I thought I would change things up a little bit and offer up my preview of RSL's match before the rest of my MLS weekend previews and picks.
Only in their first season in MLS has Real Salt Lake not won a match at the Home Depot Center, in 2006 it was a win over the Galaxy in May, in 2007 it was a win September win over the Galaxy, in 2008 it was a June win over Chivas, and in 2009 it was June win over the Galaxy. The history of RSL and Chivas at the Home Depot Center is one of some big wins for Chivas, they hold a 19 to 4 goal advantage and a 7-1-1 record, but the last three times (including the 2008 playoffs) the record is 1-1-1 with each team scoring 4 goals. RSL has been in rare form the last 3 weeks with dominating wins over Toronto, Philadelphia, and last week against Houston. While Chivas has struggled in last two after a huge 4-0 win at New England, with a 2-0 loss at home to Houston, and then a heartbreaker last minute PK loss to Columbus last weekend.
Chivas are 2-2-0 in their 4 home matches, and 2-3-0 in matches at the Home Depot Center, they are even with 5 goal scored and 5 allowed in their home matches. If you look at the overall Chivas season, they have a 3-1-1 record bookended with 2 losses on both sides for an over all 3-5-1 record with a -2 goal differential. Their 12 goals allowed is tied for worst in the Western Conference and their defensive woes may only get worse as Jazic and Kennedy continue to be listed as out, and both of their captains Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan are gone to USMNT camp, they also have Justin Braun listed as questionable and both Galindo and Cuesta are listed as probable.
For RSL they too will be missing a couple of important players on national team duty as Will Johnson will join Canada for a match against Argentina and Robbie Findley is in the USMNT camp trying to earn a spot on the US World Cup roster. The good news for RSL is that their only injuries reported are to Fabian Espindola and Nelson Gonzalez, but both are listed as probable.
The key matchups, the wildcards, and my pick for the match are after the jump:
Alvaro Saborio vs. The Chivas Defense
Saborio is coming off his best week in MLS, two goals against Western Conference rival earned him MLS Player of the Week honors and a spotlight article on the MLS website. I tend to agree with RSL head coach Jason Kreis, that we still haven't seen the best of Alvaro, and if the best is yet to come, there may be no better time to see it than this weekend. RSL's top two forwards coming into the season were Robbie Findley and Fabian Espindola, but this Saturday we will likely see another start for Saborio and next to him Pablo Campos. Those two have seemed to start to form a great chemistry and have benefited from each others play in recent matches.
For Chivas their defense will be missing their leader, and for a defense that has only shut out tow teams, New York who have had real scoring issues lately, and New England who have scored just 4 goals in their last 6 matches. So can the Chivas defense slow down the RSL offense that has only failed to find the back of the net once this year? Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this matchup is the fact that Chivas will try to counter Saborio with two of Costa Rican National team members, Michael Umana and Dario Delgado, who Chivas acquired the rights to from RSL. So while the paths of these three have intertwined in the past, I don't expect it to be a friendly reunion, but who will come out on top?
Justin Braun vs. His Hometown team
Braun has been on of the most consistent players this year for Chivas with two goals and two assists, but in 132 minutes of action against RSL he has never scored or assisted on a goal. Justin is a player that slipped through the cracks at RSL, he played for Skyline High School and with no NCAA teams in Utah he played at Salt Lake Community College. He was signed by Chivas in March of 2008 after playing in a tournament at the Home Depot Center. RSL saw Braun in the 2008 playoffs when he was a dangerous player who has both size (he is 6'3") and deceptive speed that allows him to get behind defenses.
Chivas has gone with a 4-5-1 formation in recent weeks with Braun being the target up top, we saw what happened the last time a team tried that formation against RSL, it was Toronto and the end result was a 3-0 win for RSL. I don't know what to expect from Justin, if he is healthy enough to get the start, but you have to believe if he can play at all that he will be in the lineup looking to finally make his mark against the team that plays in his hometown and failed to find him when he was in their backyard.
Martin Vasquez vs. Jason Kreis
I haven't featured a matchup of coaches yet, but both of the men in charge this week are faced with adjusting their lineups because of missing players and those adjustments along with the timing and selection of their subs will likely be a major factor in the end result.
