shootout, however, they are going to fall behind very quickly.
Why Chivas will win this match: Hey, nearly identical conditions existed last year for Chivas' match at Red Bull Arena, and Justin Braun's hat trick shockingly gave Chivas a shootout victory. Admittedly, Braun is no longer able to spring to life and score a hat trick for the Goats, but that match showed that Chivas were capable of beating any team in the league. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls were the toast of the league until that match, and went into free fall for most of the season afterwards. Sure, the Red Bulls have been playing well lately, but the disjointed team play, puzzling personnel decisions and lack of urgency aren't that far below the surface. If Chivas can keep the game close, and get a goal or preferably two of their own, they can win the match. It won't be easy, but it is certainly possible.
Why New York will win this match: Many of the current Red Bulls played in last year's loss to Chivas. They have not forgotten, and will likely have extra motivation to beat the Goats. They are undefeated at home this season, with only one draw, and they have integrated squad players into the lineup in a way that head coach Hans Backe hasn't previously done in his tenure. They also have a rookie goalkeeper, Ryan Meara, who is playing very well, and currently leads the league in saves (Dan Kennedy is currently third in that category). Chivas may have gotten one over on the Red Bulls last season, but New York will be determined to demonstrate their status as an elite club this time around.
Why this match will end in a draw: The biggest reason a draw is a good possibility is that this is a midweek match, and squad rotation and a general inability to prepare normally leaves teams improvising. The result is often a rather poor quality of play, and teams will often settle for a draw than lose a full three points. I think this will be a cagey match, and if the margin remains a goal or less during the game, I think it will stay tight and an equalizer a likely possibility. Chivas are prone to giving up late goals, while an inexperienced Red Bulls backline and goalkeeper can also make costly mistakes. Both teams would be disappointed by a draw in this match, but it would be better than a loss.
Chivas: Juan Agudelo (USMNT selection), Ben Zemanski (knee - listed as questionable)
New York: Stephen Keel (back), Teemu Tainio (knee), Victor Palsson (red card suspension), Jan Gunnar Solli (quad - listed as doubtful), Thierry Henry (hamstring - listed as probable), Wilman Conde (groin - listed as probable)