Chivas USA will look to advance to the semifinal round of the 2012 U.S. Open Cup Tuesday when they host the Charlotte Eagles at Cal State Fullerton (7:30 pm PDT, team is providing a stream here). The Goats are hoping to match a team record in farthest progression in the tournament, level with 2010's semifinal run. But first, they need to beat the Eagles, the second North Carolina-based team Chivas have played this year in the Open Cup, and a lower-level team hungry for the upset. Not only would the win represent another history chapter for the Eagles, but it would also help alleviate the pressure that comes with having a 3-8-2 record in league play, good for 9th out of 11 teams in USL-Pro. Still, they've beaten FC Dallas on their way to this meeting, so the Eagles can't be counted out.
Let's preview this match and see what might be in store:
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 2-0-0 (USOC: Defeated Ventura Country Fusion 1-0; Defeated Carolina RailHawks 2-1)
Charlotte Eagles: 3-0-0 (USOC: Defeated El Paso Patriots 1-0; Defeated FC Dallas 2-0; Defeated San Antonio Scorpions 2-1 (OT))Key Match up: Chivas attack vs. Charlotte defense
This is where it came down for Chivas in the last round, and Chivas had decidedly mixed results in that match. In the first half, the attack was dominant, and Chivas took the lead on a header from Juan Agudelo off a terrific cross by Laurent Courtois. But Chivas bunkered in the second half, and Carolina was the dominant team for that half. Only a late run by Juan Pablo Angel, that lead to the decisive penalty, allowed for Chivas to escape with a win in regular time.
The injury report won't be updated until Tuesday, so it is unclear who will be able to go and who will have to sit out. JPA didn't travel with the team to Texas for the match at the weekend against Dallas, but his listing on the injury report was probable, so he was probably held out as a precaution with this match in mind. That's my hope, anyway. Jose Correa probably won't be back, and neither will Miller Bolanos, most likely. Nick LaBrocca did look solid in his substitute appearance Saturday against FCD, so if he's able to go, I expect he will be on the field. And who knows with Ryan Smith, who has had a "neck injury" that is believed to be a concussion. But Courtois played well on the wing in the fourth round, so he could go again.
In the end, you'll probably see more of the same as far as Chivas' lineup is concerned. There may be a few changes, but the bulk of the squad will probably remain intact. One danger in that is the recent fixture pile-up, but Chivas will need to take control and try to dominate Charlotte as much as possible in this one to get a result. If Chivas continue to allow opponents to pressure them and hope they soak it all up, they will lose. And in a knock-out tournament like this where the stakes continually get higher, this match would be a terrible time to see the passive approach fail. Likewise, Adam Serrano reported on twitter today that Charlotte coach Mark Steffens was planning to do that exact strategy against Chivas, of "bunker & counter." If that is indeed true, then Chivas should take the ball, hold onto it, and fire dozens of quality shots at the net until they start going in. The sooner they can take the lead and build on it, the better. Otherwise, they risk being the latest victim in the Eagles' run.
Why Chivas will win this match: Let me be frank - if Chivas lose this match it will be a great disappointment. I'm not discounting the quality of Charlotte's players or their ability to stick with upper-division teams, but simply put, Chivas have a golden opportunity to get into the semifinals, and if they cannot manage that, they will have failed. I don't think a loss would mean all of 2012 was a bust, and Chivas have gotten farther than most MLS clubs, but they really do need to get the job done and continue their cup run. These things must be taken one game at a time and all, but Chivas are only three games away from winning the cup - with a win against Charlotte they only have two more to go.
I think Chivas play some really awful soccer at times, but they have been finding a way to get results of late, and that obviously is a good step in the right direction. I don't care how great they look against the Eagles if it means a win, but ending a busy stretch with a confident victory would go a long way to helping Chivas gain respect. You can't deny that Chivas have been getting good press lately, but a trip to the semifinals would help them stay in the national conversation.
Why Charlotte will win this match: They've already beaten an MLS team in this competition, and they have nothing to lose. Chivas have the pressure piled on them in this game, and Charlotte decidedly do not. All they have to do is go out and play their best game, and if Chivas can't get their act together, then that will clear the way for the underdogs. Among the key players so far in the USOC run is goalkeeper Clint Irwin, who has been the team's Open Cup keeper, and his play has been singled out in each round, not surprising considering the necessity of having a good goalkeeper against MLS and NASL opposition. In addition, forward Nate Thornton has been the top scorer, and has found the net in the last two matches for Charlotte in the Open Cup. Finally, Charlotte has had three weeks to prepare for this match. While Chivas have had equal time in preparation, the game tape of Chivas is in far greater supply than it is for Charlotte, and there have been plenty of flaws in Chivas' performances for Charlotte to try and attack. As a result, they may be the underdogs, but they certainly have a chance to move on in the tournament.
Why this match will end in a draw: Once again, it is not technically possible. If the match goes to added extra time, the momentum is likely in Charlotte's favor, but Chivas played to the verge of extra time in the previous round and got the clinching goal, so it wouldn't be done and dusted for the Goats. Still, Chivas will probably want to take care of this match and get the win in normal time, if at all possible.
Notable absences for Chivas (to be updated with Tuesday's injury report)
What do you think? Leave a comment below!