The task for Jason may be much easier, while he is dealing with the loss of Robbie Findley, one of the teams offensive threats, he has depth with a number of players who can move up top and provide some offensive punch for the team. Replacing Will Johnson also won't provide too much of a challenge as RSL can go with Grabavoy, whose form before his injury had him looking better than ever, or rookie Collen Warner, who in recent weeks has earned minutes and praise for his playing style. Jason has done a good job in getting players minutes as only 2 field players and backup keeper Kyle Reynish, haven't gotten into a MLS match so far this year. I believe the overall MLS knowledge of the RSL coaching staff (Jason, Robin, and Jeff) gives the team a real advantage as they understand how the league plays both from being players in the league and now from the sidelines.
For Martin Vasquez, the challenge is the same but more more complicated. Chivas have a real lack of MLS depth on their roster, only one player has more than 125 MLS matches under his belt, that is goalkeeper Zach Thornton with 264 matches played (RSL has 5 with that amount of experience). That lack of depth is even clearer when you subtract their two USMNT players Bornstein (111 matches played) and Kljestan (113 matches played). After them you have to look to Saragosa (109 matches played), but he has been a role player for Vasquez with just 3 starts this year, and then you drop down to Galindo (64 matches played) but again after coming back from injury has only played in 3 matches this year. I think Martin has brought in some great talent for Chivas, but without veteran leadership who understand the league, their opponents, and the officials the task of assembling a solid squad is tough and I think that is part of the reason for the inconsistent start of Chivas this year. It will be interesting to see who is wearing the armband for Chivas, and how that person leads the team on the pitch.
No player made a bigger impact in the first weekend of the MLS season and over the first 3 weeks it was a battle between Javi and LA's Edson Buddle on who would be the player of the month, but then an injury and a bout with strep kept Javi out of the lineup for several matches. Edson would claim the player of the month award for April, and made himself and early MVP favorite as well as the leader in the Golden Boot competition. Javi has made it back from injury and in each of the last two RSL matches he has become more and more of a factor, and one has to believe with a couple extra days off last week that Javi is about to return to the form that won him MLS's player of the week in week 1 of the season. In week one it was two goals and 1 assist, last week it was 2 assists, what will Javier be able to do this week?
Last year Lahoud was the first round draft pick of Chivas USA (#9), he is a product of Wake Forest and was part of their 2007 NCAA Championship. He was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone but his family moved to Washington DC when he was young. He played several positions in college but has been used mostly in a midfield role since joining Chivas He has only seem limited action so far this year and only has one assists, but at the end of 2009 he got several starts (7 of their last 8 and both playoff matches), he ended up with a single goal and a single assist last year. He is a young player that RSL has never faced and he has some great skills on and off the ball and with so many new faces on the roster for Chivas he may be looking to make a name for himself with their new coach.
It has been a shame this year that so many matches have been impacted by the officials, for RSL and Chivas both have had results decided at the PK spot. Heck both lost matches to Columbus because of PK's and bad calls. In fact 6 PK's have been awarded against the two teams already this year, and neither side has had the official point to the spot for them. So you have to wonder if in a match that is likely to be played at a high tempo by both teams, both of who also tend to be physical teams, if the official will once again be a wild card in what the final outcome of the match will be?
After a tough start on the road RSL has found their swagger again and last week they did something they hadn't done in several years, they beat Houston. Now they find themselves in a position to do something they haven't done in years again, get a win against Chivas at the HDC. Chivas find themselves simply looking to figure out the pieces, they have a good team, solid players but so far they have lacked the consistency they have shown in the past. Could it be all the new faces? Could it be a new coach with a new style? Could it be the lack of on field leadership? None of those will be answered this week, but Chivas will have a chance to gain face with their fans, and some self respect for themselves if they can knock of the defending Champs.
Like so many matches in MLS this one will likely come down to what team can score first, neither side has won a match this year when giving up the first goal. This could be a great thing for Real Salt Lake who have scored 7 of their 15 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches, Chivas on the other hand has only 2 of their 10 goals scored in the first half hour of a match. That trend holds up on defense as well, RSL have allowed only 2 goals in the first 30 minutes (a huge improvement from 2009), while Chivas have allowed 5 of their 12 in the first half hour. Look for RSL to score early in this one and hold on for a 2-1 win.
OFF MY SOAPBOX