No panic in Chivatown as the Goats head south, dropping their last three matches to fall into eighth place in Major League Soccer's Western Conference with only 17 points from 16 games. Is it time for change?
Head coach Robin Fraser is mulling his options following a seven-game stretch in which Chivas USA has won only once, and he closed practice on successive days this week to look at some wrinkles that could get a run in Saturday night's clash with the Chicago Fire at Home Depot Center.
"The biggest change we have to do is just eliminate mistakes," said Fraser, whose team has been battered by errors, especially at the back, while skidding away from .500 for the third time this season. "Other than that, I think we're playing pretty well. ... I don't know if we have to change things up, but certainly this week we've been looking at certain different things and the possibility of changing our shape a little bit. But, again, it's all still up in the air.
"When you get back down to it, we feel like we're doing a lot of things right and making enough mistakes to lose games. So I don't know if we need to change tactically, but it's certainly something that's occurred to me."
The Goats (4-7-5) have too often been toothless in attack, but even when they find the net, they can't hold onto leads. Six times in the last six games they've gone ahead, then failed to hold onto their advantage.
So Fraser, as open as any coach in MLS, kept media away this week while fiddling with different concepts in training. "We're experimenting with different things tactically," he said, "but when we do that [in front of the media, stuff] gets reported in the news. ... Just too many times things have popped up in the paper when we're looking at different things."
Defender Heath Pearce, the Goats' de facto captain with Alejandro Moreno away at Copa America and Jimmy Conrad in his fourth month on the sideline since suffering a concussion in Chivas' second game, says it's important not to dwell on the troubles while doing everything possible to correct them.
"It's something that needs to be addressed, and I think it's been addressed now, you know?" Pearce said. "I think we've faced some harsh realities. I think at times we're a little too friendly with each other when things weren't maybe where we thought they were, and now we've kind of been able to sit back and take a look and say hey, this isn't good enough.
"I think a lot of this season, even though we haven't been getting results, has been a really positive atmosphere in terms of progression. ... Now we can't make excuses anymore. It can't be moral victories anymore. ... I think at times as a group we don't recognize things early enough to be able to avoid problems. When our [possession] style starts not to be as functional anymore, we have to be able to transition into a different [mode], whether that's pressing or playing an uglier game, doing what it takes to get results."
Says Fraser: "At the end of the day, players have to take responsibility, and I think individually on the field, we will get to that point, where players are so engaged and switched on that we don't make the types of mistakes that have been plaguing us this season."
MISSING: Moreno is with Venezuela's national team, which opens its Copa America campaign Sunday in Argentina against Brazil. ... Conrad has been downgraded to doubtful as he looks to return from concussion. He's not going to play. ... Left back Ante Jazic is questionable and midfielder Ben Zemanski probable, both with calf strains. ... Forwards Marcos Mondaini and Victor Estupiņan are off the injury report after they were listed as probable because of sprained knees earlier this week. ... Defender Michael Umaņa, who left last week's game at halftime after suffering what appeared to be a hamstring injury, is doing OK and could be back in the starting XI. ... Chicago leads the all-time series, 6-4-2, and is 3-2-1 against the Goats at HDC. ... Chicago midfielder Baggio Husidic scored goals in both meetings last year, a 1-1 draw in May in Bridgeview, Ill., and a 4-1 Fire romp in Carson to end the season.
WORTH NOTING: Woodland Hills' Orr Barouch, just 19, has started the last two league matches for the Fire. ... Chivas USA has scored five times but not conceded from corner kicks; Chicago has conceded three goals but not scored on corners. ... This is the first of successive HDC games for the Fire, which plays July 9 against the Galaxy. ... Chivas is home for three of its next four games (the others: July 16 vs. New York and July 23 vs. Houston) before five successive road games keep it away from HDC for a month. ... The Fire are coming off a 1-0 win Tuesday at the USL Pro's Rochester Rhinos in a third-round U.S. Open Cup game.
Greek-born Frank Klopas, 44, a gifted forward during his playing days, spent more than a decade with the U.S. national team and was part of the 1994 World Cup squad. He played with his hometown Chicago Sting indoors starting at 17, eight years in Greece and wrapped his career with stints in MLS with Kansas City and the Fire. He became Chicago's technical director in January 2008 and took over as interim coach when Carlos de los Cobos was dismissed at the end of May.
Three key players
Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa, 23, quickly emerged as one of MLS's most skilled and dangerous attacking midfielders upon joining the Fire in 2008. He leads Chicago with five goals.
Speedy Ghanaian forward Dominic Oduro, 25, has been in MLS since 2006, and he's just starting to tap into his potential, with four goals and a couple of assists in 17 games since arriving in a trade from Houston right after the MLS openers.
Uruguayan-born, Argentine-raised forward Diego Chaves, 25, scored in his first three games with the Fire. He's quieted down since, but remains dangerous in their attack.
The Fire (2-4-11) feel a lot better about their chances since Klopas took charge, and they're playing with a lot more joy since the change. It has not led to as many points as they'd like, but they're riding a seven-game MLS unbeaten streak and have lost only once in their last 12 while setting a league record with six successive draws at home and moving to within three ties of the league single-season mark, 14, set last year by FC Dallas. They've got the tools for a dynamic attack, with, especially, Pappa, Oduro and winger Patrick Nyarko, and appear capable of making a move if they can get all the pieces working together.
Midfielder Daniel Paladini starred at St. Francis High School in La Caņada Flintridge and Cal State Northridge, played for the Galaxy's reserve side in 2006-07 and was with Chivas USA in 2008. ... Barouch played at El Camino Real High School and for Chivas' youth academy. ... Colombian defender Yamith Cuesta was with Chivas in 2009-10 and opened camp with the Goats this season. ... Backup goalkeeper Jon Conway was on Chivas' roster in 2009. ... Rookie defender Jalil Anibaba was born in Fontana, but he grew up in Davis.
Paladini is suspended for yellow-card accumulation. ... Midfielder Mike Banner and defender Steven Kinney remain out because of Achilles injuries, and midfielder Marko Maric is out because of a deltoid sprain. ... Midfielder Logan Pause has missed the last two games because of a concussion, but he's not listed on the Fire's injury report.
At Home Depot Center (Carson), 7 p.m.
TV: Prime Ticket and Galavision
Radio: W Radio (XEWW-AM/690, Spanish)
Referee: Andrew Chapin