Chivas USA will put their unbeaten start to 2014 on the line Saturday, as they take on FC Dallas in Frisco, Texas (5:30 pm PT, MLS Live). There's a nice bit of symmetry to this game, as these teams have had identical records in the season series the last two years, and have also started the year with identical records and identical scorelines through two weeks. Oh, and their coaches worked together last year.
Which team will gain the upper hand to start the 2014 series? We will find out this evening. In the meantime, let's preview the match!
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 4 points (1-0-1), 2nd place in Western Conference, 3rd place overall; Goal Difference: 1 (4/3); Last two games: D-W
FC Dallas: 4 points (1-0-1), 3rd place in Western Conference, 4th place overall; Goal Difference: 1 (4/3); Last two games: D-W
Key Match-up: Wilmer Cabrera vs. Oscar Pareja
Ok, I'm venturing away from my typical highlighting of the Goats' defense. That's not to say that I'm unconcerned, especially with injury concerns to both Bobby Burling and Andrew Jean-Baptiste -- meaning who knows who could be paired with Carlos Bocanegra if either of those guys can't go.
But let's turn our attention to the men who are driving the narrative ahead of the match, the coaches. Of course, Cabrera is in his first head coaching job in MLS, after working under Pareja for two years in MLS, where he was on his first MLS head coaching job. They worked very closely together, and have surely shared strategies while with the Colorado Rapids. Which coach has the edge?
Their respective appointments were announced the same week in January, so both guys had the same relatively short time to prepare their teams and shape their rosters. Though he likely offered advice and potential strategies to use, Cabrera was ultimately Pareja's lieutenant and so may have some ideas of his own that his former boss may not be completely familiar with. He may be able to surprise the Dallas boss.
On the flip side, Pareja may be new as the Dallas head coach, but he has a long history as part of the FCD organization, first as a player, then an assistant coach, and then running the club's Academy. As a result, despite the changes to the team while he was in Colorado, Pareja could hit the ground running much faster with his new club than Cabrera, who was starting from scratch (in several ways) with Chivas. Thus, it seems like Pareja will have an edge, but who knows, Cabrera could prove to be the Joachim Low to Pareja's Jurgen Klinsmann, or something.
Why Chivas will win this match: They have ample confidence after two good performances to start the season, and will not walk into this match feeling like they are about to meet their doom. That certainly counts for something. Additionally, if the attack can prove to be as dynamic as it's been the first two weeks, and probably more importantly, if the defense can provide a strong resolve against another opponent, they have every chance of getting a win. Dallas also has shown a propensity to lose the plot in recent times, and with guys like Fabian Castillo (who can be heedless) and Blas Perez (who can go too far in his gamesmanship), they can shut their brains off and lose games. The key will be for Chivas to wait for a momentary lapse in concentration, or a spurt of weakness, and if they can exploit it, three road points will be theirs for the taking.
Why Dallas will win this match: Since it's Chivas' first road game, it's hard to know yet if the intensity and strong performances in the first two games will carry over to a new environment. And even if Dallas has been known to make mental errors, that was in the past, with teams of largely different players, so attributing those characteristics to this group may be unfair. On top of that, I highly respect the coaching accomplishments to date of Oscar Pareja. He had a tough debut season with Colorado, but in his second year, with arguably more obstacles (notably a tidal wave of injuries), he took a team of largely novices and cast-offs and guided them to the playoffs. Since he knows this Dallas team fairly well to begin with, the learning curve may be much smoother with this side, and the results could come even faster. Plus, watch for the midfield pairing of Hendry Thomas (the destroyer) and Mauro Diaz (the playmaker). These two may keep Chivas' hands full, and neutralize exactly what's worked for the Goats so far in 2014.
Why this game will end in a draw: Probably the best reason is simply the frequency with which these sides have tied each other of late. These games have been marked by long periods of poor play punctuated by moments of quality. Again, with new coaches, and lineups that have been turned over, the patterns of the past may be stamped out. I think this game will be close, but I must admit, I'm not feeling like this one is going to be a draw.
Chivas: Agustin Pelletieri (suspended), Carlos Alvarez (hamstring), Andrew Jean-Baptiste (adductor - questionable), Bobby Burling (shoulder - questionable)
Dallas: Raul Fernandez (sports hernia - questionable), George John (knee - questionable), Walker Zimmerman (groin - questionable), Zach Loyd (hip - questionable)
What do you think? Leave a comment below!