Los Angeles Soccer: James Riley
Chivas USA sits just 90 minutes -- perhaps 120; perhaps penalty kicks, too -- from playing for its first trophy, but it's not just the Seattle Sounders that stand in its way.
History, too, has some say and plenty of sway, and it all favors the Sounders in Wednesday night's U.S. Open Cup semifinal in Tukwila, Wash.
- The Sounders have won the past three championships in the 99-year-old competition, one for every season they've played in Major League Soccer.
- They're in their sixth straight semifinal, dating to their time in the second division, haven't lost in the Open Cup since the 2007 semis and haven't been beaten in regulation since 2005.
- They have won all 16 Open Cup matches at Starfire Sports Complex's 4,500-seat stadium, which has been the incubator for Seattle's recent supremacy in the nation's oldest soccer event: The Sounders are 11-0 in Tukwila these past four campaigns.
Chivas, which lost in a 2010 semifinal at Starfire, isn't intimidated.
“It's a chance to get to a final for this club, very important,” said right back James Riley, who was part of all three Sounders title teams. “To do it at Starfire isn't going to be easy, and I think we're up for the challenge, for sure.”
Chivas has lost just once in 11 competitive matches, pulling out three tight Open Cup victories in that span, the last two -- in the fourth round at second-tier Carolina RailHawks and in the quarterfinals against third-tier Charlotte Eagles -- on goals in second-half stoppage.
Seattle has had it easier, blowing out the second-division Atlanta Silverbacks, 5-1, and Thousand Oaks-based amateurs Cal FC, 5-0, before holding off the San Jose Earthquakes in a 1-0 quarterfinal victory earlier this month in San Francisco.
The Sounders just ended a franchise-record nine-game MLS winless streak, and Riley, who came to the Goats last November via Montreal in the expansion draft, says that although “they've been struggling a little bit, I kn they have fantastic players. I know once they get one [win], they'll go on a little bit of a run.”
“It's a huge challenge,” Chivas head coach Robin Fraser said. “Obviously, Seattle wins frequently and wins at their place and wins in Open Cup, so certainly it's a great challenge going in there, but we like the fact that [ours] is a team that has really begun to respond to challenges. We feel as if we're doing some things well and are on the verge of doing some things even better.”
CARSON -- The steps Chivas USA has taken this season are apparent in the results the past two months: just one loss in 10 games of every stripe -- and that to Real Salt Lake -- with a march into the U.S. Open Cup's final four.
How much further the Goats still must go is right there, too: They've won just twice against Major League Soccer competition during that span -- and that extends to 10 league games, going back into mid-April.
They've been turning a corner, in the parlance, but where that corner straightens isn't yet clear, it seems. Not everyone agrees.
“I feel like maybe the first month of the season, you could emphasize that,” Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy said on the eve of Saturday night's match with the Vancouver Whitecaps (8-4-5) at Home Depot Center. “I feel like the last two months, we've really turned that corner and become a team that can really grind results out.
“I would like to obviously see those results not just being ties.”
The Goats (5-7-4) have asserted themselves the past two months as their personality -- a gritty possession team -- has matured with the acquistions of, especially, young forwards Juan Agudelo and Jose Erick Correa. There's a growing dynamism within the group, and as they hit the midpoint of their MLS campaign, the next step in the evolution requires that dynamism to start translating into goals.
Chivas has hit the net only 11 times in 16 games, by far the worst rate in MLS. It has been shut out seven times, scored more than once just twice, and that's not entirely about the scoring struggles at season's start: no goals in two of the last three MLS games.
“We certainly feel like every day we're getting closer to the group understanding what is necessary to create more chances,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said. “We like our group of players. There's this gelling process we certainly feel has to take place and is taking place. The more we see the group, the more we feel like it's coming along.”
The Colombian forward, returning from a hamstring injury that had sidelined him most of June, made up for his miscue by scoring two goals, including a dramatic stoppage-time winner, as Chivas USA overcame the pesky Charlotte Eagles to advance to the 99-year-old competition's semifinals for the second time in club history.
