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Saturday, March 26, 2011
CHIVAS USA: Ben Zemanski is the inside man

By Scott French

Ben Zemanski has confidence in his ability to play on the backline. Good thing, because that's where he'll be Saturday night.

The second-year midfielder will get the call next to veteran Jimmy Conrad for Chivas USA's clash with MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids at Home Depot Center, stepping in after international call-ups whisked away three of the Goats' central defenders.

He's had little experience in central defense, getting a few minutes there during a preseason scrimmage against San Jose, after Conrad was red-carded in a preseason charity match two weeks ago and in training this week.

“He's doing great ...,” said Chivas head coach Robin Fraser, a star center back in his playing days. “It's something we looked at a little bit earlier in preseason, just thinking out ahead, and he's done very well. He's new at it, but he's got the right mentality for it.”

Rookie Zarek Valentin, who started in the middle of last weekend's season-opening loss to Sporting Club Kansas City, is off with the U.S. under-20 national team, which begins qualifying for the U-20 World Cup on Tuesday in Guatemala. Michael Umaņa, a starter last year, is with Costa Rica's national team. And newcomer Andy Boyens is in China with New Zealand's national team.

Zemanski gets the nod over raw Ghanaian newcomer Seth Owusu.

The former University of Akron standout, who got the start at holding midfielder in last weekend's season-opening loss to Sporting Club Kansas City after injuries to four potential starters, says he's ready for the challenge.

“It's just about reading the game and getting comfortable with that position ...,” Zemanski said Friday. “I've got [Conrad] to my left and Heath [Pearce] to my right, so both of them are good veterans who are helping me transition to that position a little better.”

“He's got good instincts,” Conrad reports. “He's always thinking about 'How can I win the ball? How can I help the defense' His energy and commitment is there. … I just think he almost has to slow his game down a little bit and take more of a zen approach that we can't win every ball.”

Also gone is forward Alejandro Moreno, who is with Ecuador's national team. Rookie forward Victor Estupiņan is slated to start up top.

Colorado also is shorthanded, missing star forward Omar Cummings, who is with Jamaica's national team. Cummings is the most explosive forward in MLS, and his performance the second half of last season and into the playoffs was pivotal in the Rapids' title run.

“Cummings is a game-changer,” Fraser said. “He's lightning. He's lightning fast, and he's developed into a really good soccer player over the last number of years. Anyway you slice it, [his absence] changes their team. But they're still a very good team.”

WORTH NOTING: Michael Lahoud and Blair Gavin are set for the midfield triangle, along with Nick LaBrocca, at the heart of Fraser's preferred 4-1-4-1 alignment. Gavin, coming off a long-term hamstring injury, said 90 minutes might be asking too much; Fraser likes his calmness on the ball and the ideas he brings to attack.

INJURY LIST: Paulo Nagamura remains out with a strained left calf, fellow central midfielder Simon Elliott with a sprained right knee.

ALSO MISSING: Just Moreno and the three central defenders away on international duty.


Head coach

Three key players

Current form/prospects

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At Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.
KDOC/Channel 56
Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)
Referee: Terry Vaughn