We are concluding our preseason roundtable series with the big questions heading into the season. Yes, we are making predictions! This is our chance to try and see into the future, and for you to give us a hard time when we are wrong. Well, don't be mean to our guests, if you can help it. This week, in addition to Matthew, Rachna, and myself, we welcome ELAC, of "What the Flock?!" and this website, Luis Bueno, soccer columnist for The Press-Enterprise (be sure to hit up a newsstand inland to read him), and Andy Watson, who writes for Total MLS and MLS UK about Chivas USA. Thanks to everybody who participated!
Alicia Rodriguez: Alright, I'm going to do it a bit differently this week. The questions will be coming fast and furious. First question: Which Chivas USA newcomer will be most important in 2013?
Matthew Hoffman: I feel like I'm cheating here but I honestly can't think beyond El Chelis. Since the day he took the job Chivas USA has gotten more media than it has in years. Bombastic, abrasive, stubborn and not at all shy about sharing his opinion even if it costs the team leverage or tampering accusations. Chelis is not so much a shot in the arm for the franchise as he is a solid kick in the crotch.
Luis Bueno: I don't think he's necesssarily the most imporatnt acquisition and certainly not the most talented one but with the amount of minutes I think he'll play, Walter Vilchez will play a vital role in 2013. Chelis trusts him obviously, and Vilchez has perhaps the best understanding of what Chelis wants and the style he is trying to impose on Chivas USA. Vilchez's presence on the backline will be critical within that defense as well. It's pretty slim pickings back there, with Bobby Burling, Carlos Borja and Steve Purdy likely to see quite a bit of minutes, and Joaquin Velazquez having been out of football for so long as well. Vilchez will help make or break the defense.
ELAC: Giovani Casillas shows potential, but I am excited for what Eric Avila can bring to our defense. Despite playing multiple positions in the midfield preivously, he can be a good fullback for us this year.
Andy Watson: One thing we needed after last year was changes, and we certainly got that when you compare this year's roster with last. There have been several newcomers to Chivas USA and, as a relative newcomer to these shores as well, I was unaware of many of the faces that we now have on our team.
With a few players coming in from Mexico especially, the first training session of the preseason left me asking a lot of my fellow supporters as to who was who. Admittedly my knowledge of the newcomer's careers and ability was lacking but with the majority of them I only heard promising things.
Chivas have picked up some solid defenders on the older side but it is again the younger talent who I think will be most important in 2013. Players like Eric Avila, Carlos Alvarez, and Giovani Casillas and Josue Soto in particular, are the players I am excited to see. And if we can class him as a newcomer considering his total lack of playing time last year, Marvin Iraheta is another important player who will essentially be like a new signing for the club.
Rachna Kapur: Eric Avila.
Alicia Rodriguez: I think Edgar Mejia is going to be pretty important this season. Good teams have good holding midfielders, and if Mejia can set the tone in the midfield, it should set the entire team on a good course. Of course, Oswaldo Minda showed he could do just that last season, but he's recovering from injury and Mejia appears to be a lock to start heading into the season. If Mejia can demonstrate he's a good defensive mid in MLS, Chivas' spine will be that much stronger.
Ok, next question. Which returning Chivas USA player do you think will be key this season?
Rachna: Besides Dan Kennedy, Tristan Bowen.
Andy: Without a doubt, the most important Chivas USA player that will be returning this year is Dan Kennedy. The fans' favorite and newly elected captain is vital to what we can achieve this year. We all suffered through the offseason rumors that our 2012 MVP would be traded, but thankfully he is sticking around and that was the best news of the offseason for me. Kennedy saved not only his fair share of shots last season, but he also saved us from a lot more embarrassment, and we are going to need that quality again this year. However, it is not only just his shot-stopping that will be vital to our success. This new-look Chivas USA side is full of not only young talent, but players who have little or no MLS experience, or who have been surrounded by trade rumors for the whole transfer window.
They need a leader on the field as well as off it. Clearly the motivation for this group comes from Chelís, but from the playing staff Kennedy will have to lead this team from the back. There have been big changes at Chivas USA, so a lot of pressure will be placed upon this new roster. Kennedy will be key again this season then, in captaining this group with all his experience through another year of rebuilding.
Matthew: Dan Kennedy followed up his break-out season with an All-Star selection. Despite all the departures, the Chivas brass knew losing Kennedy would have been catastrophic. I'm excited he's not only returning but will be deservedly wearing the captain's armband. I'm also looking forward to seeing Tristan Bowen make more than five appearances.
