Los Angeles Soccer: Eddie Gaven
Chivas USA's injury crisis and tentative start to its new era has forged a deeper side with more options in every sense, and the Goats hope -- no, expect -- to take a big step forward in Saturday night's Home Depot Center clash with the Columbus Crew.
Coach Robin Fraser and his staff have been forced to juggle things, especially on the backline, and their solutions have worked mostly. Michael Lahoud has slid seamlessly into the right-back slot -- “I think he's tailor-made to be an outside back,” Fraser says -- and Heath Pearce, in last week's draw in Toronto, took to center back like an old hand.
Pearce, a natural left back who has been the Goats' starting right back, has played in Europe and for the U.S. national team -- he was on the U.S.'s 30-man preliminary World Cup roster last year -- and so he understands the game. Perhaps it's not so surprising that he's adapted to the new position, one he says he'd previously played only in a couple of training sessions with the national team, without the least struggle.
“As left or right back, you're playing next to a center back, and it's imperative that you know the center-back position to understand where you're supposed to be,” said Pearce, who was acquired in a preseason trade from FC Dallas. “So I don't think the learning curve is that big. It's a position I'm definitely comfortable with. Anywhere that they feel that I can help the team the most, I'm willing to do that.”
Fraser said the move sparked signs of leadership from Pearce that he's been waiting to see emerge.
“A player in his situation isn't going to step in an impose himself. He's going to learn the lay of the land and that sort of thing,” Fraser said. “I think he'd been through enough situatioins where he's starting to recognize the leadership void that we have had. And I'll tell you, the second he jumped into center back, it's almost like he slid into the driver's seat.”
Chivas (0-2-1) gets rookie Zarek Valentin back from the U.S. under-20 national team. He started the opener at center back before leaving for the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, but it's uncertain that he'll start against Columbus. Backline leader Jimmy Conrad remains out with a concussion.
MARSHALL'S MENTOR: Fraser and Crew defender Chad Marshall, who's from Riverside, teamed together for Columbus in 2004 (Marshall's rookie year) and 2005 (Fraser's final season). Fraser, who was MLS's 2004 Defender of the Year, served as a mentor to the big, young center back.
Until it cleared up so nicely on Saturday, Major League Soccer’s playoff scenarios were complicated, to be sure. The Galaxy might have ended up with a first-round series with Colorado or San Jose or FC Dallas; that they’ll face Seattle is fine with them.
Not that it’s perfect.
“Seattle’s not going to be easy. It never is,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said after Sunday’s victory over FC Dallas set up encounters with the Sounders on Sunday in Seattle and Nov. 7 at Home Depot Center. “But I think the choices were … what were the choices? I think they were Dallas … none of the choices were real good, to be honest. I wouldn’t want to be going into Dallas either.
“I do prefer going to Seattle than going into altitude. There was always a chance at some point we could go to Colorado or Salt Lake, and the altitude is an issue, and the one thing we’ve assured ourselves is that we’re not going to be playing in altitude. Not that guarantees anything, but I think that’s good. It’s a lot easier for the players to adjust to the artificial field [in Seattle] than to altitude. So In think that’s a positive out of this.”
Perhaps so. If L.A. and Real Salt Lake win their first-round series, they’ll meet in Carson. Toronto, where MLS Cup will be played Nov. 21, has a lower elevation than downtown L.A. But the Galaxy are hardly happy they’ll start their home-and-home, total-goals series on the fake turf at Qwest Field.
“I don’t like it,” said Edson Buddle, who led the Galaxy with 17 goals. “I’m not a big fan. I never was. But I have to deal with that and get over it.”
Said David Beckham: “At the end of the day, it is what it is. We have to go there, and we have to play. It’s the same for both teams. Obviously, it’s an advantage for them, because they play on it every other week, but it is what it is.”