Chivas USA hope to make club history and advance to their first ever U.S. Open Cup final, but first they need to get past the Seattle Sounders at their secondary stadium of Starfire Wednesday (7 pm PDT, stream available on www.soundersfc.com). With Chivas entering the match as the underdogs to a team that has won the cup the last three years, it won't be an easy task but the Goats are certainly capable of surprises, as we've already seen this year. In this one, the stakes are as high as they've ever been for Chivas. Can they spring a season-defining upset tonight? We'll find out soon enough. Who's ready for the game?
Make sure you take a look at the Three Questions exchange with Dave Clark from Tuesday, as well as my article discussing Chivas' new position as underdog in the tournament.
Now let's preview the match!
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 3-0-0 (USOC: Defeated Ventura County Fusion 1-0; Defeated Carolina RailHawks 2-1; Defeated Charlotte Eagles 2-1)
Seattle Sounders: 3-0-0 (USOC: Defeated Atlanta Silverbacks 5-1; Defeated Cal FC 5-0; Defeated San Jose Earthquakes 1-0)Key Match-up: Chivas midfield vs. Seattle midfield
When these teams met May 26 at the Home Depot Center, they played to a 1-1 draw. One of the notable aspects to that game was the fact that both teams' first choice defensive midfielders, Oswaldo Minda for Chivas and Osvaldo Alonso for Seattle, were both absent. In Minda's absence, Peter Vagenas played well, but I can't wait to see Minda and Alonso face off on the field. I'm not entirely sure if Minda will play in this match or if Robin Fraser will continue to use Vagenas or Ben Zemanski in the d-mid position. At any rate, the midfield is more than the defensive midfielder, and I think the match could be won or lost through the midfield. Possession may not be the deciding factor in controlling the game, but the ability of the midfield to hold onto the ball, receive it from the defense and goalkeeper and successfully send it up to the forwards means the midfield could be essential in this one. The team whose combination of defensive mids, attacking midfielders, and wingers can control the midfield will likely tip the balance.
Overall, Seattle's midfield is stronger on paper than Chivas'. But that doesn't mean they will perform at that level. Considering the indifferent form of Mauro Rosales and Alvaro Fernandez most of the season, it could help Chivas' chances. Perhaps more important for Chivas is the need to come out strong and focused, and for the team to show up for the match as a collective unit. Although the defense and forwards will certainly need to perform well in order for Chivas to advance, the midfield may have the pivotal role in this match.
Why Chivas will win this match: Nobody believes in us! Although there is pressure on the team to get the win, there are no real expectations that Chivas can pull this off. Of course, in MLS, any team has a chance in any game, and I don't think Chivas have no shot. But with the pressure basically lifted off them, and with them playing in the familiar environment of the road, they could have the confidence and belief they can dethrone the Sounders and advance. Remember, on the road Chivas have only lost one match this year, and are currently undefeated away in the Open Cup. They also have a few players with extensive experience winning the Open Cup, with Danny Califf winning one, Vagenas having three USOC titles, and James Riley winning four, including four of the last five. Obviously, Seattle collectively has dozens more titles than Chivas, but at least the knowledge from Chivas' trio can give the newbies and youngsters some perspective and tips that can hopefully help them perform for the occasion. Also, Seattle is using Bryan Meredith again at goalkeeper, who did play in the last match between the teams, but who does not have the experience that other goalkeepers have and who has had a poor game or two this season. If he doesn't show up, and if Chivas can get several really good chances on goal (a big if, I realize) then they could find a way to getting a goal or two and ultimately a win.
Why Seattle will win this match: They've won the tournament the last three years running, and they've been to the semifinals six straight years. They haven't lost at Starfire in their last 16 Open Cup matches. Although one of the attributes to Starfire is the small field, Chivas did play well at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, which is also a small field. Still, Seattle have the comfort of their second home, and they've knocked out Chivas three times in the Open Cup, including this stage in 2010, also at Starfire. History is firmly on the Sounders' side, and considering the depth of the Sounders and quality all around the roster, they know they are the clear favorite in this match. This is not an unfamiliar position for them, however, and they shouldn't be fazed by the occasion whatsoever. In fact, to lose this match would represent a big failure for Seattle. They want to take care of business, and they know they can.
Why this match will end in a draw: Again, this is not a possible outcome. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if Chivas bunkered and took their chances when they needed to in this game. If they can keep the score level and force extra time, it could be a useful strategy, and if they force the match to penalties, it could also work in their favor. Although penalties are not necessarily a lottery, as many say, they could give Chivas a chance to nick the result. As we say a lot around here, it wouldn't be pretty, but a war of attrition could be a plausible strategy for the Goats.
Chivas: Juan Agudelo (listed as doubtful - knee), Ante Jazic (listed as probable - groin), Miller Bolanos (listed as probable - hamstring)
Seattle: Andrew Weber (adductor), David Estrada (foot), Steve Zakuani (listed as questionable - leg), Michael Gspurning (listed as questionable - hip), Adam Johansson (listed as probable - hamstring)