Friday, August 12, 2011
CHIVAS USA: Playoffs in sight for Goats
By Scott French
In this rebuilding season for Chivas USA -- or as Robin Fraser put it a few months back, this “building” season -- nothing would confirm how far the Goats have advanced this season, how much work they've accomplished, how quickly they've turned things back to positive as well as a trip to the playoffs.
It's within reach. There are 11 games remaining on Chivas' schedule, and the club sits 10th overall in Major League Soccer, good enough to make the postseason (if the season ended now) but not nearly enough to relax. Houston is just a point behind, D.C. United is two back, Portland three and San Jose four.
A victory this afternoon at Seattle, a team certain to be in the mix when the playoffs begin at the end of October, would be a huge boost for the Goats (7-8-8), who are brimming with confidence after an eight-game span in which they've lost just once.
One eye, Fraser acknowledges, is on the standings.
“Remember early in the season? I said I don't watch [the standings] yet?” the Chivas head coach said Friday. “This time of year, absolutely [I do]. Absolutely. Because it's getting down to crunch time.
“For the early part of the year, our focus certainly was improvement and getting better on a daily basis, and that's still the focus, but now side by side with that and of equal importance are your results and your points that you're getting, so this time of year, you do pay attention. You pay attention a little more.”
Chivas needs one more win to match last year's total, and their 29 points already is one beyond what they amassed in 2010. It's enough for sixth place in the West, and catching the top five -- the Galaxy, FC Dallas, Seattle, Colorado and Real Salt Lake -- might be too tall a task. The top three in each division advance to the conference quartets, with the next four teams, regardless of conference, playing one-game qualifiers to join the brackets.
“I would love for us to be in the mix at the end, if you're top three, fantastic ...,” Fraser said. “For us, we're battling to get in at the moment, and every game is treated with that sort of importance and that sort of relevance. We're still focused very much on improving, but part of our improving is our ability to finish games and get results.”
Defender Heath Pearce doesn't need a table to know where the Goats stand.
“It would be a lie to say I don't look at all,” he said, “but I certainly don't spent much time paying attention to it, because we're at a point points-wise and with games left in the season, that it's all in our hands. Qualifying for the playoffs is going to be [determined by] what we do, not what others do.
“If we do what we're capable of and fulfill the potential that this team has, then the playoffs is a reality. And if we don't it will be because [we] falter.”
HEALTHIER SOUNDERS: Seattle (11-5-8) expects to welcome back central defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (sprained MCL) and forward O'Brian White (blood-clot surgery), which is only going to help one of MLS's deepest, most talented teams grow deeper and more talented.
Fraser says he's liked White since he was a Hermann Award winner at the University of Connecticut, that he thinks “he's a young Edson Buddle type,” and that the at-times brutal Hurtado “quickly established himself as one of the hard guys of the league, and he's very efficient about how he goes about his work.”
The most important players for the Sounders this year have been midfielders Mauro Rosales and Osvaldo Alonso -- and also their 36,000-plus home crowd.
“For me, Rosales is arguably the best new player in the league this year. I think he's outstanding,” Fraser said. “I think they have a number of good players, they have hard workers, they have Alonso, who is a very good player a a very hard worker. They're a very solid team, and, obviously, they have a tremendous atmosphere.
“It's always great to be in that atmosphere. Certainly, we'd like to come out on the right end of it, but it's one of those, as a soccer person, it's a great place to be and a great place to play.”
Pearce says the Sounders' crowd provides “a real home-field type of vibe -- they bring a 12th man with their fans. It will be a fun experience for all the guys who haven't played in that kind of atmosphere. We hope to embrace it and use it to our advantage.”
WORTH NOTING: The Sounders lead the all-time series, 4-2-2, but three of their wins have come in the U.S. Open Cup, two of those while they were playing in the second-tier USL First Division. ... Seattle won its home game last year, a 2-1 decision built on first-half goals by Steve Zakuani and Alonso. The 2009 meeting in Seattle finished scoreless. The Sounders have been shut out by Chivas four times in five league meetings. ... Thirteen of Seattle's 35 goals this season have come in the final 15 minutes, providing six wins and two draws. ... Chivas hits the midpoint of a monthlong string of five road games, with dates remaining next weekend at Colorado and the following Wednesday at Portland. ... Justin Braun and Zarek Valentin will be suspended with their next yellow cards. Seattle DP Fredy Montero and rookie Servando Carrasco are also one yellow card away from a one-game ban. ... The return game in the series, at Home Depot Center, will close the regular season on Oct. 22. ... The Sounders open CONCACAF Champions League group play Tuesday at home against Guatemala's Comunicaciones.
MISSING: Center back Jimmy Conrad (concussion) remains “doubtful,” but he's not going to play.
Sigi Schmid (Torrance/Bishop Montgomery HS and UCLA) won 323 games and three NCAA titles while developing dozens of top pros during 19 years at UCLA's head coach, and since has on four trophies (including one MLS Cup) in five years as the Galaxy's head coach, an MLS Cup with Columbus and two U.S. Open Cup titles with Seattle.
Three key players
Montero, a 23-year-old Colombian forward, now a Designated Player, is one of MLS's elite attackers, a forward with a knack for finding the right places and finishing what's in front of him
Gritty/stylish Argentine winger Rosales, 30, stepped into a void left by injury and subpar form and took the reins of the Sounders' attack. One of the league's most impressive newcomers this season
Goalkeeper (and future Hall of Famer) Kasey Keller is looking for his first league title in a 20-plus-year career. The former U.S. national team star is retiring following this season
The Sounders have lost just three times in MLS since opening the season with defeats to the Galaxy and at New York, but only once in 11 games since May 25. That was 3-1 disappointment two weeks ago in Houston that followed a 7-0 debacle in a friendly vs. Manchester United and a 1-0 loss to Panama's San Francisco in the first leg of the Champions League's preliminary round. That little stretch aside, Seattle has been tremendous -- especially Rosales and Alonso -- winning six of their last eight league games to reach 41 points, just one behind second-place FC Dallas in the Western Conference. As they get healthier, they'll become more dangerous.
There's Schmid, of course. And technical director Chris Henderson played at UCLA. And majority owner Joe Roth and minority owner Drew Carey are names well known in Hollywood. ... Defender Tyson Wahl (Newport Beach/Newport Harbor HS) is a real local. ... Defender Patrick Ianni and forward David Estrada are UCLA products, and midfielder Brad Evans starred at UC Irvine. ... Rookie Ghanaian defender Michael Tetteh went to Dunn School in Los Olivos and UC Santa Barbara.
Zakuani (broken leg) is out, White is questionable and Evans (hamstring strain) is probable. ... Backup goalkeeper Terry Boss (concussion) was listed as out in the league's midweek injury report but is not listed on Friday's. Also off the list is Hurtado, who was questionable.
At CenturyLink Field (Seattle), 1 p.m.
TV: Prime Ticket and KWHY/Channel 22
Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)
Referee: Kevin Stott