Luis: It has to be Miller Bolanos. We all saw flashes of brilliance last year and we were all puzzled why he did not get more playing time or free reign to do what he wants. I'm not sure he will have free reign this year necessarily but he's one of the benificiaries of the open style of play Chelis will likely bring to this team. His preseason goals were encouraging, and while they were against the likes of Gangwon and LA Blues, they still give a glimmer of hope that the attack will be better than it has been.
ELAC: I think Miller Bolanos will flourish under Chelis this season. His nose for the goal and his natural attacking abilities will be much needed. Having a year under his belt in the MLS will also serve the goats well.
Alicia: I've got to go with Luis' and ELAC's pick here. Obviously Kennedy is key, but I'm somewhat taking his contributions for granted (not really - Chivas USA's front office, please understand I'll never take DK for granted!). Bolaños is poised for a breakout season. He's the only player in my estimation who improved over the second half of last season, and he seems to be raring to show everybody what he can do. I'm thrilled to have him back on the team this season.
Perhaps on that track, who do you think will lead the team in scoring?
Luis: Is it sad that I immediately didn't think of Juan Agudelo when pondering this question? My first thought was either Bolaños or Jose Correa. Guess I have to trust my instincts. I see Bolaños hitting double-digit goals and leading the team in that category.
Matthew: It should be Juan Agudelo but my money is on Miller Bolaños. The Ecuadorian led the team in shots last year despite playing at right wing. Now he's got a year of MLS experience under his belt and I believe the shift to his more natural position will pay dividends. Since this will be saved forever and ever on the Internet, let me further erode any possible accrued credibility by saying Bolaños has the potential to score double-digit goals for Chivas USA in 2013.
ELAC: I feel like it will be a tale of two halves; in the first half I think a forward will lead in scoring, perhaps Juan Agudelo. In the second half, I think one of our midfielders will score more.
Rachna: Eric Avila.
Andy: This is one question I have been asking myself and it is still something I am genuinely unsure about. Last season was dismal for Chivas USA in terms of goal scoring. Despite lacking goals himself, Juan Pablo Angel is no longer with us and we have also lost back-ups in Cesar Romero and Casey Townsend. So a lot falls upon the shoulders of Juan Agudelo and Jose Correa who could possibly be the starting strike force.
Rumors surrounded Juan Agudelo in the offseason after he flirted with a move to my hometown club Celtic, but that fell by the wayside and he finds himself back at Chivas USA for the new season. Hopefully the disappointment from not getting his desired move to Europe will inspire him to fulfill his potential though and as a result keep him in the shop window.
Whilst I have also been impressed by Correa in preseason (and glad he returned for another season with us), Miller Bolaños is the player I am most excited about. Last year he was in and out of the team but still showed glimpses of brilliance. And after scoring in preseason I think he might carry that into the real season and be the attacking player and potential goal scorer we have been crying out for.
Alicia: I'm going to make it a near-sweep and say Bolaños. I'd love to see any of the players get into double digits (multiple players, in fact!) but Bolaños wasn't afraid to take chances on goal in the most gun-shy team I've probably ever seen last year, and he should be much better positioned to score this season.
Now, what should be the goal of the team this season?
Rachna: To not finish last in the standings :)
ELAC: Playoffs. Simply put. For management, increased spending in marketing. Simply having Chelis and a few more Mexicans will not increase attendance figures. Jorge Vergara owns the team outright and can no longer blame Antonio Cue.
Luis: If Chelis is still coach at the end of the year, something went right. The goal should be to see improvement from week to week and have more wins than losses at the halfway point. I don't necessarily have a lot of confidence in this team, and based on the last three years and the third rebuilding project that is underway, how can anyone believe that the playoffs should be a realistic goal right now? You have to think small, take confidence from progress, not let setbacks become atom bombs and build slowly.
Matthew: It's got to be about establishing the HDC as a hostile home environment. In 17 home games, last year's team only won two of those games and scored a meager 9 goals (in 2012, MLS home teams averaged 27 goals). You want fans to flock to the stadium, then you've got to give them something to watch.
Andy: I recently wrote about ‘what would be a good season for Chivas USA' as I felt that it was quite difficult to judge what we could be genuinely happy with after last year. I mean, the only way is up right? With no threat of relegation, finishing better than last place in the West is technically an improvement. But is lingering somewhere between the playoffs and the basement really what we should be aiming for? Chivas USA, and all teams in MLS for that matter, must strive for the playoffs.
