Given the difficulty Chivas USA have had the past three years, it was clear the team needed to make some changes this season. With 2012's squad divided between veterans (read: really old guys) and very young players, the balance of the team was pretty much the opposite of what it probably should have been. This season, the team has gone much younger, and it may be too far in the other direction, but we'll need more than a game to figure that out.
It was clear in Saturday's 3-0 loss to the Columbus Crew, however, which team on the field was more comfortable playing together and playing in MLS. Again, we know Chivas needed to make changes, and we have to expect there will be some growing pains. But still, the distinction was stark. Not only did Columbus control the entire match (even when Chivas was getting close to scoring in the second half, Columbus was bunkering on purpose, intending to bend but not break on defense), but they knew just what they could get away with from referee Chris Penso. I'm not the kind of person who really gets wrapped up in referee decisions most of the time, and I don't think Penso's officiating was egregious. I do, however, think he allowed the game to get very physical, and the size difference coupled with the experience level between the teams helped lead to Chivas receiving five yellow cards and Columbus none.
To demonstrate the distinction, here's the experiential disparity in MLS between Saturday's starting lineups:
|Team||Number of players new to MLS||Total games of MLS experience|
That's a pretty shocking disparity. Columbus probably isn't the most experienced starting lineup of the weekend in the league, but Eddie Gaven alone (268) had more games of MLS regular season experience than all of Chivas USA's starters combined. Averaged out, Chivas would have 20.9 games of experience per starter, or less than a full season, while the Crew would have 95 games of experience per starter, the equivalent of nearly three full seasons.
Obvious counterarguments would be that Chivas had an experience-heavy lineup last season, and in the end it did them little good, and that the only way for players to get experience is to play. We saw with Oswaldo Minda last season that it is possible to be a newcomer and slot in straightaway, and it is entirely possible that players without MLS experience can be better than teammates with MLS games under their belt. Still, there were MLS-tested players who started on the bench or did not make the bench (Juan Agudelo, Miller Bolanos, Bobby Burling, Carlos Borja, Jose Correa, Tim Melia, Minda, Steve Purdy, Jorge Villafana, and yes, even Marky Delgado, who have a combined 282 games of MLS regular season experience prior to Saturday). The total roster disparity still would have been lopsided, but not at a factor perhaps of five to one.
The takeaway from Saturday's result should be to see how Chelís and the players make adjustments over the next week. If they can figure out not only how to play better but how to put the team in a better position to get a result, this first game will recede in overall importance. Obviously the players on the field need time to gel as a group as well, and hopefully Saturday helped them start on that path. At the very least, the opening game showed that the new project would not be seamless.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!