1) We all know that Erick Torres has been the Chivas USA MVP thus far. Who is the second in line?
I think that's a really good question. On one hand, it seems like this year's team has more players to be excited about, and more players who seem to really be hustling and providing quality on the field, more than last year's team, anyway. On the other hand, they are again basically at the bottom of the standings. So beyond Torres, who I think would succeed on any MLS team, there are caveats to some of the other candidates.
Still, I would probably say two veterans, Dan Kennedy and Mauro Rosales, should be just behind Cubo on the team MVP rankings to this point. Kennedy's consistency has been a bit up-and-down by his high standards this season, but he's still capable of grabbing points singlehandedly for this team, and Rosales has surprisingly provided a good two-way game in midfield this season. Known primarily as a playmaker in Seattle, he's had to defend a lot more than probably everyone would like, but he puts everything into whatever he's doing on the field this season, and his presence has certainly boosted the midfield this year.
2) What has made Torres so successful and would Chivas USA be able to score goals without him?
In my opinion, Cubo is a very good striker, and that goes a long way to explaining his scoring tally. He's a pure finisher, so if he's given space in the box and gets the right ball in, he'll score. He's not going to set teammates up, or drop back and vary his approach. He just scores goals.
Of course, several of his goals this season have come off penalties, and that fuels some critiques of him (which to my mind is unjustified). Many of those same critics point out that he's not really suited to playing alone up top in a tactical formation, which he's done in all but two games this year. I agree with the second point, but that reinforces the notion that he's a phenomenal talent, the best striker Chivas have had since Ante Razov, and possibly the player with the highest ceiling of any CUSA player to date. It will be interesting to see if he can really unlock all that potential.
3) With all the continual rumors of Chivas USA being moved and rebranded, how does that affect the organization and fan base?
It's been pretty bittersweet, honestly. On one hand, there's the expectation that times will get better now, and while there hasn't been the feeling of a circus surrounding the club this year, results have been really poor overall, and so in some respects it doesn't feel like as much has changed as it should. And with the uncertainty of the team's future (for the record, the league has maintained that the team will remain in LA but will be rebranded), some fans believe the team will go away, and for such a long-suffering fanbase, that would prove absolutely heartbreaking.
Still, I think most are expecting better times soon, and this year is just a stopover before the renewal really begins. There are some who are also sad about the end of the "Chivas" brand, but most just want a team that will be respectable in the market and MLS, and that will be competitive for years to come.
*Three questions from The Goat Parade to RSL Soapbox*
1) Real Salt Lake started the season with a long unbeaten record, but ever since that run was snapped, they've struggled. What accounts for those struggles, and do you think they will carry over to the game against Chivas USA?
RSL had one of the best starts to a season in their franchise history from a wins-losses-ties standpoint, but there were a substantial amount of RSL fans complaining about how many leads RSL gave up that turned into ties, or lately they turned into losses. The struggles stem primarily from Real Salt Lake missing some of their best players to World Cup duty and secondarily from a congested schedule. So not only were they missing their most skilled players in Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, and Nick Rimando, but there were three less players to rotate in and out of a tight schedule which led to tired legs and fatigued minds. Hopefully the struggles bottomed out with their loss against the Atlanta Silverbacks in Open Cup play, but I would not be surprised if Chivas USA is able to capitalize on a short-handed squad.
2) The biggest change for RSL this season is the coaching situation, with Jeff Cassar in charge. While it appears he's carried over most of what Jason Kreis laid out in his time with the club, surely he's made some changes. What are they, and how successful have they been so far this season?
The longer the season goes on, the fewer changes I see in the organization with regards to Cassar. The biggest change is his attitude compared to Kreis'. Cassar is a positive guy and I have yet to see him not upbeat in his interviews. He seems to be a players' coach. By not changing the style of play, Cassar has solidified the RSL system and shown that this philosophy of a team-first, "play the right way" mentality is here to stay. Cassar has of course put his own touches on the tactics and has a large say in who to keep with the club and who to bring in, but RSL's identity is healthy and looks to be here for the long term thanks to Cassar wanting to stay the course. In fact, when he was hired part of his argument was "Why would you hire anybody else?" He had been with Kreis for years and understood the club as well as anyone.
3) It seems like there's been a lot of injuries (and international absences) for RSL this year. Who's stepped up in the regulars' absences to impress?
The most impressive players that have stepped up at opportune times by my estimation are Joao Plata, Luke Muholland, and Chris Schuler. Joao Plata is on track to have his best season by a long shot. He has six goals and three assists in 10 games played which speaks to his incredibly efficient productivity. Luke Mulholland is in his first season in MLS and has turned some heads with how seamlessly he has fit in. He has four goals and two assists thus far and has really given RSL a shot in the arm with his creativity. Chris Schuler, however, proves to be the difference for RSL. RSL rarely loses when he is in the lineup. He solidifies the defense and has all the tools to be an elite defender even on the international level.
4) (Bonus) Prediction for this match?
I predict a 1-1 tie with Joao Plata scoring RSL's lone goal.