Unfortunately though, we are back to being a ‘rebuilding' team or a ‘work in progress' and that changes things slightly. Although the playoffs must be the goal of the team this season, in my opinion winning back fans with some passion and an attractive brand of soccer is just as important right now. With the playoffs again being possible, but something of a long shot, I hope Chelís' philosophy brings the fans the value for money, entertaining soccer that they deserve. And hopefully as a result that brings the wins we need to make the playoffs.
Alicia: I'm going to follow along the lines of what most of you have said and just say that the goal should be "forward progress." The team simply cannot move backwards. They can't even really stay the same. And getting marginally better won't really work. But teams have to start somewhere, and getting better on the field and trying to get some traction off it has to be the goal of the year.
Turning away from Chivas USA for a moment (probably, I'm just assuming): which team do you think will win the Supporters Shield this year?
Matthew: Sporting Kansas City. Solid on both sides of the ball, Coach Peter Vermes has lost a lot of key players but has brought in quality replacements. They may start out of the gate slow while waiting for Benny Feilhaber and Bolaños' former LDU Quito teammate Claudio Bieler, to gel with the rest if the team. But they'll be there in the end.
Andy: I think this year will not only be one of the best MLS seasons yet, but also one of the most competitive seasons to date. Last year I don't think many people would have tipped the San Jose Earthquakes to go all the way and win the Supporter's Shield but not eventually win the MLS Cup, and I think we could be pleasantly surprised again this year. After strong seasons, I think the Seattle Sounders might push on from last year and win the Supporters Shield. There have been a lot of good trades over the offseason, for a lot of teams, but I just have this feeling that it will be Seattle's year. A lot of the headlines back home in the UK still focus on only the LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, so maybe I am just hoping another stand-out year for another club will help change that.
Rachna: Sporting KC.
Luis: Seattle Sounders. I like the direction they're going in, plus they won't have CCL to distract from them late in the season. This doesn't mean I think they'll win MLS Cup, in fact it pretty much guarantees that the playoff system will royally screw them, but I see them as strong from the start and with some additions during the season, they'll only get better.
ELAC: Either the San Jose Earthquakes or Seattle Sounders. This year, the LA Galaxy will be challenged and I don't buy into SKC just yet.
Alicia: I hate making these predictions, so I'm not sure why I asked this. Ok, I'll go with D.C. United. They have been on my mind lately, I think they'll be better this season, and last year they were pretty good, better than pretty much everyone expected.
Let's wrap up with this: Where do you think Chivas USA will finish in the standings in 2013?
Luis: I've been joking on Twitter with my #FearTheTrainWreck hashtag, but that's really only a half joke... well, okay, maybe I'm not joking. I think it will be bad, not 2005 bad but still bad. I think they will be a mess in the back and they will play from behind too many times to get any sort of confidence, and I don't see that player that will carry the team on its back and will them to victory. Maybe someone will emerge but right now I don't see it. Standings? I think they'll battle to stay out of the cellar with Colorado.
Andy: Every year, like every Chivas USA fan, I get extremely hopeful and perhaps a bit too optimistic. Last year I was impressed by the roster that Robin Fraser built (in the beginning) and thought that we would finally make it to the playoffs. But we all know that didn't quite work out. Despite the horror of last year though, I am again hopeful for the new season. It seems like there is a feeling of ‘what have we got to lose' and that we have a point to prove to all the haters out there. Although I still think we are short in both numbers and experience I think this team is on course to surprise a lot of people and sneak into the playoffs...but only just.
Let's be honest, Chivas USA are not going to win the MLS Cup this year but after an undefeated preseason (this has obviously been put down to being ‘only preseason' by everyone else) I think we will continue to surprise ourselves...and the other teams in the Western Conference. But of course in true Chivas fashion we won't do it the easy way.
Matthew: They might be out past Colorado this year. Barring injuries you can almost pencil in Seattle, RSL, San Jose, and the LA Galaxy for the first four playoff spots. I think the fifth spot--with a playoff spot to boot--is up for grabs especially if the Vancouver Whitecaps continue last season's second half run-of-form.
Rachna: Let's go for 6th in the West.
ELAC: Either 6th or 7th place and hopefully fighting for a playoff spot.
Alicia: And I'll go for 7th in the West. There are too many unknown variables heading into the season, but I have to believe Chivas will be better than last season. I would love to be proven wrong, in a good way, but let's start small and see where this season leads us.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!