1. This Chelis guy has surprised people around MLS by putting together a side that actually works as a unit - or at least that seems to be the general impression. Is it really working, and is there cohesion through the squad? Or is it a case of everyone working particularly hard at their new job, with future performances a bit less certain?
I think overall the teamwork aspect has been terrific so far for Chivas USA. Chelís clearly knew that he would have a talent deficit overall compared to most of his opponents, so instead of trying to play straight up (like Chivas USA did the last few years) he essentially told his players if they didn't work together on the plan he laid out, they were absolutely doomed. Considering the group is primarily youngsters and castoffs from various leagues, they bought into it right away, and the results have been coming through.
Of course, there's a solid chance other teams can figure out what is working for the Goats and neutralize it. But right now, the players are locked in, they all seem like they are playing hard and genuinely enjoy playing for the coach, and I think we just need to see how this season continues to unfold.
2. I keep hearing about a 3-man backline for Chivas, but how's it playing out on the pitch?
Statistically, Chivas aren't near the top of the league in team defense, but they are doing enough to pick up points more often than not. Frankly, I'm surprised at how seamless the transition has been, but in addition to playing three defenders, Chelís has used a few other tactics on defense. In addition to stress a high pressure style on the entire field (which has been the biggest indicator so far of whether they will earn points in a match or not), they have used wide midfielders as wingbacks, had players man-mark key attackers, and even put a defender in as an additional defensive midfielder. Some of the tactics are unorthodox, but again, when the team is locked in, they work hard as a group and do a strong job overall of defending. But they've also been able to score at a regular clip, which keeps the heat off the three man defense.
3. Who are some of the more dangerous players RSL should look out for?
If healthy, Juan Agudelo will be the key attacking weapon for Chivas Saturday, although his status is currently unclear. Eric Avila has played very well, and this may finally be his breakout season in MLS, and while inconsistent, Jorge Villafana can be quite good when he's on his game. The surprising development, however, has been how well Chivas USA has distributed the goals so far this season, as seven players have gotten on the scoresheet. Although I think they need somebody like Agudelo to carry the team at times offensively, the teamwork aspect has also been a feature of the attack as well as the defense.
4. Prediction-time! What've you got?
I'm feeling a 1-1 or 2-2 draw in this one. Both teams play hard, both teams can fall asleep and make mistakes, and I think there will be plenty of motivation on both sides, so I'll call it a tie.
Here are my answers to The Goat Parade's questions — when it's up, feel free to join in the discussion there, too.
Real Salt Lake have been rather inconsistent in their form so far this season, and currently sit in seventh place in the Western Conference (though only two points behind Chivas USA). Is there a particular reason or set of reasons for the back and forth start, or has it been related more to luck?
There are definitely reasons RSL has had back-and-forth form, and that's largely down to what we might accurately call a culling of the ranks during the offseason. The loss of important players like Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, and Jamison Olave meant we were in a situation where we had to learn as a unit again. Add in injuries to key players early on - Nat Borchers, Javier Morales and Chris Wingert, chiefly - and you've got a recipe for some early struggles. I won't discount luck as playing a role - it always does - but the reasons are plenty. Luckily, one of those reasons is finally clearing up as players come back from injuries, but squad cohesion will inevitably take a bit of time to reach the previously towering heights.
One of the talking points entering the season for RSL was that they would be integrating more new players to the lineup than they have had to the past few years. Who are some of the key additions, and how are they settling into the team?
The key additions, it would seem, are all up front: Robbie Findley, Joao Plata, Olmes Garcia, Devon Sandoval. They're all capable attacking players in differing styles and levels of play, but the key additions mostly come here. Of course, we've had plenty of additions: Khari Stephenson perhaps comes to mind, and Lovel Palmer has seen significant minutes and fared reasonably well. They're all settling into the team quite well, which is refreshing considering we have a fairly tight-knit squad. They've showed repeatedly, though, that they're eager to welcome players into the group, and maybe that's down to scouting players for ability as well as personality.
What are some of the vulnerabilities you have noticed in RSL's style or game plan so far this season, and how might Chivas USA capitalize on those issues?
It's difficult to say, but certainly some of the vulnerabilities there historically remain. We're weak on the wings - opting to largely concede them in middle third. We obviously make up for it tactically, but execution becomes the bigger concern there. The difficulty, I think, arises from the scattered execution through the early weeks of the season. As one of MLS's most tactically defined sides - and I purposefully avoid rigid here, because things are quite fluid in the tactical outlay itself - Chivas USA has the advantage of preparing specifically for us. They'll be eager to press forward on the wings, of course, and both full backs, whoever starts, will have their work cut out for them.
(Bonus) Prediction for this game?
6-3. I'm terrible at making predictions, so I figured I'd just go all-out this time and see where it takes me. Seriously, though, I predict a game with about 52-48 possession in RSL's favor, some excellent breakaway opportunities for Chivas USA, and a smattering of missed calls by the referee. How's that?