MLS ’12 Preview: Chivas USA
Team: Chivas USA
Coach: Robin Fraser
Last Season: 8 – 14 – 12 = 36 points, 8th Place Western, 15th Overall
Twitter Hashtag: #ChivasUSA
Back to the drawing board - that seems to have been the theme for the 2011-12 offseason for Chivas USA.
Robin Fraser’s team seemed to make some strides in 2011, bouncing back from a 2010 campaign directly influenced by the loss of Sacha Kljestan to R.S.C. Anderlecht. But after another bout of turning over the roster, fans will be wondering if they could be in a constant state of rebuilding.
Before we cover the coaches and front office, let’s run through the litany of roster moves.
KEY PLAYERS LOST - The roster for Chivas has undergone a lot of turnover. The biggest losses were experienced at the time of the 2011 Expansion Draft. Zarek Valentin, Justin Braun, and Gerson Mayen all ended up with the Quebecois entrants. Michael Umana signed with Guatamalan club Comunicaciones on a free transfer. Marcos Mondaini also left MLS. Andrew Boyens will remain in Los Angeles, but will instead wear the kit of SuperClasico rivals Galaxy.
KEY PLAYERS GAINED - After trading away Braun, Chivas drafted a guy they hope can be a long-term contributing forward in Casey Townsend. They also traded a couple of supplemental picks to Kansas City for Englishman Ryan Smith, who couldn’t breakthrough for Sporting KC. To replace Valentin and Umana, who shared the right back duty in 2011, James Riley was acquired in the Braun and Mayen trade. The former Seattle Sounder is a veteran right back who should provide some stability at the position. They’ve also signed Oswaldo Minda from Ecuador. Minda appears to be a skillful holding midfielder who will provide cover for the defense. Two other international signings who could make an impact this year include Colombian defender John Alexander Valencia, and another Ecuadorian midfielder, Miller Bolanos.
COACHING STAFF AND FRONT OFFICE - Reports have it that Robin Fraser is looking to implement a more attacking style, 4-3-3 to be exact. This may explain the reason they traded Braun, since he is more of a traditional No. 9. Even with that, it gives the impression that the changes made were simply attempts to make the system the scapegoat. Perhaps it is a simple diversion to draw attention away from one of the most head-scratching trades of this offseason. Another factor could be the addition of Angel at the end of last season, who is making a designated player wage. Angel is not a spring chicken, and Fraser and company certainly hope that Chivas fans ignore Montreal – especially if the Goats struggle for goals.
PROJECTED STARTERS - This is a crapshoot because of the major turnover. If Fraser wants to shape the squad into a 4-3-3 system, the likely forward line will consist of Angel with Alejandro Moreno and either Smith or Townsend. A three-man midfield should comprise of Minda as the holding midfielder. Certainly Nick LaBrocca should be one of the box-to-box midfielders, while there should be a position up for grabs between the likes of Blair Gavin, Michael Lahoud, and Miller Bolanos. The defense should be centered by Heath Pearce and DJ Lopes, with Valencia potentially breaking through. Riley would seem to be the choice for right fullback, and Ante Jazic on the left. At the moment the only goalkeeper on the roster is Dan Kennedy.
PLAYER TO WATCH - With the shake-up, all eyes seem to be on LaBrocca now. He made significant strides towards being a pivotal player in the Chivas midfield. Without Braun to connect on those timely goals, LaBrocca will be under the spotlight even more. He earned his first All-Star selection as a reserve in 2011, and with all of the flux, he needs to continue to assert himself as both a goal scorer and creator.
BEST CASE SCENARIO - The West hasn’t gotten any easier, and I don’t see Chivas really challenging for a playoff spot. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt – Angel finds his form early, the new players gel, and perhaps they can enter mid-October with a chance of sneaking into the bracket.
WORST CASE SCENARIO - The more likely scenario is the worst case, which is an aging lineup begins to breakdown. A lot of money is tied up in Angel, which has forced the team into having a number of journeymen on this team. With all of this uncertainty, and the difficulty of their schedule, this team could finish dead last in the league in a tough conference.
PREDICTION - I think realistically the Goats will finish in 8th place in the West again. With last year’s expansion teams improving in a tough conference, Chivas USA will escape the basement – but only barely.