Chivas USA are hot off a midweek draw against the New York Red Bulls, and they have another big game Saturday against the Seattle Sounders. As ever, we've decided to talk to somebody from the other side to get some inside knowledge ahead of the match. Dave Clark from the SB Nation Seattle Sounders blog Sounder At Heart took the time to answer my questions, and many thanks to him for providing the scoop!
The Goat Parade asks Sounder At Heart:
1. Seattle has started the season well, but it seems like the defense has improved considerably, as they have allowed the fewest goals in the league. What has changed to improve the defense? Or have the midfield and goalkeeper made the difference?
I had thought that the defense was better because of the ability to rotate tactical options into the starting lineup while forcing everyone to be in top form match to match. Now though the troubles with a high amount of defensive rotation are starting to cause communication issues. The defense wasn't as good as it seemed in the first ten games, but it's also not as bad as it's looked from the scoreline in the last two games.Only four shots were put on frame in those matches, all became goals. The talent is strong. Zach Scott can mark a great player out of a game. Jeff Parke may not be fast, or as strong as other CBs, but he reads the game at a national team level. Patrick Ianni uses his strength to battle the bulls of MLS. If Leo Gonzalez is back to full health he'll provide a defensive option, or Sigi can go with Marc Burch to help more in the attack. The options are individually strong, they need to play like that again.
2. Speaking of goalkeeping, the Sounders' new starter Michael Gspurning has been out injured and Bryan Meredith has come into his place. How has the youngster played in Gspurning's absence?
Meredith isn't as good as Gspurning, but he's got enough talent to start in the league for several years. His reactions are great. He commands the backline well for one so young. His service is low and accurate. Where he gets into trouble sometimes is reading the game. That was made so clear in the Crew's second goal against Seattle on Wednesday night. Defending the cross is also a little bit of a weakness.
3. Like Chivas, Seattle are set to begin U.S. Open Cup play next week. Are the Sounders going for another USOC title, or has the emphasis shifted to the league or CONCACAF Champions League as the main objective for this team?
Clearly, Califf and Agudelo (who is away with the U.S. Men's National Team this week) are not the only reasons for Chivas' improvement in recent games. I think the real reason that the midseason personnel moves look good is because Robin Fraser has been rebuilding the roster since he arrived. He traded for Nick LaBrocca just prior to the 2011 season. He wasn't afraid to ship out Justin Braun, a fan favorite with major problems with consistency, and in hindsight leaving Zarek Valentin unprotected for the Expansion Draft doesn't seem like such a hapless move. The club's scouting seems to have improved tremendously this year, as Chivas have signed two very good players from Ecuador, Oswaldo Minda and Miller Bolanos, and signed a pair of promising Colombians in John Valencia and Jose Correa. Fraser also signed Rauwshan McKenzie, a center back who was buried on the depth chart at Real Salt Lake who has been a revelation now that he's getting a chance to play. And of course they obtained James Riley, who's been a big upgrade at right back over Valentin.
In all, only six players on this team predate Fraser's arrival. Make no mistake: this is Fraser's team, and he is fully responsible for Chivas' fortunes. But there is optimism surrounding this team that hasn't really been present for some time, and that is exciting.
It is practically impossible to predict Fraser's lineups and tactics from game to game, but I think he will either go with two forwards or a three-man front line with fluid winger/forwards on the flanks. He started the season with a 4-5-1/4-1-4-1 formation, which was a disaster as Chivas kept losing 1-0, but since he's started playing two or three players up top the team has started scoring and I imagine he'll stick with more attacking players. But I think the lineup will continue to be juggled until the best attacking players step up and fully claim their places.