The big game is almost here! Chivas USA look to continue their 2012 U.S. Open Cup run by traveling to Cary, North Carolina and taking on the Carolina RailHawks in the fourth round tonight (4 pm PDT, stream available on RailHawks website). Both teams are on similar form heading into the match, as Chivas are unbeaten in five matches (all competitions) while Carolina is unbeaten in their last four matches (all competitions). The RailHawks, however, are rooted to the bottom of the NASL standings, and only got their first league win of the season this past weekend when they beat the Puerto Rico Islanders 2-1. But combined with their Open Cup run, Carolina has won three games in a row. As a result, both teams are playing pretty well, and are eager to advance to the Quarterfinal round in the Open Cup.
If you missed it, be sure to take a look at the Three Questions Exchange with Luke Lohr from Sunday. He gives the scoop on the RailHawks, and we appreciate the information!
On with the preview:
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA (MLS): 1-0-0 (USOC: defeated Ventura County Fusion 1-0)
Carolina RailHawks (NASL): 2-0-0 (USOC: defeated PSA Elite 6-0, defeated LA Galaxy 2-1)
Key Matchup: Chivas attack vs. Carolina defense
If you watch the video highlights from Carolina's win over the Galaxy from last week, you'll see how sloppy both sides looked for much of the match. In the end, the difference probably came down to the goalkeepers, as the RailHawks' Ray Burse made several fantastic saves to deny the Galaxy and Bill Gaudette didn't have a great night for the Galaxy. Not to take anything away from Carolina, but Chivas' mindset and recent form, as well as the concentration they have on this tournament, means they are unlikely to be as easy an opponent as the Galaxy. In other words, if Chivas can take care of business and not tighten up from the pressure, this should be another win and another round for the Goats.
That's where the attack comes in. While Chivas' defense has had some ups and downs this year, they have been strong overall, while the attack has been far less reliable. The good news? Chivas have scored their last six matches, but they've only scored a single goal in each match. In the end, if they win this one 1-0, another game with just one goal scored won't matter. But Chivas' attack needs to continue to get in gear, and against a Carolina team that has gotten off to a slow start this year, it could represent a golden opportunity. Let's put it this way: Chivas are going to put out their top attackers against the RailHawks, and those players need to deliver, period.
Why Chivas will win this match: They are motivated and they have more talent. As opposed to the Galaxy, who had the talent but not the teamwork and motivation, Chivas are focused and want to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them. I expect them to play as close to a first team lineup as possible tonight. I'm not sure if Tim Melia will start again or if Dan Kennedy will get the nod, so that is a slight mystery. But with Ante Jazic away on international duty with Canada, Jorge Villafana will likely start at left back. Oswaldo Minda and Nick LaBrocca are also still out, and I assume Peter Vagenas will play defensive midfield again, especially after playing well the last two matches in Minda's absence. Blair Gavin started against Ventura County last week, so he may play for LaBrocca, but Fraser may play musical chairs with the midfield again in this match. Finally, I think James Riley could return at right back. He sat out against the Fusion, but he is clearly an upgrade over Scott Gordon and Riley should be fresh for this match. Oh, and this match is on the road, which as we all know has been great for Chivas this season (they are 4-1-2 on the road in all competitions).
I think Chivas understand the opportunity they have at the moment in this tournament, and I think they are entirely capable of beating the RailHawks. I wouldn't be surprised if they have some nervy moments, and I wouldn't be surprised if it appears Carolina controls significant portions of the match, especially with Chivas' normal central midfielders out. But as long as the scoreline is in favor of Chivas at the end of the match, that's all that will matter. They can - and they should - take care of business.
Why Carolina will win this match: They've been through this before. They've been through this just a week ago, in fact. Their league form is poor, and they are underdogs to an MLS opponent at home. While their record is not great, the RailHawks are on a good run of form and they have confidence they can beat the second straight LA-based MLS team in a row. They also have a team of players with talent, as U.S. international Gale Agbossoumonde, who has been out in the wilderness since signing a third-party contract in 2009, probably deserves to be playing for an MLS squad. He is still young, at 20, and he got a red card over the weekend, but he certainly shows a great deal of promise. In addition, Zach Schilawski, formerly of the New England Revolution, and Austin da Luz, formerly of the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United, have recent and regular experience in MLS. And again, based on his performance against the Galaxy, Burse could be up to the task against the Goats in goal, and if Chivas can't shoot much, he could frustrate them thoroughly. They are the underdog, which we know is apparently an advantage against MLS clubs in the U.S. Open Cup this year. They are playing well of late, and they are at home. All of their wins this season have been at home, so they will have to feel good about their chances.
Why this match will end in a draw: Again, since it is a knock-out tournament, a draw is not possible. It could go to extra time and eventually penalties, but a winner will emerge one way or the other. Although both teams would have a chance if it is knotted up after regular time, Carolina would likely have the momentum heading into the extra period as the underdog. Still, a winner will be decided, no matter what.
Notable absences for Chivas: Oswaldo Minda (Ecuador national team), Ante Jazic (Canada national team), Nick LaBrocca (hamstring)
What do you think? Leave a comment below!