Saturday, March 10, 2012
CHIVAS USA 2012: 5 burning questions
By Scott French
Robin Fraser will be looking to significantly improve on Chivas USA's tough 2011 season.
1. WILL THE GOATS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS? No playoffs, this year's a failure, and the task appears more difficult this year than it did in 2011, when Chivas had fewer attributes. Points can't be easily conceded this year -- late leads must hold, late deficits bridged -- because once you get past the Galaxy, Seattle, RSL and, for argument's sake, FC Dallas, there are five teams, all looking most capable, in a fight for one playoff berth. A decent team might finish last. Can the Goats make the playoffs? Absolutely. Will they? We're guessing they just miss.
2. IS THIS DO-OR-DIE FOR ROBIN FRASER? It better not be. Fraser and assistant coach Greg Vanney could go down as the best hires this franchise has ever made, and the foundation they're building could provide big success in the coming years. A lot of weird stuff goes on above them, and that's a concern -- some bright GM elsewhere should be counting down the time on Fraser's and Vanney's contracts -- but given the proper resources and support, they can do big things. Everyone wants to win. Management should be smart enough to understand what they possess.
3. HOW IS THIS GROUP BETTER THAN LAST YEAR'S? How isn't it. Last year's backline misadventures ought to be forgotten with James Riley and John Alexander Valencia stepping in on the right side. The midfield is deep, capable and filled with leaders. There's less experience but greater upside up top, where Juan Pablo Angel will be expected to reign. Backline depth is uncertain and the chemistry a work in progress, but there's a good team in red and white, now we're just waiting for it to show up.
4. CAN JUAN PABLO ANGEL CARRY THE LOAD? The Colombian striker scored just once during an 11-game preseason, and that was on a penalty kick against overmatched amateurs. His start to last season was glacial, with just three goals in 22 games for the Galaxy before catching fire at the end with the Goats, and although he can be effective without goals, his game is about scoring -- and Chivas' success requires it. No matter how much better this team is, Angel's finishing is the key, and nobody knows how that's going to turn out.
5. CAN DAN KENNEDY MATCH HIS 2011 FORM?There were a handful of on-field pluses for Chivas last season, and the greatest might have been the play of the former UC Santa Barbara star from Yorba Linda. Kennedy was spectacular all year, making stops he had no business making behind a leaky defense ravaged by injury. He might have been MLS's Goalkeeper of the Year and should have been its Comeback Player of the Year after quickly pushing aside incumbent Zach Thornton and playing out the season. Now he's a known entity, for the first time, facing possibly excessive expectations -- and after a so-so preseason. There's no questioning his confidence, but he must demonstrate that form again.