Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser has more options as he puts together his lineup for Saturday's nights clash with the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center.
Three players return from suspension or international duty, several more are getting healthier by the day, and the Goats suddenly have something close to a real roster again.
As Fraser burrowed deep into his depth to deal with long-term injuries to a half-dozen players, he failed to include Costa Rican defender Michael Umaña, who started 28 of 30 games for the Goats last season.
An injury while with Costa Rica's national team at the end of March cost him a chance, and the next one didn't come along until Wednesday night's HDC draw with Vancouver. Partnered in central defense with Heath Pearce, Umaña made a statement with his performance, and Fraser took notice.
“He was solid. I think he really took ahold of the challenge,” Fraser said. “I think positionally he was pretty good, and won some stuff in the air, and his distribution was good. I think he did well.”
Umaña was at times very good last season for a very different Chivas side, but he dropped steadily down the depth chart, with even two non-center backs -- Pearce and midfielder Ben Zemanski -- seeing prominent action as he watched from the bench. He'd seen just three minutes on the field, at the end of the April 23 victory at San Jose, before going 90 against the Whitecaps.
Fraser says he had spoken to Umaña about his status.
“He's a tremendous professional. I can't say enough about him,” Fraser said. “And I know it's been difficult for him. We've had a few conversations along the way, and I just can't tell you how much respect I have for him, because I'm sure it is [difficult]. We all want to play, as players, and he's handled it tremendously well and took his chances [Wednesday] and did well with it.”
He could get another call Saturday. Andy Boyens is still off with New Zealand's national team, Jimmy Conrad isn't ready to play yet, and Zarek Valentin looks much more comfortable on the right flank than he does in the middle.
But the return from injury of Michael Lahoud provides options -- as do Paulo Nagamura's from injury, Simon Elliott's from international duty, and forward Marcos Mondaini's and midfielder Jorge Flores' from suspension elsewhere on the field -- and Fraser wants to mull things over.
Lahoud was being groomed as a right back, with Valentin moving into the middle, when he suffered a concussion in mid-April and a relapse last month. The third-year veteran, who has played exclusively in midfield before this season, looked sharp on the left side of midfield when he came on in the second half against Vancouver.
“The more options we have,” Fraser said, “hopefully, it gives us an opportunity to make good choices that give us the best opportunity to win.”
Does Umaña's performance warrant another start>
“Everything is being evaluated at all times,” Fraser said, “but he certainly made a strong case for himself.”
OLD MATES: Fraser and Portland Timbers coach John Spencer, a personable Scot with a lacerating sense of humor, played together in 2001-03 with Colorado. Fraser anchored the Rapids defense, and Spencer -- a forward with real pedigree -- was the primary attacking threat.
Both are rookie head coaches, so this is their first meeting.
“I know what he's like,” Fraser said. “He's an inspirational person to be around. And he, I'm sure, infuses that into his team. … [A Spencer-coached team is] always going to be competitive, never say die. They will battle, they will do whatever it takes to win the game, and I think that's a great characteristic to instill in your team.”
WORTH NOTING: Mondaini is returning from a four-game suspension for snapping Real Salt Lake playmaker Javier Morales' ankle. … Elliott also is ready to go after playing in New Zealand's loss Wednesday night against Mexico in Denver. Goats officials denied reports in New Zealand media that Elliott suffered a hamstring injury Wednesday. … The teams meet in the Reserve League on Sunday at 11 a.m. in HDC's Track and Field Stadium. Admission is free.
MISSING: Forward Alejandro Moreno (Venezuela), like Boyens, is away on international duty. … Midfielder Blair Gavin (hamstring strain) and Conrad (recovery from concussion) are still doubtful, and Nagamura (calf strain), Lahoud (recovery from concussion) forward Tristan Bowen (sprained ankle) and defender Seth Owusu (recovery from meniscus surgery) are probable. Bowen and Owusu were on Chivas' bench Wednesday.
Scotsman Spencer, a compactly built pit bull of a forward for 15 years in Britain, Hong Kong and MLS, is in his first head-coaching job after serving as Dominic Kinnear's top assistant with the Houston Dynamo for 4½ seasons. The Rangers FC product toiled for Chelsea and Everton (and others) in England and Scotland, then wrapped up his playing career with four fine seasons (and two MLS Best XI awards) with the Colorado Rapids.
Three key players
Forward Kenny Cooper, whose dad was an NASL goalkeeper, has the stature to be a target forward, but he prefers to run at defenses and is pretty good at it. He's tallied three times for the Timbers after scoring 25 goals in 45 games with FC Dallas in 2008-09 before joining 1860 Munich.
Captain Jack Jewsbury, acquired from Sporting Kansas City, provides the midfield foundation for the Timbers, is adept on both sides of the ball.
Burgeoning Ghanaian national-teamer Kalif Alhassan has been a sparkplug in midfield for the Timbers, exhibiting a keen attacking sense and strong vision.
The Timbers have been MLS's ultimate Jekyll/Hyde, unbeatable at home -- at least until last weekend's 3-2 defeat to D.C. United -- and nearly hopeless on the road, where they're 0-3-2 and have conceded three goals twice. Cooper's mindset is in question after he missed two penalty kicks and then was pulled against D.C., and myriad injuries has impacted depth. Portland's strength is set pieces, with defenders Futty Danso and Eric Brunner providing a dangerous aerial assault.
Winger Sal Zizzo played at UCLA and was with Chivas USA last season after returning home from Europe. ... Rookie forward Spencer Thompson starred at UC Irvine. … Midfielder Rodrigo Lopez is from Harbor City, began his pro career with Chivas USA in 2005-07 and played two seasons with Ventura County Fusion in the USL Pro Development League. ... Trevor James left Galaxy coach Bruce Arena's staff to join Spencer's.
Defender Steve Purdy is with El Salvador's national team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. … Midfielder Peter Lowry (quadriceps strain) and backup goalkeeper Jake Gleason (sprained elbow) and reserve forward Bright Dike (ruptured Achilles) are out. … A whole lot of guys nursing minor injuries, all listed as probable: Jewsbury, defender Kevin Goldthwaite (sprained ankle), midfielders Adam Moffat (bruised behind) and Darlington Nagbe (groin strain), and forwards Brian Umony (sprained knee) and Eddie Johnson (Achilles tendinitis).
At Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.
TV: Prime Ticket
Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)
Referee: Chris Penso
Reserve League: Sunday, 11 a.m., at HDC Track and Field Stadium