Chivas USA hit the road to try and grab another three points, this time on the Eastern seaboard, as they face D.C. United for the only time in 2014 on Sunday (5 pm PT, Univision Deportes/KDOC). Both teams have turned around their fortunes from 2013, in D.C.'s case all season, resulting in their place among the Eastern Conference's best at the moment, and for the Goats, since the start of June, in which they have played five league games and lost none, including their notable four-game winning streak. Which team will emerge in this game? We'll find out, but it should be a fascinating encounter.
If you missed it, be sure to check out the Three Questions exchange on this match.
On to the preview...
Tale of the Tape:
Chivas USA: 23 points (6-7-5), 8th in Western Conference, 12th place overall; Goal Difference: -7 (20/27); Last five games: W-W-W-W-D
D.C. United: 31 points (9-5-4), 2nd in Eastern Conference, 3rd place overall; Goal Difference: 7 (26/19); Last five games: W-W-L-W-D
Is the element of surprise gone? Looking at the schedule in the four game winning streak, Chivas USA were perhaps a bit fortunate in the opposition they faced along the way. A shorthanded RSL? A struggling San Jose team? A bad Montreal team who were on the road? Check, check and check. That's not to take away from the fact that the Goats won those games, or that they didn't always play dominant soccer in those games. Arguably, they won each of those games in spite of some really choppy play.
The game last week against Vancouver should be seen as the biggest test to date. Not that the Whitecaps are an outstanding team -- in fact, they are wildly inconsistent. But Chivas had never beaten them in Vancouver prior to last week, and despite the scoreline ultimately flattering CUSA, they had to come from behind to get the win, and managed to do it against a potent attack.
But since the rest of the league has finally realized that Chivas USA has started racking up wins, the element of surprise is fully gone. I'm sure no team enters any game literally taking it easy against a poor opponent, but the mental ease that may have accompanied a game against Chivas USA in the past, even the recent past, since it was easy to get wins on them, has probably disappeared, at least for the time being. Now, D.C. United are probably scrutinizing the game tape on the Goats, and eager to end the visitors' winning streak. Can Chivas, who have played their way into decent form during this run, raise their game accordingly? Doing it against one of the better teams in the East, on the road -- it's going to be a bigger test than even Vancouver was, and the rest of MLS will be watching to see if they sink or swim.
Why Chivas will win this game: They are feeling confident, and to an extent, they have found the formula to get points. The defense needs to be resolute, obviously with the entire team helping out in defense, keeping the opponents off the board as much as possible. Work on getting the attack fully integrated, creating chances all over the field, but ultimately hoping Erick Torres can score again. He is the hot hand, and if he continues to score, Chivas will likely continue to have a chance at a win. And with Mauro Rosales notching multiple assists last week, with an unlikely player, Agustin Pelletieri, grabbing a goal, and with Leandro Barrera getting off the mark last week, albeit with a fluky "hockey style" goal, the support Cubo has needed all season may finally be starting to click. If they keep doing what they've been doing, and keep believing that they're capable of grabbing a win, they can certainly do it.
Why D.C. will win this game: Chivas may be the hottest team in the league right now (they are based on form) but D.C. have been doing it for a more sustained period of time, and have been playing good team ball longer than the Goats. Like Chivas, United are lacking in real depth, but their starting group is pretty strong, and has a lot of MLS experience, mixed with some youthful exuberance. Bill Hamid is in great form right now, so Chivas probably can't count on a brainfart from him to gift them a goal. Their attacking engine Fabian Espindola is out for this game with a knee injury, which is good on one level for Chivas, since D.C. has played much better when he's in the lineup. But since he's been out for a little while already, the team knows how to play without him, and they've been doing that better and better of late, with Luis Silva in particular clicking into real form. So their opponents may be on a roll, but D.C. won't want to drop points, and haven't been playing too shabbily themselves in recent weeks. This game will not be easy for Chivas.
Why this match will end in a draw: Who is going to emerge victorious? Maybe these teams, who were mired in the bottom of the league standings just last year, won't be able to find the upper hand, and a tie will result. I think there's a pretty sizable chance of that happening. Will it be a good result for the Goats? As always, a draw is preferred to a loss, and a draw would move Chivas up the standings again (although it would move them back to where they started the week, admittedly). But a win, that should either get them in the playoff places or just below them in sixth place in the West. We have to take these games one at a time, but if Chivas are really serious about competing for the playoffs, they need to keep the momentum going and get a historic win.
Chivas: Thomas McNamara (knee), Martin Rivero (knee), Bobby Burling (knee), Eric Avila (ankle - listed as questionable), Michael Nwiloh (back - listed as questionable)
DCU: Chris Pontius (hamstring), Fabian Espindola (knee), Jeff Parke (foot)