The rivalry between these two teams was a natural, both came into the league in the same year and played in the same conference. It has been interesting to watch the different ways the clubs were built and how that has impacted the end results, as Chivas went for a first year roster that looked like a reserve squad for their parent club south of the border. RSL went for a mix of veterans and a bunch of players that John Ellinger thought were the future of MLS, but most have left the league and some have found places in USL but a good number simply have disappeared from the scene.
As the years progressed it was Chivas that quickly made changes after their first year and became a more productive team, while it would take Real a few more years to make a huge change in staff and direction. Both teams became better over the years and in 2008 they faced off in the Western Conference playoffs, a tough series that Real Salt Lake would win to advance to the Western Conference finals. Both sides made the playoffs again in 2009 but they didn't face each other as Chivas was beat by eventual Western Conference Champions the LA Galaxy, while RSL would go on to win the Eastern Conference Championship and eventually MLS Cup.
After 2009 Chivas made another set of drastic changes including bringing in a new coach Martin Vasquez, who has remade the roster and is still making changes as the team has struggled to a 4-9-2 start to their season. Their roster is now made up of names that few MLS fans will recognize, as 17 of their players have played 36 or fewer MLS matches.
For RSL after winning MLS Cup, they worked on extending contracts of their core players and have added just a few new players, in fact 13 of their current players have seen action in at least 40 MLS matches, but some of the new players to come in during the off-season have already made an impact, none bigger than Alvaro Saborio, who has scored 7 goals and has 4 assists in the first half of the season.
After the jump, key matchups, wildcards and my prediction:
Chivas offense vs RSL defense
This should be a clear mismatch as RSL has allowed just 13 goals against this season, 2nd best in Major league soccer and just 5 goals at home, while the Chivas offense has scored just 17 goals which is tied for worst in the Western Conference. The upside for Chivas may come in the fact that they have scored more goals on the road 9, than their 8 at home. Chivas have failed to score in 6 of their 15 matches and lost each one of them, the RSL defense has shut out opponents 7 times so far this year, and only 4 times has a team scored more than a single goal on them. Perhaps the biggest blow to the Chivas offense could be that Justin Braun, their leading scorer with 6 goals (more than 1/3 of their total) and 3 assists is listed as questionable for the match, but you have to believe if he can go that playing in front of his family and friends will be enough to get the Salt Lake native to tough out the injury and play. No player on the Chivas roster has scored more than two goals against RSL.
The RSL defense had a 500 minute plus shutout streak broken last weekend in Dallas, you have to believe that getting back to that streak will be a top priority for them as they look to correct the mistakes that allowed 2 goals to be scored on them for 4th time this year, no team has scored more than 2 against RSL this year. In fact in 12 of their 16 matches RSL has either shutout or held their opponents to just a single goal for an average of just 0.81 goals allowed per match. Nick Rimando will look for his backline to do a better job of clearing loose balls and I wouldn't be surprised if RSL bring in Tony Beltran and give Robbie Russell a week off, as we know the rotation of the outside backs will be critical since they play such a large role in the RSL game plan. We may see Jamison Olave only play a portion of the match as well as a couple others who will be heading to the MLS All Star match on Wednesday only to have another league match next Saturday. Still you have to give a strong edge to the RSL defense in this match.
Alvaro Saborio vs. Umana and Delgado
This is an interesting matchup as all three players are from Costa Rica, and all have played for their national team, and all are new to their teams this year. Michael Umana did have a stint with the LA Galaxy in 2005 but returned to MLS this year with Chivas USA. The remaking of the Chivas defense with the two centerbacks hasn't exactly paid huge dividends yet as the have allowed 21 goals so far in their 15 league matches and only 3 shutouts. In fact they have allowed 2 or more goals in 7 of their matches, including their first match against RSL this year a 2-1 loss at the Home Depot Center.
It has been a two match dry spell for Saborio, and when you add in his All Star snub, you have a player who is likely going to do his best to make you pay attention to him on the highlight reel for the weekend. He has done so in the past winning MLS Player of the Week in week 8 and MLS Player of the Month in May. His 7 goals and 4 assists in the first half of the season point to his quality as a player, most players take weeks or months to become fully adjusted to their new team and to the style of play in MLS, which means for RSL fans the best could be yet to come when it comes to the player now known as "the Pretty". I have to give Alvaro a clear edge in this contest as all of his goals have come at his new home Rio Tinto, and we can expect more in this match.
It has been some weeks since RSL fans have seen their captain in action on the pitch, but after a long recovery it looks as if Kyle Beckerman will be making his return to the 18 man squad and I have to believe that he will likely see action as a second half sub in the match. Kyle brings a edge to the RSL midfield, he is ferocious on defense as he attacks every lose ball and goes after every attacking players. His efforts often lead to offensive counter attacks and his partnership with Javier Morales is one of the best in MLS, which was reinforced with both being selected to the MLS First XI for the All Star Match. In a testament to Kyle's focus on recovering he has declined that opportunity to remain working on his return to full fitness for his club.
Former Skyline and SLCC player Braun has become the main offensive weapon for Chivas USA, and while he is listed as questionable for the match you have to believe that the opportunity to play in front of family and friends will be tough for him to resist if he is fit enough to play at least some minutes. His 6 goals and 3 assists mean that he has been a part in over half of all the Chivas goals this year and clearly he has become their go to guy on offense. He is one of just 5 current Chivas players to ever have scored a goal against Real Salt Lake, he did so in their 2-1 loss earlier this season. So you have to believe that it may not be a stretch to see Justin come in late and try to make an impact in this match.
You would think I would get tired of listing the official as a wildcard but if you watch much soccer you know that now more than ever it seems that mistakes that are impacting the final results of matches are being made. I have heard that FIFA is considering adding 2 more officials to each match and considering the increasing speed of play I like that option. Mark has in the past seemed one of the more steady MLS officials, he calls an average of 27.3 fouls per match, issues 3.9 yellow cards per match, and in his 68 matches in charge has pointed to the PK spot 23 times (about 1 in every 3 matches) but he has only issued 11 red cards. Here is hoping again that we aren't talking about Mark or any of his crew after the match.
There is no place like home, for RSL it has been since May 16th of last year they haven't lost a MLS match at home, that is 18 matches ago and that streak is second longest in MLS history (22 for Columbus is the longest). After a couple of rough matches on the road, the team comes back home on a holiday weekend to a sold out stadium, fireworks and fans who will be hungry to see them return to the form that got them a 5-0 win over New England.
Chivas is coming off a busy couple weeks of SuperLiga play, but their last MLS match was a 2-0 win over Kansas City at KC. So they should be playing with confidence, but if Braun is unable to go it will be interesting to see how they adjust having half of their offense off the pitch. While most teams faced with their task would come in and play behind the ball and look for a draw, I expect that the pressure on Martin will force him to play a more aggressive style, this is a team that has lost 9 matches already in 2010 just shy of the 11 they lost in all of 2009.
RSL is going to win this one, it will be tougher than some people expect but the RSL trend of early goals, 8 in the first 30 minutes of matches, and the Chivas habit of giving up early goals 8 in the first 30 minutes. Should mean that Chivas will be fighting from behind after an early RSL goal, I believe this will be the 9th match of the year that RSL scores 2 or more goals. Final score 3-1 RSL.
OFF MY SOAPBOX