Are you ready for some futbol? Chivas USA resume league play Saturday when they host Real Salt Lake (7:30 pm PDT, Prime Ticket/KWHY). Both teams are on good form recently, and will be fully motivated to continue getting results after substantial layoffs with the international break. As you'll no doubt remember, Chivas and RSL have already met once this season, when the Goats won 1-0 March 24 at Rio Tinto Stadium. Chivas will want to take the edge in the season series, and RSL will want to get revenge on that earlier result.
If you missed it, check out Matthew Hoffman's article from yesterday about the recent statistics surrounding teams with long layoffs during the season.
Let's roll out the preview:
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 15 points (4-6-3); 6th place in Western Conference, 13th place overall; Goal Difference: -5 (9/14); Last five matches: L-T-W-T-T
Real Salt Lake: 29 points (9-3-2); 1st place in Western Conference, 1st place overall; Goal Difference: 8 (22/14); Last five matches: W-W-T-W-WKey Matchup: Chivas midfield vs. RSL midfield
Truthfully, if Chivas are to get another result against RSL, they will need another full team effort for the entire match Saturday. Their defense will be tested, their attack will be stymied, and Dan Kennedy will need to be at his best in order to get points. But this match may come down to the midfield. Most notably, Chivas will be missing Nick LaBrocca again, as he's still out with a hamstring injury. Although LaBrocca hasn't had the offensive impact this season, he's been a strong two-way midfielder anchoring the center of the field alongside Oswaldo Minda. Although Chivas have drawn two matches and won two since LaBrocca left early in the New York Red Bulls match last month, his absence is a concern. On the bright side, the Goats will welcome Minda back from international duty with Ecuador, and his gritty play will be essential for Chivas (assuming he doesn't go overboard). It will be interesting to see who Robin Fraser selects to start alongside Minda. If he wants more defense, he may opt for Peter Vagenas, who played well in Minda's absence, or he could go for Blair Gavin in a playmaker role. Or he could stick with Alejandro Moreno for his various intangibles.
A big question for RSL is whether Javier Morales will be ready to play against Chivas. Sadly, the midfielder has seen very limited time since Marcos Mondaini broke his ankle in May 2011, but he may get the nod Saturday. Although they have gotten results in his absence, the attack is considerably stronger with Morales pulling the strings. Kyle Beckerman has been on international duty with the U.S. Men's National Team, but he hasn't played in the recent World Cup qualifiers. As a result, he'll probably be fresh and as ready to go as his counterpart Minda. Needless to say, there are question marks for both sides' midfields heading into this match, and so the battle in the center of the park could prove decisive.
Why Chivas will win this match: Yeah, the Goats will need to win more than one match before we can start getting arrogant about this fixture. Chivas have proven they can beat RSL, and they have improved substantially since that first win in 2012. Most notably, picking up Jose Correa and Juan Agudelo and getting goals from both of them, and getting production from Juan Pablo Angel has improved the attack tremendously. Although they still have improvements to make, in attack as well as elsewhere in the game plan, they are unbeaten over the last six matches (in all competitions) and have earned confidence. Will this be an easy match? Of course not, but we can't forget that Robin Fraser and Greg Vanney were with RSL prior to Chivas and have considerable inside information on the players and Jason Kreis' approach. I think Kreis will change his game plan this time around to counter the inside knowledge, but he can't hold out all of the veterans or drastically change the approach. Chivas have played well against good teams, especially recently, and another home win would be a big step in their transformation into a good team.
Why RSL will win this match: When Chivas beat RSL in March, I wrote that RSL should win this match seven or eight times out of 10. Here's their chance to prove their quality. Chivas may be an improving team, but RSL has been an elite team in MLS for the past few years. They sit atop the league standings at the moment, and they have shown an uncanny knack for winning matches very late this season, so even if Chivas find themselves ahead near the end of the match, RSL will have to like their chances to knot the score or find a winner. And of course the visitors will be completely motivated to beat Chivas after their last matchup. After losing in the U.S. Open Cup third round a few weeks back, RSL has been completely focused on this game. Evidently Kreis has been training his players hard during the break, so expect a fit and hungry team to roll into the Home Depot Center.
Why this match will end in a draw: I think there's a solid chance this match will end in a draw. Chivas would be happy with a point, RSL wouldn't, but this could be very tight. There's a solid chance this match could blow open, or that it could be one of those shocking high scoring matches, but I think it is more likely to be a 0-0 or 1-1 scoreline. Both clubs take pride in their defensive performances, and will want to avoid a shootout. At this point in the season, and considering both teams' recent form, a draw wouldn't be the worst result.
Notable absences (based on Tuesday injury report):
Chivas: Nick LaBrocca (hamstring)
RSL: Chris Schuler (foot), Luis Gil (knee), Javier Morales (quad - listed as probable), Jonny Steele (ankle - listed as probable), Jamison Olave (calf - listed as probable), Fabian Espindola (calf - listed as probable)