Chivas USA spent most of the last month taking points off Major League Soccer's biggest sides, then climbing to within a point of the Western Conference's playoff zone with an impressive victory over a pretty good Montreal side.
Now they get a taste of the American soccer's ghetto.
The Goats (5-7-4, 18 points) are in Texas on Saturday to take on an FC Dallas team that has been decimated by injuries, red cards and suspensions, hasn't won in two months and sits at the bottom of the Western standings.
That doesn't mean a whole lot, says head coach Robin Fraser, whose team has lost just once -- last weekend to Real Salt Lake -- in its last seven games, all competitions.
“For us, it doesn't matter who the next opponent is, we have to improve,” Fraser said. “There are some things that we could he better and sharper at. Regardless of who we play, there's going to be that challenge. Dallas is a very talented team. They've certainly not gotten the results that they're capable of.”
Everything has been tough for the Hoops, who played in the MLS Cup final two seasons ago and reached the playoffs last year. 2010 MVP David Ferreira is still out after last year's injury, and nearly a dozen players have joined him on the bench at one time or another.
They're missing starting center backs George John and Ugo Ihemelu, influential midfielder Ricardo Villar and top scorer Blas Perez with one ailment of another, and star winger Brek Shea is just getting back from a foot injury.
And Jair Benitez is suspended after a red card, for an off-the-ball elbow to Colin Clarke's head, in last weekend's loss at Houston. That's five red cards in 16 games for the Hoops (plus another in a U.S. Open Cup loss), plus a three-game suspension to Shea last month for kicking the ball at a linesman.
The red cards have been largely stupid and costly: Dallas watched a lead turn to a loss following Zach Loyd's second yellow card at Columbus last month, and twice it has given up decisive goals in defeat following dismissals.
The Hoops have lost seven of their last eight games, including the Open Cup, are winless in their last 11 games -- and in five of them, they scored first.
“I think that game is there for the taking,” Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy said after Wednesday's 2-1 win over Montreal. “It's not like they're on fire and unbeatable. When you win, it can become contagious, and you can build momentum with it, so that's what we need to do.”
Fraser says he's not concerned with “what they've done in the past.”
“Every team you play is capable of being very good on any given day, and Dallas is certainly no different, with the number of good players they have.”
Dallas has two advantages: This will be Chivas' third game in eight days -- seven players have gone the full 90 against RSL and Montreal, and two others have played at least 166 minutes -- and it will be played in searing Dallas heat, even with the 8 p.m. CT kickoff.
“It's probably not just the three games” that will test Chivas, Hoops coach Schellas Hyndman told his club's website. “It's going to be the heat and how much they're willing to work.”
Said Loyd: “It's supposed to be in the hundreds this weekend ... so I think we need to bring the intensity.”
Chivas is ready.
“It will be warm and hot,” Fraser said. “It will be our third game in a week, but that’s how this league is. ... For us, it’s another real exercise in concentration and being able to tighten up on a few things, and there will be challenges there aside from just [FC Dallas]. The conditions are tough this time of year, and we understand we're going into a difficult arena.”
WORTH NOTING: Midfielder Nick LaBrocca, who has missed the last five first-team games with a hamstring strain, has been pulled off the MLS Injury Report and will be available for the Goats. Forward Juan Pablo Angel has been added to the list, as “probable” with a calf strain. ... Oswaldo Minda still faces suspension with his next yellow card. ... Chivas is 5-10-4 all-time against FC Dallas, 2-5-3 on the road in the series and 2-4-3 at the former Pizza Hut Park. The Hoops swept both matches the past two seasons, winning, 1-0, in last year's Frisco encounter. The next meeting is Oct. 7 at HDC, with a return to Frisco for the Oct. 28 regular-season finale. ... Chivas has postponed Monday's scheduled MLS Reserve League game against Vancouver at HDC because it plays Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal against third-division Charlotte Eagles at Cal State Fullerton. ... Four of the Goats' next five league games are against the Galaxy or Portland. ... Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki will place the FC Dallas scarf on Lamar Hunt's statue, an FC Dallas pregame tradition. ... The Hoops have a 10-day break following the game.
Head coach: Schellas Hyndman.
Key players: M David Ferreira, D/M Jackson Goncalves, G Kevin Hartman, M Daniel Hernandez, D Ugo Ihemelu, D George John, D Zach Loyd, F Blas Perez, M/F Brek Shea, M Ricardo Villar.
Local guys: Hartman (Palos Verdes Estates/UCLA and Cal State Dominguez Hills), G Chris Seitz (San Luis Obispo/Thousand Oaks).
Update: The Hoops have fallen on hard times, with the 10-game MLS winless streak sending them to the bottom of the Western standings, even on points with Portland but well behind on goal difference. Seven times this year they've scored first and not won, and nine times in 17 first-team games they've given up multiple goals. When they've conceded just once, they're 2-1-4: not good enough. The red cards have been an aggravation, but it's the injuries that are wreaking havoc, and they're not going to find their best game until Ferreira is back and game-fit, and no telling when that will be. This is the first of three straight home games, and face clubs between them and a playoff spot in five of the next seven games, so there's room to maneuver if a makeshift lineup can click.
Out: M Marvin Iraheta (right ACL tear), M Ryan Smith (neck strain), D John Alexander Valencia (right hamstring strain).
Questionable: M Miller Bolaņos (left hamstring strain), F Jose Erik Correa (right hamstring strain).
Probable: F Juan Pablo Angel (right calf strain).
Out: M David Ferreira (right foot surgery), D Ugo Ihemelu (concussion symptoms), D George John (concussion symptoms), D Alex Lee (lower abdominal strain), F Blas Perez (right foot contusion), M Ricardo Villar (right foot strain), M Bobby Warshaw (right foot fracture).
Probable: M Brek Shea (L foot contusion).
FC Dallas Stadium (Frisco, Texas), 6 p.m. PT
Referee: Fotis Bazakos
Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)