After hitting a three-match losing skid, Chivas USA will attempt to reverse their fortune when they host the Chicago Fire on Saturday (10 pm ET, Galavision). Chivas are coming off a 3-2 loss on the road to Philadelphia, while Chicago held New York to a 1-1 draw on Sunday. The teams are currently equal on points, 17, both are sitting in eighth place in their respective conferences, although Chivas has a game in hand. Expectations around the league were pretty low for these teams coming into the season, but although both have struggled, neither can be counted out of the playoff picture just yet.
The mood around the Chivas camp this week has been pretty serious. Players and coaches alike have noted the collective disappointment at Chivas’ continuous inability to hang onto a lead the past six weeks, and are saying the right things as far as maintaining concentration and playing hard and smart for 90 minutes. The team has held some closed-door practice sessions this week, and the good news is that it seems they are fully aware of the problems they have had recently and are trying to fix them. At the risk of falling into a tailspin if the results don’t go their way, it feels like this match is shaping up to be a must-win for Chivas. They know Chicago has had many struggles this season, and have only won two matches so far in league play. They have a league-leading eleven draws, though, and many of those have been real grind-it-out affairs. If Chivas only managed a point, it wouldn’t be a disaster, but they have to like their chances for a victory against the Fire.
Whereas Chivas’ problems in recent weeks have been on the defensive end, Chicago features an improved defense in recent weeks. Although I don’t think the Fire’s defense will be easily breached, their young goalkeeper, Sean Johnson, has some very shaky moments, and Chivas may try to take advantage of his mistakes. Meanwhile, on the offensive end, the return of Marco Pappa from international duty with Guatemala at the Gold Cup has provided a boost for a team that hasn’t spread the offensive firepower around much. Pappa’s goal last week against New York demonstrates his danger at all spots on the field, but Chivas will have a good opportunity against a Chicago side that doesn’t score many goals.
Chivas will need to concentrate on having a possession-oriented game, but they will need to be prepared for the times when Chicago launches a counter-attack. It is unclear if Andrew Boyens or Michael Umaña will get the start at center back, but they, along with the rest of the defense, will really need to commit themselves to holding Chicago off. Offensively, the attack will run through Nick LaBrocca or Marcos Mondaini, if he is fit, and will need to make do with less support from the full backs and central midfielders until the defensive errors can be sorted out.
Injury concerns for the Goats include defender Jimmy Conrad (concussion, doubtful) and midfielder/forward Marcos Mondaini (knee, listed as probable midweek). Mondaini has been Chivas’ best player since he returned from suspension, so missing him would be a blow, although Nick LaBrocca played very well while Mondaini was out. Forward Alejandro Moreno is still gone on international duty with Venezuela, who kicks off their Copa America campaign on Sunday. For Chicago, midfielder Daniel Paladini is suspended because of yellow card accumulation.
This match may be the one to start Chivas off on another hot streak. Chivas cannot be over-confident, but they have to like their chances against Chicago. Let’s see if their acknowledgment of recent problems can be turned into play that results in victories.
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