Chivas USA's whirlwind week continues with a meeting against the Columbus Crew, the teams' only meeting of 2014, on Sunday afternoon in Ohio (12 pm PT, UniMas). Both teams may be entering this game after a loss, but the Crew are still in a playoff position in the East, just barely, and will be looking to grab a win over the Goats, who seem to be reeling a bit punch-drunk lately following a series of poor performances. Can CUSA turn the tide and grab a surprise road result? We'll find out shortly.
If you missed it, be sure to check out the Three Questions feature for this game.
Time to preview this one...
Tale of the Tape*:
Chivas USA: 24 points (6-14-6), 9th in Western Conference, 18th place overall; Goal Difference: -21 (23/44); Last five matches: L-L-L-D-L
Columbus Crew: 33 points (8-9-9), 5th in Eastern Conference, 10th place overall; Goal Difference: 1 (35/34), Last five matches: L-W-W-L-D
*Standings as of Friday, September 5
More changes coming to the defensive side: Bobby Burling finally got back in the lineup last weekend after being out with a knee injury, and following his yellow card picked up midweek, he'll be on the shelf for this game as he serves a suspension. The same goes for Oswaldo Minda, who has to sit due to suspension. That means the defense will be shuffled around once again, as two of Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Eriq Zavaleta, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, and Tony Lochhead will play in the center back spots, with the younger guys possibly getting the nod together again for the first time in quite awhile. But we'll see on that front.
On the bright side, maybe, is the fact that Wilmer Cabrera has an abundance of options in Minda's slot to replace him. I doubt we'll see Nigel Reo-Coker for the third time in eight days, mainly because he hardly played when he was with Vancouver, and it seems silly to play him into the ground in games that don't really have any stakes for the Goats. Agustin Pelletieri, Nathan Sturgis, Marky Delgado, and even NRC could line up in a holding midfield role with Minda out.
It's also worth noting that Akira Kaji and Tony Lochhead could also sit in this game due to their advancing age and the fixture congestion. All in all, there will definitely be changes to the backline and defensive part of midfield, but there could be even more in the context of the rapid rate of games. Given that this team has allowed seven goals in the past week, it's not really a risk to try something different anyway.
Why Chivas will win this match: The Crew have been playing quite well lately, but they got beat by (an improved) Montreal last week, and they really have a tendency to play stinkers every so often. Although the roster has been tweaked more than transformed this season, head coach Gregg Berhalter is stressing a process with the team, meaning there will be bumps along the way, but he hopes he can implement a successful system in the long run (I know, all of those words don't make a lot of sense to CUSA fans, since we haven't seen anything like this). They're pushing for a playoff appearance, but a small part of me thinks Columbus can be beaten, even by a team reeling like Chivas. It will take a good performance, obviously with a good defense and a goal or two scored for a second straight game, and that's not assured. But compared to the other games on Chivas' docket this month, this is unquestionably the "easiest" one. That's depressing on one level, but it does provide a measure of hope they can figure things out and finally grab another win.
Why the Crew will win this match: Chivas may have a relatively good shot in this game, but that "relatively" qualifier is pretty important. Columbus isn't the flashiest team in MLS, as I'm sure they are sick of hearing, but they have considerable quality in places on their roster, and they have a crop of solid MLS pros that is probably a bit underrated overall. In particular, Federico Higuain is a Top 5 talent in the league when he's on his game, and Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram have really stepped up in the past couple months as the team's strike force has faltered. Although Josh Williams, their full back who scored against the Goats last year, is out injured, his left-sided counterpart, Waylon Francis, can be aggressive at times in pushing forward, overloading opposing defenses, something Chivas probably wouldn't do too well with right now. I may be giving Chivas a chance in this game, but make no mistake: Columbus are overwhelming favorites in this game, and deservedly so, based on form entering the clash.
Why this game will end in a draw: As fears of a sustained losing streak to end the season creep into the minds of those who follow Chivas, it must be said that a draw would be a good result. It's not going to really change a lot, but just getting something out of games is better than nothing, of course. And a draw would mean an improved performance, something that could be the stuff to build on, if this team can manage to get any traction on the season.
Chivas: Erick Torres (international duty), Bobby Burling (suspension - yellow cards), Oswaldo Minda (suspension - yellow cards), Thomas McNamara (knee), Martin Rivero (knee), Carlos Bocanegra (concussion)
Crew: Tony Tchani (suspension - yellow cards), Wil Trapp (suspension - yellow cards), Josh Williams (groin), Bernardo Anor (hamstring - listed as questionable)