The 2013 U.S. Open Cup is here for Chivas USA! Although the MLS clubs are entering the 100th tournament in the third round, the Goats will be facing a local opponent in their opening match of the knockout tournament, the LA Blues of the USL PRO (7:30 pm PT, Titan Stadium, tickets available here). It will be the first competitive match ever between these teams, but they meet each other frequently in friendlies and scrimmages, and as we'll get into, there are multiple links between these clubs at present.
Given Chivas' form in MLS at the moment, the Blues are probably feeling like they at least have a decent shot in this match, despite sitting effectively two divisions below the Goats in the U.S. Soccer pyramid. For Chivas, the haters have been out in full force recently, and a seven game winless streak with one point earned in two months means there's been plenty of ammo given to said haters. Still, they really need to win this game, in order to regain some pride, and to hopefully make some traction on a season that is still pretty young.
In order to get you ready for the game, let's preview!
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 0-0-0 (first game of 2013 USOC tournament)
LA Blues: 1-0-0 (USOC: Defeated Ventura County Fusion 5-1)
Key Match-up: Chivas attack vs. Blues' defense
I know what you're thinking: Chivas USA have been horrendous defensively of late. And the Blues won their opening Open Cup game last week 5-1 - why worry about the offense? Here's my argument: if Chivas can score early and often, they'll fully control the game and can prevent the Blues from really gaining a foothold in the match. It's possible that Chivas can concentrate on defending then try to nick a goal for a 1-0 result, but honestly, the longer the game remains scoreless or tight, the better the chances for the Blues. Chivas will be in much better shape if they put up four or five goals, and then work to only concede a couple. And really, no disrespect to the Blues, who currently sit in fourth place in the USL PRO standings (but who have played more games than any of their competitors), but Chivas should really be able to handle the game on both ends of the field. Upsets certainly happen, and watching the Goats lose over and over again means that this game isn't a foregone conclusion by any means, but come on now...Chivas ought to gain traction here.
Why Chivas will win this match: The task is clear: get a win. Any kind of win is fine, but Chivas shouldn't really screw around with this one. They crushed the Blues 5-1 in a preseason friendly in February, although Chivas' form is considerably different now, as is the Blues' roster. Still, even if the Goats aren't doing well in MLS at the moment, they have enough talent to defeat a USL PRO team, and the squad does have some experience remaining from last year's USOC run to the semifinals, including Dan Kennedy, Tim Melia, Laurent Courtois, Jorge Villafana, Oswaldo Minda, Miller Bolanos, and Jose Correa. Throw in Gabriel Farfan and Eric Avila, who are new to Chivas this season but both have Open Cup experience in their careers, and former and current Goat Carlos Borja's experience in the Cup, and Chivas do have some experience in this tournament. Still, they need to play a team game, execute on both ends of the field, and they should be able to advance to the next round of the tournament.
Why the Blues will win this match: As ever in these kind of knockout tournaments, all the pressure is on the bigger team in the higher division, so the Blues have nothing to lose in trying to beat Chivas. If they get humiliated, oh well, but if they can spring an upset, it can do wonders for the team overall and possibly help a player or two get a chance in a bigger league. Add to that the personal connections of the Blues with Chivas, including former Chivas USA players Chris Cortez and Rodrigo Lopez (who has been trash talking pretty heavily on twitter in the lead-up to the game, so it is safe to say that he is taking his inability to make the cut in his trial in preseason pretty seriously). Additionally, starting goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski trialed with Chivas during the 2012 preseason, but did not make the cut, with the third GK spot going to Patrick McLain ultimately (in a twist, McLain went on a short loan to the Blues earlier this season, but could not get a start ahead of Woszczynski, who has been off to a hot start so far in 2013). Cortez currently sits in fifth place in USL PRO in points, with 10, and is tied for fifth in the league in goals, with four. They are also coming off their largest-ever goals total in a competitive match, and probably feel like they know plenty about the Goats to spring an upset. Plus, they are technically the home team in this one, so maybe that can help tilt the game in their favor.
Why this game will end in a draw: As it is a winner-take-all tournament, a draw is technically impossible. But if the sides remain tied through 90 minutes, and the game goes to extra time, I'd say that is likely very bad news for Chivas.
Notable absences (Note: This is really sketchy, since neither team has an updated injury report floating around):
Chivas: Daniel Antunez (knee), Tim Melia (back)