After a break in MLS play, Chivas USA are back at it on Saturday evening, as they host Real Salt Lake for the first time in 2014 (7:30 pm PT, TWC Deportes/tickets certainly available). Despite the new season and new coaches for both sides, the teams are basically in the same position they've been in for years, with RSL flying high and the Goats bringing up the rear of the Western Conference. Can Chivas pull off a surprise against their expansion brothers? Or will RSL have the upper hand yet again? We'll find out soon enough!
If you missed it, be sure to check out the Three Questions exchange for this game from Friday.
For now, let's preview this game.
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 11 points (2-7-5), 9th in Western Conference, 18th place overall; Goal Difference: -12 (14/26); Last five matches: D-L-L-D-W
Real Salt Lake: 25 points (6-2-7), 2nd in Western Conference, 3rd place overall; Goal Difference: 4 (25/21); Last five matches: L-D-L-D-W
Can CUSA beat the rust? A persistent problem that has plagued Chivas USA in recent seasons has been a complete inability to play well after a break in play. In fact, we saw this already this season with two devastating losses in quick succession in May after "enjoying" a bye.
Of course, this team often struggles when they are in a regular rhythm of playing games. And on the bright side, perhaps, RSL may be rusty too (in fact, count on lots of sloppy play around MLS this weekend).
But the unfortunate track record of this team, regardless of players or coach at the helm, to roll over easily after having some time off, really needs to stop. And with an RSL team that is missing four starters (and possibly a fifth sitting out) and on a four-game winless streak prior to the World Cup break, Chivas will still need to watch out for a deep and motivated team, but they can't enter the game like they can just ease back into league play with a mulligan. If they do, RSL are liable to hang six or seven goals on them.
Why Chivas will win this game: If I'm being honest, in light of the context of this game (records, rust, teams' histories) I'm not feeling a win here. But that's not to say it can't happen. RSL, like Chivas, lost in their opening U.S. Open Cup game, and that leaves them with a five-game winless streak across all competitions. Injuries have taken a toll, as has the absence of Kyle Beckerman with the U.S. Men's National Team (you could argue the same for goalkeeper Nick Rimando, but backup GK Jeff Attinella has been outstanding in Rimando's absence, in fact) and Alvaro Saborio's international absence-turned-long-term foot injury, has certainly impacted the Utahns. This is new coach Jeff Cassar's first adversity as team manager, and he will be tasked with righting the ship. History says RSL will do it, and easily, against the Goats. But like Chivas, RSL may already be in a new era, they just might not know it quite yet.
Why RSL will win this game: Tiny attacker Joao Plata has been RSL's best player this year, and he's not on the injury report heading into this game. That should leave CUSA fans very afraid, as his combination of speed, ability to make runs into the box, and this season, capacity at setting up his teammates means Chivas' defense is likely going to have a very difficult time. And if the team is busy trying to defend an RSL team that is very familiar with its system and charging against a slow and largely old defense, that means Chivas' attack will probably suffer, and let's remember, they aren't exactly free-flowing with the goals to begin with.
Why this game will end in a draw: This looks like a pretty solid bet, really. I hate harping on this fact, but I think goals are going to be way down this weekend around the league, and as a result, this one could very well be a stalemate with a lot of sloppy play. With the Goats really hungry for points, a draw against this team will be a solid result, though the visitors would likely be unhappy with a tie.
Chivas: Thomas McNamara (knee), Andrew Jean-Baptiste (sports hernia)
RSL: Kyle Beckerman (international), Nick Rimando (international), Tony Beltran (suspended), Carlos Salcedo (international), Alvaro Saborio (foot), Jordan Allen (knee), Ned Grabavoy (hip - listed as doubtful)