In amongst all the transfer chatter and trades around the league is a solid weekend of MLS action where the Seattle Sounders will need to get a home win over Chivas USAif Sigi's club is to remain in the hunt for the Supporters Shield. This midday match looks to have ideal footballing weather with the Rave Green remaining in their own beds for a full week of preparation. The strong favorites in the contest they face the SoCal Goats who are hovering as a MLS Cup Playoff team.
Chivas side is a strong defensive team with ambitions to add a forward soon, but this Saturday their offense will count on young American Justin Braun to fuel their continued strength over Seattle. Alicia from The Goat Parade provides the answers to the questions facing Chivas, and we see the return of the reverse.
SaH: Justin Braun is capable of dominating any game, but needs support like most strikers. Whose work supports him best it do they just need more talent?
tGP: I think Braun is ideally a support striker, as his consistency is a major issue. He works very hard and has flashes of brilliance, but he just does not look capable of controlling a game. The best situation in my view would be to have him paired with a more dynamic and prolific striker, which would allow him to fly under the radar and surprise opponents from time to time.
SaH: The Goats are sticking in the Playoff hunt through solid defense, who are the key players defensively?
tGP: Despite losing projected captain Jimmy Conrad in the second game of the season to a concussion, Chivas have been able to build a decent defensive record with a great deal of continuity along the backline. Heath Pearce is the key to the defense and has really stepped up in Conrad's absence, moving into central defense for the first time in his career and really doing an effective job. The rookie Zarek Valentin has also played quite well and is an automatic start for Chivas. There have been fewer injuries and international absences among the defenders than midfielders and forwards, so there's been more stability and more time for the defense to gel as a unit.
But the primary reason the Goats have played well defensively is because of goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. There have already been a handful of games this season where he has been the reason they got a draw or victory, and the fact that he has bailed the team out on several occasions means there will need to be some upgrades on the defense in the future. I know most teams in the league tout their goalkeeper as the best, and while I'm not willing to put Kennedy as the number one guy in the league just yet, I think a very good case could be made that he belongs in the top 5 this season, and could very soon become a world class 'keeper.
SaH: When the NY Cosmos closed Cosmos West Chivas USA was given first rights to those players. Already one of the better teams at developing young talent is the planned future of a So Cal based squad made more real through that move? How will Club Tijuana's expansion into Southern California effect those plans?
tGP: I suppose it probably won't make much difference, although if one player brought into the Chivas USA academy becomes a star with the team it could alter the club's fortunes significantly, and conversely if the Xolos snap up a star in the making away from Chivas it could really represent a missed opportunity. There are many players in the Southern California youth soccer system and so no team can corner the market on quality players, but obviously Chivas will need to make a case to players interested in playing for Tijuana that MLS and Chivas are worth it. With Jurgen Klinsmann evidently renewing U.S. Soccer's focus on Latino players, along with the good work the academy has had recently, Chivas can certainly remain players in a competitive region.
As for the plan to make the team primarily composed of players from Southern California, I think it is a long way from happening, if it ever does. Despite the high number of soccer players from Southern California, a policy like this would be even more binding competitively than the situation of Chivas' sister club, Chivas of Guadalajara. The Guadalajara club only voluntarily restricts its player pool to the country of Mexico, and occasionally Mexican Americans. The Chivas USA plan would limit the club to players from one very small region of an entire country, which makes winning seem incredibly and unnecessarily difficult. Plus, the team backtracked from the announcement almost immediately after making it, so I don't think it is really on the horizon.
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tGP: The Sounders are in the middle of several competitions, as they are still within shouting distance of the Supporters Shield, are sitting in an automatic playoff berth, are in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup and are in CONCACAF Champions League. Is this team equipped to compete in multiple competitions? And are certain titles or competitions being prioritized by the club?
SaH: This team was built from day one to compete in all competitions. If Steve Zakuani was healthy there would be little doubt about the offense, which despite losing he and O'Brian White for a majority of the year is still quite strong. Sigi Schmid goes 22 players deep with his starting rosters. He can adjust based on health, tactical needs and fitness. The biggest hollows of depth are in the backline with there being no depth behind James Riley on the right, and Zach Scott now becoming a centerback. This has meant that a few punishing goals have been scored that likely would not be for a team with more defensive depth, but the midfield lead offense is still putting more up then getting scored against them.
The real test will be in the CONCACAF Champions League where Seattle struggled last year. Match Day Two of the CCL is down in Monterrey, and while a result isn't expected it would be huge to get even a point down in Mexico. With the travel issues facing Seattle (3rd longest in just MLS play, longest overall, likely most games played ever in MLS history) lineup juggling will be even more important. There are chances that some players will be sent to an MLS away site while the rest of the team is traveling for the non-league competitions. The challenge will be to maintain that chemistry and feel on the pitch for what will be constantly shifting roles by so many players.
tGP: Fredy Montero has been having a relatively quiet season for Seattle. Despite scoring six goals and contributing five assists this season, he no longer seems to have the superstar buzz surrounding him. How would you characterize his performance this season, and what do you think accounts for the lowered expectations about him around the league?
SaH: Montero is still an offensive force. He may be a bit more streaky than even most forwards, but in his role as both a creator and scorer he is still among the best in the league. Fredy doesn't just sit up top waiting for the action to come to him. He will drop back to get the ball in a non-threatening space and create opportunities by passing laterally or chipping the typical two man defense that he faces. He then prepares to charge the box to either get the ball back or prepare for a new series of passes from a different angle.
He can do so much with the ball that many expect more of him than he can do. People have considered his performances disappointing despite putting up dozens of goals and assists in his two+ years. At this point he is one of the best offensive players in the League, and if he was much better he'd be gone. He hovers right on that bubble and so shouldn't be expected to stay long, especially if he gets a target man to open up space for him to operate.
tGP: Which player that is maybe not on the radar of most Chivas' fans could have an impact in the game on Saturday?
SaH: While the offense of the Sounders gets all the attention one mustn't ignore Tyson Wahl. He's converted from centerback to a left back and set-play specialist who can serve the ball during run-of-play as well. While his lateral speed is lacking, he still has the height to help defensively within the box. If he can slow the defender running at him Wahl is a strong defender, but the speedsters can create issues as Wahl can be prone to biting at their moves and getting turned.