CHIVAS: Is this one 'must-win'? Sort of
CARSON -- Four games, no goals, no wins, no points.
That's the sum from Chivas USA's efforts this season at Home Depot Center, and the small but passionate fan base has had enough, as any conversation with the hardcores -- or glance at the message boards they inhabit -- will attest.
It doesn't matter that the Goats (3-5-0) haven't played poorly, except in matters of scoring goals, or that they'd sit fourth were they in the weaker Eastern Conference after winning their first three road encounters. And that's a sentiment the team has taken to heart.
Friday night's clash with the Chicago Fire (2-2-2) at HDC might be the most meaningful game in Robin Fraser's 16-month tenure as head coach. Consider this one must-win. Well, sort of.
“It's not life or death, but it's as close to it for us as you can [get],” midfielder Nick LaBrocca told ESPN Los Angeles. “It's time to step up, and what's happened in the past is not acceptable for us.”
Chivas has been solid defensively, betrayed by brief lapses and moments of indecision -- with only six goals conceded in the first seven games and 81 minutes. It has had the majority of possession in most of its matches, often by a considerable margin. But it's not leading to goals: Chivas has just four in eight games, worst in MLS.
Four players, two of them with the New York Red Bulls, have more. San Jose's Chris Wondolowski and New York's Thierry Henry have doubled the Goats' total on their own.
If you don't score, you can't win.
“How about we start with scoring a goal at home?” offered captain Alejandro Moreno, who has one of Chivas' quartet and is ready to play after missing last week's 4-0 loss at Colorado because of a mild concussion. “And after that, we'll build our way into finding a way to win. Step by step, and, hopefully, we can put it all together and maybe that will translate into three points. And we can make our fans happy and proud of some of the things we're doing on the field.”
“There's a saying,” midfielder Peter Vagenas said. “It's 'the storm is always darkest right before dawn,' right? There's definitely frustration on our end. We're not far off, but at the end of the day, all you care about is results.”
Pretty soccer is nice, but there's no replacing victories. And the fans -- especially supporters groups Union Ultras, Black Army 1850 and Legion Kalifas -- are demanding victories.
“As they should be,” Vagenas said. “Those are the types of fans we want, and those are the types of fans that sort of encourage you to push your limits, and they should be demanding wins.”
Watch closely, and the Goats appear to be on the verge of something -- we saw bits of it in the victory at Real Salt Lake and a real dose in the comeback win in Portland, with Moreno and LaBrocca heading home Ryan Smith crosses -- but their possession too often doesn't lead anywhere, and when it does, the finishing isn't clean or the shot isn't taken.
“Being on the verge doesn't really matter,” said Fraser, whose home record is 5-11-5. “If you're not there, you're not there. We just need to execute. ... You could be one step away from being there, you might as well be a mile away. It's a matter of us accepting that and dealing with the fact that we have to execute. It's part of the nature of the business.”
Moreno calls Chivas “a group that is starving for a results, a group that is starving for points and results we can hold onto and grab onto so that the confidence of the group grows,” but emphasizing this one as must-win might be counter-productive. Vagenas says it's not about one game.
“At the end of the day, there's three points up for grabs,” he said, “and whether we get them or not, it's not going to cure or hinder the rest of our season. It's just three points.
“Sometimes we make it bigger than it is. And we don't have to go out there and play the perfect game. Sometimes we're focused so much on doing things the correct way -- and I'm a huge fan of playing soccer the right way -- but at the same time, when you focus on that, you lose sight of the ultimate goal, and we need three points. ... We just need to win the game. For me, let's just put the rest of it to the side.”
WORTH NOTING: Among active clubs, Chivas USA has the second-worst home record in MLS, at 47-39-27. That's a .535 percentage and an average of 1.4867 points per game. Worse is Vancouver, in only its second MLS season, at 8-7-6 (.523, 1.4286). ... Fraser said “everything is being considered” tactically for the match, including a switch to a two-forward alignment that might better complement Juan Pablo Angel's skills. ... Colombian forward Jose Erik Correa, who started training Monday with the Goats, could make his debut this weekend but is unlikely to start. ... Chicago leads the all-time series, 8-4-3, with one of the wins coming in the old SuperLiga. The Fire has an eight-game unbeaten streak, with six wins, since against Chivas since June 2008 and have won the last three meetings at HDC. ... Moreno led MLS three straight years in the fouls-suffered category, and for three different clubs: San Jose in 2005, Houston in 2006 and Columbus in 2007. ... Chicago coach Frank Klopas and defender Jalil Anibaba are suspended for their actions during a postgame brawl after last weekend's loss at home to Seattle. Klopas may not be in the Fire's locker room nor have contact with his players from arrival at the stadium until the game is over.
- THE OPPONENT
Head coach: Frank Klopas
Key players: F Dominic Oduro, F/M Patrick Nyarko, M Marco Pappa, M Pavel Pardo, D Arne Friedrich, D Gonzalo Segares, D Jalil Anibaba, M Logan Pause, F/M Sebastian Grazzini.
Local guys: F Orr Barouch (Woodland Hills), M Daniel Paladini (Van Nuys/Cal State Northridge).
Update: The Fire (2-2-0) are struggling defensively, surrendering two goals in each of the last two games and three of the last four, winning just once in that span -- and that against winless Toronto. Two-time German World Cup veteran Friedrich has been in the lineup the past three games, but he'll likely partner MLS debutant Austin Berry with Anibaba out, so the learning curve at the back is still proceeding. Oduro (three of the Fire's seven goals) and Nyarko are the fastest forward tandem in MLS, and Pappa is among the more dynamic wing-midfielders in the league. Pardo, a longtime Mexican star, is a leader. Chicago hasn't made the playoffs the past two seasons, but Klopas' rebuild has amassed a talented side that could be a contender if chemistry takes hold.
- INJURY REPORT
Out: M Marvin Iraheta (right ACL tear).
Probable: M Ben Zemanski (right MCL sprain).
Out: D Cory Gibbs (right knee surgery), M Steven Kinney (right posterior tibialis tendinitis).
Questionable: F Chris Rolfe (left ankle sprain).
- THE GAME
Home Depot Center (Carson), 8 p.m.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
TV: ESPN Deportes
Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)