CARSON -- Juan Agudelo is back, Osvaldo Alonso is out. If that's not enough to push Chivas USA into the favorite's role for Saturday night's Major League Soccer clash with the Seattle Sounders at Home Depot Center, consider current form.
The Goats (4-6-2, 14 points) are quickly solidifying into a real contender, with the draw at San Jose two weeks ago followed by last weekend's victory over the Galaxy and a tie Wednesday at Eastern Conference leader New York -- plus the burgeoning partnership up front between Agudelo and Jose Erik Correa -- and Juan Pablo Angel, too -- promising big things down the road.
They're in better shape for once than Seattle (7-3-2, 23 points), which started so well -- six shutouts and just three goals allowed in its first nine games -- but has struggled in its last three, sandwiching home losses to Real Salt Lake and on Wednesday to Columbus around a draw at Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver.
There's a goalkeeping crisis, troubles at the back -- the Sounders have allowed four goals in their last two matches -- and now Alonso, perhaps the best holding midfielder in the league, is gone, suspended two games Friday by MLS's disciplinary committee for a two-footed tackle in the Columbus loss that wasn't caught by the referee.
How big is that?
Alonso is the foundation for nearly everything the Sounders do.
Danny Califf, a few hours before word was out about the Cuban star, said trying to “move Alonso around” was critical.
“[We can't] just let him sit in the middle, because he does such a great job of breaking up plays and really covering so much ground,” said Califf, Chivas' backline leader after just two games since arriving from Philadelphia. “I think also when they have the ball [we need to try] to really have someone on him. A lot of their game goes through him, and he likes to lift his head up and look for cheeky runs from [top scorer Fredy] Montero.”
Agudelo is back early from the U.S. national team camp after not making Jurgen Klinsmann's 23-man roster for the “five-game tournament,” as U.S. Soccer is calling three friendlies (the first Saturday against Scotland) and the first two 2014 World Cup qualifiers. He and fellow Colombian Correa represent the future for Chivas, which has been desperate for something in the final third and is starting to find it.
“I'm sure there is some disappointment [from not staying with the U.S. team], but he knows that if he continues to work hard, there are plenty of national team opportunities in his future,” Chivas head coach Robin Fraser said. “For him, it's an opportunity to get in and play games and again further prove to Jurgen why he should be there.”
Agudelo, a rather mature 19, says he's fine with it, that he's “excited to be back” and that he's “not disappointed, it's just the way it is. Jurgen and I spoke, and we both know the reason that I came back.”
And that reason?
“It's just a thing between me and him.”
Agudelo is still finding his best form after returning three weeks ago from a knee injury, so he needs to grow with Chivas, get the playing time he couldn't in New York and use it to raise his game.
“I have to work at it,” he said. “I feel like the training sessions [with the U.S.] went really well, but it's just a thing where a lot of players in my position [such as Fulham star Clint Dempsey, AZ Alkmaar's Jozy Altidore, Santos Laguna's Herculez Gomez and San Jose's Chris Wondolowski] have been playing exceptionally well with their clubs, and, unfortunately, I've been injured, so I haven't been able to play that part. ...
“There's a lot of motivation. A lot of thinking on the flight back from Orlando. Motivational thinking.”
WORTH NOTING: Midfielder Nick LaBrocca is out with a hamstring strain sustained in the early minutes of Wednesday's draw at New York. Ben Zemanski remains out with an MCL sprain, and Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup game at Ventura County Fusion is the target for his return. ... Oswaldo Minda has joined Ecuador's national team in advance of World Cup qualifiers June 2 against Argentina in Buenos Aires and June 10 against Colombia in Quito. Defender Ante Jazic departs after Saturday's game to join Canada's national team for a friendly June 3 against the U.S. and World Cup qualifiers June 8 against Cuba in Havana and June 12 against Honduras in Toronto. ... Seattle leads the all-time series, 5-2-3, with three of those wins in U.S. Open Cup play and two of them from when the Sounders were a second-division team. ... Chivas has won just once in six home games -- the victory over the Galaxy -- and Seattle is unbeaten (2-0-2) on the road. ... Seattle won the meeting at HDC last year, a 3-1 decision to close the regular season. The August game up north was a 0-0 draw.
Head coach: Sigi Schmid
Key players: F Fredy Montero, M Mauro Rosales, F David Estrada, M Osvaldo Alonso, D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, F Eddie Johnson, M Steve Zakuani.
Local guys: Schmid (Torrance/UCLA), Estrada (UCLA), F Sammy Ochoa (Riverside), M Brad Evans (UC Irvine), D Patrick Ianni (UCLA), D/M Andy Rose (UCLA), D Michael Tetteh (UC Santa Barbara).
Update: The Sounders (7-3-2), who sit third in the West, four points off the lead, are dynamic in attack but a little susceptible at the back, especially with No. 1 goalkeeper Michael Gspurning out and youngster Bryan Meredith's troubles in the nets the last couple of games. It gets worse: Not only is Alonso suspensed, but Swedish defender Adam Johansson is injured. Things are better on attack, where Rosales, Montero and Johnson make for a versatile crew. They've combined for eight goals and five assists in the past month.
Out: M Marvin Iraheta (right ACL tear), M Nick LaBrocca (left hamstring strain).
Questionable: M Ben Zemanski (right MCL sprain).
Out: G Josh Ford (right knee stress fracture), M Steve Zakuani (right leg fracture), F Babayele Sodade (right knee ACL tear), D Adam Johansson (right hamstring strain).
Doubtful: G Michael Gspurning (right hip strain), D Patrick Ianni (lower back pain), D Leo Gonzalez (left quad strain).
Questionable: D Michael Tetteh (left hamstring strain),
Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.
Referee: Chris Penso
TV: Fox Sports West (English), Prime Ticket (English, 2 a.m.) and KWHY/Channel 22 (Spanish)
Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)