Chivas USA have had a week since their last match, and they will be eager to get back to winning ways Wednesday when they host the Portland Timbers at the Home Depot Center (1 pm PDT, Fox Sports West). Both teams are coming off harsh losses, and will try to claw their way back into the playoff mix in the Western Conference. Considering these teams sit one point apart in the standings, with Chivas holding the slight edge, this is truly a proverbial six-pointer.
If you're wondering why Chivas is playing a game at 1 pm on a Wednesday, the explanation is that it is "Kids Day Out" and the HDC will presumably be overrun by the Chivas fans of the future. I wrote an article about the scheduling of this match, and if you missed it, check it out here.
Let the preview begin!
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 20 points (5-7-5), 7th place in Western Conference, 16th place overall; Goal Difference: -7 (11/18); Last five matches: T-L-W-T-T
Portland Timbers: 19 points (5-9-4), 9th place in Western Conference, 18th place overall; Goal Difference: -10 (19/29); Last five matches: W-L-W-L-LKey Match-up: Robin Fraser vs. Gavin Wilkinson
The Timbers fired their only coach in the MLS era, John Spencer, July 9, replacing him with General Manager and former Timbers coach (in the USL era) Gavin Wilkinson. Wilkinson has been on the record in saying he does not want the coaching job on a permanent basis, and the club expects to hire a new head coach near or at the end of the season. In his first MLS game in charge, Wilkinson lost a wild and entertaining home match to the LA Galaxy last weekend 5-3. Although Portland scored three goals, which would normally be enough for a team to win in this league, they could not stop the Galaxy's designated players. All in all, it was not a good start for the Wilkinson regime.
Despite the poor game Saturday, the Timbers could still rebound with a little more time and in a new playing style. As a result, the key match-up comes down to the coaches. It is safe to assume Portland will either have new players in the lineup, a different formation, or a different playing style (or possibly all three). Although I wouldn't necessary expect wholesale changes, the fact is that the Timbers will make changes in the coming months or there will be no point in making the coaching switch. For Chivas' part, Robin Fraser thoroughly outcoached Spencer in the last meeting between these clubs. Can he replicate that night in the harsh daylight? He'll have to anticipate the moves Wilkinson will make for this match, but he'll also need the flexibility to adapt to the conditions he sees on the field.
Why Chivas will win this match: The Goats were outplayed for a half in the last match between these teams, but they made up for lost time and totally schooled the Timbers in the second half. On top of that, Portland is the only team in the league so far this year that has not won on the road. Although that doesn't mean they can't get the win this time around, since Chivas are tied for fewest home wins, it is a good omen for the Goats, as long as they show up for this match. Potentially, this is a good match-up for Chivas, who have had major difficulty scoring in the league this season, playing against a team that has given up 11 more goals on the season and one of the few teams that have a worse goal difference than Chivas. If Chivas can score a goal or two and maintain a tight defense, they can certainly get three points in this game. Portland will be hungry, no doubt, but Chivas have more stability and the belief that comes from previously beating an opponent.
Why Portland will win this match: Already this season, Chivas have ended a road losing streak for a team, as Vancouver won their first road match in their MLS history at the HDC. So another home loss is certainly a distinct possibility for the Goats. With the coaching change comes the expectation that Portland is shaking things up, and that the players will respond to a new manager in charge. The Galaxy match showed that the change may not be immediate, but with one game completed and a few more days of preparation, Portland may have a plan to change their fortunes for the season. There's no question they will be up for this challenge, and the game will likely come down to the team that executes better. Considering the highs and lows both teams have faced this season, there's no reason to believe why Portland can't grab three points.
Why this match will end in a draw: Both teams are capable of highs and lows, but lately the performances have been mediocre. With a midweek game, the rhythm is often off for teams, and the fact that the start time is 1 pm is going to be rather disorienting for many players. The short rest for the Timbers and week off for Chivas may also lead to tired legs and/or rust, and so a draw is a decent possibility. For the sake of the children who will be at the game, I pray that there will be goals in this match, but a 1-1 draw seems like a rather likely result.
Chivas: Oswaldo Minda (shoulder), Juan Agudelo (listed as doubtful - knee)
Portland: Eric Brunner (concussion), Rodney Wallace (ankle)