Well after a week off of 3 questions last week it is back into the mix as Real Salt Lake gets ready to play host to Chivas USA in a battle of the 2005 expansion teams. So here is the results of a Q&A with Alicia Ratterree who runs things over at thegoatparade.com the SB Nation blog that covers all things Chivas USA.
First up here questions for me:
1. Real Salt Lake has maintained a talented core the past few years and have not made nearly as many personnel moves in the latest offseason as many clubs. That said, what are some notable additions to the squad, and who do you expect will make a significant contribution this season?
A) This year was actually one of the more active off seasons for RSL with 9 players being traded, released, or retiring, and that meant that it was one of the biggest group of new players since 2007/08. I think there are 4 big pickups that will make an impact this year, in no particular order Terukazu Tanaka, who brings youth and experience to our outside back positions, Jonny Steele, who brings a toughness and lots of experience to our midfield, Enzo Martinez, who we got with the 17th pick in the MLS draft, a huge surprise that he was still there and I expect him to make a huge impact as the year goes along, but the guy who might be the biggest surprise in the draft is Sebastian Velasquez. He was the first rookie since 2006 to get a start, and has provided a real spark in both matches this year for RSL on both sides of the ball. I picked him early as a guy who will make a real run at Rookie of the Year this season.
The rest of her questions and my answers as well as my question and her answers after the jump:
2. RSL looks set to be among the top teams in the league this season, but they will be involved in multiple competitions in 2012. Is the team looking to compete on all fronts, or do you think they will prioritize certain competitions over others?
A) I don't think Jason Kreis likes to lose anything, ever and he runs his practices that way. Everything is a competition at RSL, and I fully expect that you will see them try to win every match they play. The team is focused on Champions League, they know how much impact winning that would mean for the team and organization. At the same time they know that getting back to the Champions League means you have to either be in MLS Cup, win the Supporters' Shield, or win the US Open Cup, and most teams see the USOC as the quickest path to the Champions League so I expect that you will see RSL take that competition seriously as well. It is going to be a long season, so you can't run the same eleven guys each week, but RSL has already shown early this year that with their injuries they still have some guys who can and have stepped up to fill in, so I expect we will see a lot more of that as the season progresses.
3. I've heard rumors that RSL may rotate the squad against Chivas this weekend. They did something similar against the New England Revolution early last season, and absolutely crushed the Revs. Do you think Jason Kreis will look to get some of the squad players involved in this match, or do you think the first team still needs to fully build up to in-season form and fitness?
A) I don't think you will see anything like what happened with New England last year, that match came just days after a CCL match at Saprissa, and nothing like that this year. Now will you see some changes from the lineup that showed up the first two weeks, yes, but I think it is more likely that you will see some guys taking back their spots. I expect that Nat Borchers will probably get the start, and maybe Alvaro Saborio, it is likely if he doesn't start that you would see him get 30-45 minutes. I think Javier Morales will come off the bench, with Luis Gil getting that start in his place again.
Now my questions for her:
1. Chivas continues the rebuilding process this year, but it seems as if the focus has really shifted to playing good defense, what changes has the team made on the pitch that has reinforced that focus?
A) Truthfully, the formation has really helped the defense so far this season. In the first two matches, Chivas were playing with 7-8 outfield players in a defensive role. Although both matches resulted in losses, it seems Robin Fraser's efforts to stack the defense paid off otherwise as the club was unlucky not to get a draw in each match. In the coming weeks, I think Fraser will have to switch to a more standard formation with true balance on the field, as the attack in the first couple of matches has been largely nonexistent.
That said, there are some new additions to the defense this season, and they've already made a difference. Right back James Riley came over from the Seattle Sounders, and his ability to defend well and get up and down the field over 90 minutes represents a big upgrade from last season. In addition, a couple of new center backs were brought in to pair with Heath Pearce. The projected starter, John Valencia, was signed in the offseason from Colombia and played well in the preseason, but was slowed by a minor injury and has yet to play any meaningful minutes. The projected back-up, Rauwshan McKenzie, who of course came over from RSL, started the first two games and played very well. If Valencia is even better than McKenzie in MLS, then it should bode well for Chivas' defense heading into the rest of the season.
2. With some of the changes made in the off season, it looks as if Chivas is planning on using either Juan Pablo Angel or Casey Townsend up top this year, do you think that those options will be able to score enough goals to keep Chivas in matches?
A) Again, I think Robin Fraser needs to pair the lone striker with at least one more forward, so it is entirely possible that Angel and Townsend can start together. I'm not sure if he'll deviate from a 4-5-1 against RSL, however, but for the bulk of the season a lone striker is an untenable formation from an attacking point of view. I think the question of who will score goals for this team is very much still open, especially considering they have yet to score this season. That said, the return of Angel was obviously good news, especially after his record of seven goals in nine matches late last season after coming to Chivas. Additionally, Townsend and fellow young striker Cesar Romero are exciting talents who look to have the tools to succeed in MLS, but it remains to be seen if they can actually hack it. Another new signing, Miller Bolanos from Ecuador, is supposed to be one of the best young talents in South America. I have heard great things about him, but he hasn't spent much time on the field so far. But if he can live up to the hype, he certainly could be dangerous. And finally, returning players like Alejandro Moreno, Nick LaBrocca, and Michael Lahoud will be expected to score their fair share of goals this season. Although the offense hasn't yet clicked, I think there needs to be a few more bodies attacking on the field, and things should eventually fall into place.
3. Who is the player you expect to make the biggest impact this year for Chivas?
A) The easy answer is Dan Kennedy. He was the team MVP last season, and I think he had a monster 2011. I think it is a shame that he didn't get the attention he deserved last year, as I truly believe he is among the top five goalkeepers in the league (and I realize that is a very elite class). Last season, he kept Chivas in games far longer than they deserved, and he came up big in the 2012 season opener against Houston and nearly earned a much-deserved point. If Chivas have serious ambitions this season, Kennedy needs to continue to play at a high level, and his teammates need to elevate their games to match his. On the flipside, if he struggles or gets hurt for any length of time, it is going to hurt more than it would for any other player on the field.
Bonus Question - If you could take one player from RSL and put them on Chivas USA, who is it and why?
A) Probably Borchers or Olave. They anchor a great defense, they can stop big time players, and they are stable. The biggest question mark for Chivas for this season is their defense, so I think one of the center backs would probably be my choice.
So there you go a look inside the minds of a couple bloggers (a scary place) who cover the teams that will do battle on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
OFF MY SOAPBOX