CHIVAS USA: Goats showing true grit
March, 31, 2012
By Scott French | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesChivas USA's Rauwshan McKenzie has helped lead a strong defensive effort so far.
CARSON -- Chivas USA last weekend heroically gutted out a victory over Major League Soccer's early Supporters' Shield leader. Now they'll try to do so again, and it will require the same kind of grit.
That's what the Goats are counting on when they meet Sporting Kansas City (3-0-0) on Sunday evening at Home Depot Center, and that's fine by them.
Real Salt Lake dominated Chivas through huge portions of last week's clash in Sandy, Utah, but superb defensive work -- especially by former RSL backup Rauwshan McKenzie and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy -- and a heads-up finish by rookie Casey Townsend delivered to the Goats (1-2-0) a 1-0 triumph.
Sporting K.C., which vaulted over RSL to the top of the overall standings with a comeback victory last weekend over FC Dallas, can be expected to apply similar pressure, and Chivas is ready for it.
“We've got a fight about us. We've got a determination,” said midfielder Blair Gavin, asked what's different about Robin Fraser's second Chivas team. “We've got guys who get stuck into tackles, who work hard offensively and defensively. This is Robin's second year, so his ideas are coming in now. He's getting more players he likes and [who] understand his system, and at the end of the day, we've got a lot of winners on this team, and we're going to be fighting for every victory.”
That desire to fight is pivotal -- it's built into former U.S. defenders Fraser's and assistant coach Greg Vanney's DNA and that of their teams -- but it won't be enough to contend for a playoff berth in the Western Conference. That will require greater dynamism on attack. With winger Michael Lahoud and striker Juan Pablo Angel dealing with injuries and newcomer Miller Bolaņos still looking to contribute, it's still a ways off.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” said midfielder Peter Vagenas, noting that this group has just three competitive games together. “This is a work in progress. The soccer is going to get better and the way we want to play, that's going to get better, but you need time. While you're doing that, you need success, especially in the win department, to validate what you're doing.
“I think that's what is important. There's light at the end of the tunnel. If this team continues on the path that we're going, we have a lot of guys that know what they're doing, and it's going to be a very bright season.”
WORTH NOTING: The Goats will miss Angel for the third successive game. The Colombian forward is in MLS's post-concussion protocol after a preseason collision with Portland defender Eric Brunner. … K.C. leads the all-time series, 7-4-5. Chivas is 3-2-3 at HDC. … Lahoud has been upgraded to doubtful on the league's injury report, but he won't play. Laurent Courtois and Heath Pearce aren't on the list, but both dealt with knocks this week. … Jorge Villafaņa and Sporting's Teal Bunbury return from Olympic qualifying. … K.C. midfielder Graham Zusi, still slowed by a preseason quadriceps strain, leads MLS with four assists. … Kennedy entered the weekend tied for the MLS lead in saves, with a dozen. Fraser called it “a bad statistic for the team.” … Sporting is the 15th team in MLS history to start 3-0-0. Only one of the teams failed to make the playoffs: the 2006 K.C. Wizards. … Guadalajara's game against Zapopan rival Estudiantes Tecos, which begins at 4 p.m., will be shown in the fan-fest ChivaTown before the match. … Chivas opens its MLS Reserve League season Monday morning against the Galaxy at HDC's University Field 1, L.A.'s training field immediately southwest of the main stadium. Kickoff is 11 a.m.
- THE OPPONENT
Head coach: Peter Vermes
Key players: F/M Kei Kamara, F Teal Bunbury, F C.J. Sapong, M Graham Zusi, G Jimmy Nielsen, M Bobby Convey
Local guys: Kamara (Lawndale/Cal State Dominguez Hills), D Chance Myers (Thousand Oaks/UCLA), D Shawn Singh (UCLA).
Update: Sporting went 12-3-9 after playing its first 10 games on the road last season (in advance of its new stadium's debut), streaking to the Eastern Conference regular-season title. The ex-Wizards are bona fide favorites this year, behind a deep, explosive attack and superior athleticism all over the field. They've won their first three games, conceding just one shot on goal to D.C. United and in last weekend's come-from-behind win over FC Dallas while outfiring their foes, 62-26. Zusi is the orchestrator, and Sapong, last year's Rookie of the Year, and Kamara have two goals apiece. Bunbury's return from Olympic qualifying adds another weapon.
- INJURY REPORT
Out: F Juan Pablo Angel (head contusion), M Marvin Iraheta (right ACL tear).
Doubtful: M Michael Lahoud (right hamstring strain).
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Out: G Eric Kronberg (lower back injury).
- THE GAME
Referee: Edvin Jurisevic
TV: KDOC/Channel 56 (English) and KWHY/Channel 22 (Spanish)
Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)