After a break of more than a week, Chivas USA gets back to competitive action by taking on the Carolina RailHawks of the NASL in the fourth round of the 2013 U.S. Open Cup Wednesday (4 pm PT, stream available on RailHawks' website). You may recall that these teams met in the same stage of the 2012 tournament, at the same site, and Chivas beat Carolina 2-1 on a late penalty kick converted by Juan Pablo Angel. JPA is of course no longer with Chivas, and the player who conceded that PK, Gale Agbossoumonde, now plays for Toronto FC, but will we see a repeat of last year's result?
If you missed it, be sure to check out the Three Questions feature with Luke Lohr from Tuesday.
In the meantime, let's preview this match!
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 1-0-0 (USOC: Defeated LA Blues 2-1)
Carolina RailHawks: 2-0-0 (USOC: Defeated Carolina Dynamo 3-1; Defeated LA Galaxy 2-0)
Key Match-up: Jose Luis Real vs. Colin Clarke
This will be Jose Luis Real's first game in charge of Chivas USA*, and he's had about a week to work with his new team. In his favor, you could argue that Chivas should have the talent advantage overall, although Chivas has perhaps the weakest squad in MLS, and Carolina has one of the better squads in NASL. Meanwhile, Clarke is in his second season with the RailHawks, who are currently atop the NASL standings, and the squad has many holdovers from the last meeting between these teams. In fact, I would gather that there has been less squad turnover for Carolina than Chivas over the past year.
* I think. This article from Tuesday on the Chivas USA website says "The Goats will head into the match under the leadership of Interim Head Coach and Youth Academy Directory Sacha van der Most." I can't tell if that means van der Most was working with the team or if he is literally coaching the team in North Carolina.
Update: Based on Blair Angulo's reporting, van der Most is coaching the team, while Real is kicking back in LA ahead of his official unveiling tomorrow. So yeah, just throw this whole section out the window, and let's consider the entire coaching situation to effectively be Chivas USA saying they don't care a great deal about the game.
So, coming into the match, the regular differences between talent levels between leagues and stability normally favoring the higher division team can be thrown out the window, and a key component that could make a difference could be the coaching. If Real strolls into the game thinking, "We got this," or if he fails to really give a care about the Open Cup, he could put out some of the role players and get slaughtered (that's what happened to the LA Galaxy in the previous round against Carolina - and their reserves are generally better than Chivas'). But since Chivas won't play a league game for another week it means he doesn't have to worry about fixture congestion and wearing out the starters. Plus, I think the players and fans really want to advance as far as possible in this tournament, so if he doesn't plan to take the game or tournament seriously, it's going to be a bad sign for the rest of the 2013 season.
Meanwhile, Clarke has to do what he did in the last round, and almost managed to do against Chivas last year. That essentially boils down to playing the opponent straight up, bombarding the defense with the multiple offensive weapons, and try to dictate the tempo in the game. If the RailHawks dominate the ball, they'll likely score the goals they need to on Chivas' weak defense and cruise.
Why Chivas will win this match: I'm assuming most neutrals are picking Carolina to win this game easily, and I think there are good reasons to consider the lower-league club the favorite. But that ignores the fact that Chivas still do have quality on their team. Plus, in addition to the motivation of having a new coach and wanting to impress him, the players may fit the new system better. We know, for example, that based on what the club has discussed on their website, the club will be using a more-traditional four-man defense under Real. If the team uses a different system, it may fit the majority of the players' strengths better, and they could be able to stem the tide they've been on. A great deal will depend on the players who will feature in the match, how quickly they can get into the game (they probably won't be able to come back if they don't really get their act together until the hour mark), and whether they can defend well and get the necessary goal(s). If they can manage those elements, there's no reason why they can't win the game.
Why Carolina will win this match: Again, they are playing at home, they are probably the bettor's pick to be the lower division side most likely to upset an MLS team this round, and they narrowly lost to Chivas USA last year. They are going to be motivated, especially against a battered side like Chivas (remember, last year at this time Chivas were actually playing pretty well, and their sustained losing streak didn't begin until August). They bring back Austin da Luz, Zack Schilawski, and Ty Shipalane, all players who were key last year as well. And with the addition of former MLS defender Julius James the back line has looked good. Plus, they don't have the pressure on them in the Open Cup - that's firmly on Chivas. So if they play their game, they can probably count on some mistakes by the Goats and get the win this time around.
Why this match will end in a draw: Once again, a draw is not possible in the USOC. If the game is tied after 90 minutes, it will go to 30 minutes of extra time, and if that does not determine a winner, the game will be decided by penalties. Could this one become a nail biter? We'll find out soon enough!
Notable absences: No idea, since I couldn't find an injury report for either team.