Real Salt Lake battles for playoff positioning, while Chivas USA battles for pride and possibly their jobs.
I will be honest, I expect that we will soon see Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser looking for a new job, which will mean that many of the Chivas players are going to be playing to prove they should be able to keep their jobs. This means a team that could be very dangerous, a team with nothing left to lose, for RSL that could pose a real threat. We saw earlier this year that Chivas was capable of playing good defense but the reality is that they now have allowed 45 goals to be scored against them, only 3 teams have given up more goals than that. RSL's defense has improved of late and their 34 goals allowed is the 4th best total in MLS. It is on offense that Chivas has really struggled this year with a league worst 21 goals for, that is 41 goals fewer than the San Jose Earthquakes have scored and one less than the total scored by Chris Wondolowski. Yes a player has scored more goals this year than an entire team, I don't think that has ever happened before.
Real Salt Lake have secured their playoff spot, which leaves the team holding control over their own destiny. With 4 MLS matches left, perhaps none is more promising of a win than Saturday's match with Chivas USA. Chivas haven't won a match since a July 28th 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers, in fact for Chivas they have just 4 wins since April 14th, two over the Timbers, one over Montreal, and one over their HDC brethren the LA Galaxy. 5 straight losses for Chivas USA, and a 1-7-2 record in their last 10 with 1 goal scored in their last 5 matches, 10 allowed. After RSL's match with Chivas USA, they will return on Oct. 6th to the Home Depot Center to take on the LA Galaxy, then after the FIFA break they will head to Seattle before ending up back home to close the regular season against the Vancouver Whitecaps. All of those final 3 opponents are fighting either for a playoff spot or playoff positioning, which means that RSL will control their own fate with those matches.
Injuries will play a role in what RSL can do on Saturday, as will the yellow card suspension of Jamison Olave, we know that Ned Grabavoy is out, and both Chris Wingert and Alvaro Saborio are listed as probable. Both Wingert and Saborio were active participants in practice on Friday for RSL, but one has to wonder if Jason is willing to risk further injury to either of them. For Chivas USA they are about as healthy as they can be with just backup keeper Tim Melia listed as doubtful.
Key Match Up:
Fabian Espindola vs. James Riley - Fabi has a thorn in the side of Chivas USA, with 4 goals and 2 assists in his 665 minutes of action against them, including two goals in the June 16th match between the two sides. Fabi is one of those players that defenders hate, he never gives up, he will give as good as he gets in physical confrontations, and when he is on, he is almost impossible to stop. With him getting his scoring mojo back last weekend (his first goal since the two back in June against Chivas), you know that he will be looking for more.
James Riley was picked up by Chivas USA on expansion draft day in a trade with the Montreal Impact, Riley has bounced around MLS the last few years with Chivas being his 4th team in his 8 year MLS career. I have often been surprised when teams have let him go, he is a hard working defender with good pace who is able to get up and down the pitch quickly. He does have a bit of a temper and doesn't shy away from physical play, some of his matchups with Fabi from his days with Seattle remain fresh in my mind as key battles on the pitch. With Chivas struggling on defense lately it will be interesting to see how they attempt to deal with the RSL attack, but these two will likely be in each other's ear, on each other's shoulder, and battling all night on Saturday.
Juan Agudelo - Has there been a player who has dropped so quickly from "the next big thing" to "who" as Agudelo? He picked up his first USMNT cap against South Africa in November of 2010, a match in which he scored the game winning goal. It was followed by his debut as a starter for New York on opening day of the 2011 season with the game winning goal against the Seattle Sounders, at the end of the 2011 season he had played in 27 matches for the Red Bulls and scored 6 goals with 2 assists. Yet early in the 2012 season he was sent packing out to LA, not to further stack the deck of the Galaxy but to try to revitalize the offense of Chivas USA. It hasn't gone well for him with just 15 matches played and just over 1,000 minutes of action with his new team, but he has contributed with 2 goals and 3 assists. He has played 4 times against RSL, but never found the back of the net or contributed an assist. Still at just 19 years of age you have to wonder if and when he will start making us remember that he was "the next big thing" in MLS.
Paulo Jr. - Last weekend RSL saw two important players step up for critical goals in the absence of the team's leading scorer Alvaro Saborio, unfortunately Paulo Jr. was unable to get back on the score sheet. He has played several great matches in recent weeks but has been unable to find the back of the net, that is often how things go for strikers as RSL head coach Jason Kreis reminds us often. Still with Paulo Jr. getting closer and closer to be fully match fit and back in form his work rate on both sides of the ball continues to impress, I expect that he might be open to get some quality chances on Saturday against Chivas USA, the question is will he be able to have a reason of his own to celebrate?
Juan Guzman - It will be hard to keep RSL fans as happy about officials as they were last week when MLS stalwart Kevin Stott called one of the better matches of the year. So what will we get with Juan Guzman? Well this will be just his 20th match in MLS, he callas a fairly average 26.2 fouls per match, is a bit high with an average of 3.8 yellow cards per match (RSL has 3 players in yellow card peril). I am a bit worried that he has shown 6 red cards already in his short MLS career, at least he has only pointed to the PK spot 4 times so far. My hope each match is that we see a fairly called match for both sides, that consistency is there so the players know what is expected of them. We can only hope that the story on Sunday isn't about Juan Guzman.
My RSL Starting XI:
This isn't just a match that RSL can win, this is a match that RSL should win and win easily. Chivas USA simply isn't a very good team at this point of the season, and while they have made changes in their lineups, formation, strategy, and everything except their kits, nothing has delivered much in the way of results. Meanwhile RSL has slowly edged themselves back into form with 3 wins in their last 5 overall matches, and the one loss was a heart breaker in stoppage time at Houston. A big part of that has been the solid play of the defense, RSL has given up just 2 goals in those last 5 matches in large part do to some dramatic, award winning saves by Nick Rimando.
The last time RSL and Chivas USA faced off it was a 3-0 score but the stats show a much closer match with RSL having just a 51.4% to 48.6% edge in possession, a fairly slim edge in passes of just 49 more than Chivas, RSL did take 15 shots to Chivas' 11, and had a 5 to 3 edge in shots on goal, but it was a fairly physical match with 32 fouls called and 3 yellow cards shown.
When I looked at this match back in early August I predicted a 0-0 draw but since then the Chivas defense has really seen the wheels come off, so I am going to revise it to a 2-0 win for RSL as the team looks to ensure they keep themselves in front of the Sounders and close to LA for playoff positioning. This should be a good match for RSL to continue building momentum towards the playoffs and get some more of that offensive mojo back.
OFF MY SOAPBOX