Chivas USA are set to face Sporting Kansas City for the only time this season on Sunday, and it should be an interesting match. The Goats are trying to get their mojo fully back, and frankly, Sporting is too, following a 3-2 home loss last week. In order to get ready for the match, I spoke to Ben Gartland of SB Nation SKC blog The Daily Wiz about his team. Big thanks to Ben for taking the time to answer my questions! You'll find his questions and my answers below as well.
The Goat Parade asks The Daily Wiz:
1. Some weeks, Sporting Kansas City looks like the very best team in MLS, while others, they look like they have plenty of work to do this season. Which version of the team do you think is more representative of their overall form, and are you particularly concerned about results like the 3-2 loss last week to the Portland Timbers?
I believe their overall form is around the team we saw beat Montreal a few weeks ago. They dominated possession and it's a wonder that they only scored two. I said before the season that the entirely new midfield would have to have until May to completely gel and become a fluid offense. It should be around this time, I hope, that they become everything we hoped they could be. I'm not particularly concerned about last week's loss because we simply got beat. Portland is a very good team and they were at top form that match.
2. Claudio Bieler was one of the big additions in the offseason for Kansas City, and he's scored four goals already this season. Besides him, who else can really be counted on for goals at the moment? Teal Bunbury is still hurt, and C.J. Sapong appears to be ineffective so far this year.
That was the problem last year, no one could really step up and be counted on for goals. Of course there was Kei Kamara and CJ Sapong, but they missed a lot more than they made. I believe we were first in shots taken, but 12th in goals made. This year, outside of Bieler we have Graham Zusi, and that's about it so far. As you said, Sapong has been ineffective and we are really missing Kamara at Norwich (although he could be back next week!).
3. Has there been a shift in Sporting's physical style this season, with Roger Espinoza now playing in England? It appeared in the past that one of Sporting's hallmarks was a combination of physicality and skill - is that still the case?
Definitely. While our midfield lacks the physical personality that Roger brought, they're certainly not afraid to make big tackles in the midfield. This year we've shifted a bit towards more skill rather than physicality, but it is still certainly there if you look at some of the other players. Aurelien Collin for instance is the toughest, most physical defender I have seen the league. Then up front, Sapong is not afraid to take a hit due to his usual size advantage. So while no one can replace Roger's physicality, the gameplan stays the same.
4. (Bonus) Prediction?
0-0. I think Kennedy is going to frustrate SKC while Chivas nearly nicks one, but isn't able to put it away. Essentially, I believe it's going to be frustrating for both sides.
The Daily Wiz asks The Goat Parade:
1. Last year, Chivas scored 24 goals all season. Now, not even 1/4 of the way through the season and they have already reached half of that total. What's been the biggest factor in Chivas' better scoring this season?
Wow, where to start? There are probably two equally significant factors for the improved scoring so far this year: coaching and players. Chivas USA hired Jose Luis "El Chelís" Sanchez Sola to take over the coaching duties, and the roster has been completely overturned, with just 13 returning players from last season (and four of those players have a combined 15 minutes of playing time from last season). The result is that although the name of the team remains the same, nearly everything else has changed, from the personnel to the system deployed and formation used. More specifically, rather than employ a possession-based style as favored by former coach Robin Fraser, Chelís has no problem with conceding the majority of possession, and worrying about attacking in brief spurts. As a result, Chivas often look like they are playing on the back foot in matches, but more often than not, it is by design and it is leading to a fair number of results.
2. Dan Kennedy is leading the MLS in saves so far this season and gave Sporting a lot of grief last season. How important will he be to Chivas' success in this match?
He's always enormously important. As you noted, he continues to lead the league in saves, and there's a good bet that Sporting will score Sunday, since Kennedy has not had a clean sheet yet this season. While Chivas' defense has performed much better than I expected, they still leave Kennedy to do a lot of work. In particular, since Chelís typically uses a three-man defense (he modifies the formation and lineup from game to game, but three defenders are the default at this point) Kennedy is required to come off his line and deal with breakaways more than some goalkeepers. To be fair, however, he's been doing that since he became the starter in 2011 (even when there were four defenders on the back line) so he's accustomed to that pressure by now. I don't think any Chivas fans take him for granted, but a good night for the Goats will be if Kennedy has little work to do and isn't the biggest star for the team. Still, it is great to have DK in goal, and I would truly take him over any other 'keeper in the league (that's right, I said it).
3. What's been the biggest change in how new manager Jose Luis Sanchez Sola has handled the squad as opposed to last year?
It is radically different. I could write a book on the differences between Chelís and Fraser (seriously, if it isn't me, somebody should write a book about this). Chelís is probably the most charismatic coach in the league. He is certainly the best quote right now. But behind the sometimes-wacky stuff he says, he is truly a good coach. His formation may be unorthodox by MLS standards, but he is an outstanding motivator, his players love him, he is excellent at making substitutions and adjustments to the game plan during the match, all things that weren't necessarily on display with Fraser. Beyond that, with Chelís in charge, Chivas USA fans feel like getting results are possible again. Following the past few years, just having that belief is a massive change for everybody associated with the team.