Correa headed home a Laurent Courtois free kick nearly four minutes into added time to deliver a 2-1 triumph at Cal State Fullerton and set up a July 10 date with three-time defending champion Seattle Sounders, a 1-0 winner over the San Jose Earthquakes. The Sounders beat the Goats two years ago in the semifinals.
“This is huge ...,” said Chivas coach Robin Fraser after the Goats' third one-goal victory in this Open Cup and the second in a row on a stoppage-time finish. “Sometimes the play's been good, sometimes the play's not been great, but at the end of the day, the team is finding ways to get results. That's going to serve you well in the long run.”
Correa also tallied in the 64th minute, finishing a through ball from Juan Agudelo that looked as if it would hold up until the end. Charlotte, a third-division side that beat FC Dallas in a third-round game nearly a month ago, pulled even in the 89th minute when Mauricio Salles knocked home the remains of a Jorge Herrera shot that James Riley slid in to block.
“It goes to show you waste some really big chances and you let the team stay in it, they’re going to fight until the very end,” said center back Danny Califf, who wore the captain's armband. “We didn’t make it easy on ourselves, especially in the second half. We weren’t able to hold the ball, we didn’t finish our attacks very well, they were able to get rebounds and come at us with numbers.
“It wasn’t pretty, but in the end it showed a lot of character. That’s two games in a row that we’ve done that, so we’d like to make it easier on ourselves, but a win is a win is a win.”
Correa clinically finished on the first, with Agudelo -- a late-first-half substitute for Miller Bolaños, who retweaked his hamstring injury in his first game since May 23 -- feeding him after Courtois chested a Tim Melia clearance onto his path near midfield. The second was almost as nice, with Correa getting assistance from countryman Juan Pablo Angel to nod home Courtois' free kick from about 30 yards out on the right flank.
“I was arriving at that ball with not a lot of strength, and [Angel] pushed me from the back with a lot of strength,” Correa said through a translator. “The next thing I know, he yells, 'Goal!' and then I turn around. Practically, the whole strength on that goal was from him. He pushed me.”
Fan balloting for the July 25 MLS All-Star Game begins Friday morning, and a name missing from last year's list of candidates has found its way onto the ballot: Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant's.
He's one of six L.A. players eligible to make the All-Star First XI, the first group of players for Philadelphia coach Peter Nowak's side for the clash with England's Chelsea at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.
The First XI will be determined by fan voting at Major League Soccer's website, via text messaging and, in two weeks, during a two-day Twitter session. Additional players will be selected by Nowak, MLS Commissioner Don Garber and in a players vote.
Midfielders David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Juninho, forward Robbie Keane and goalkeeper Josh Saunders are the other Galaxy players on the ballot. Donovan would make a record 12th appearance is selected; he shares the record with retired defender Eddie Pope.
Chivas' eligible players are goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, defender James Riley, midfielders Nick LaBrocca and Oswaldo Minda, and forwards Juan Pablo Angel and Alejandro Moreno.
A media panel determined the 114 names on the ballot, just six per team, including one goalkeeper from each side. As always, there are omissions, although for the local teams none as wrong-headed as Dunivant's omission last year.
Given the Galaxy's struggles, only a few players -- Beckham chief among them -- are worthy of consideration, although the priority is more about putting together a team that can compete with Chelsea than in rewarding players for their performances in the first half of the season.
The biggest omissions among local players are Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee, one of the few L.A. players who has done well this season, and Chivas USA center backs Danny Califf and Rauwshan McKenzie.
Chivas USA approaches everything with a seriousness of purpose and respect for the details, so there isn't a chance they're heading into Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup showdown with the Carolina RailHawks figuring that showing up will be enough.
These knockout tournaments are a minefield, which was made plain with last week's third-round results, in which half of the 16 Major League Soccer clubs failed to advance against lower-level competition. Chivas was one of those that did; the RailHawks, from the second-division North American Soccer League, rallied late to oust the Galaxy.
It makes for an intriguing matchup in Cary, N.C., with a quarterfinal berth -- June 26 against a lower-than-MLS foe -- awaiting the victor. The RailHawks, with nine players who have been on MLS rosters (including Ty Shipalane, impetus in last week's win), won't be intimidated. Not after stunning the Galaxy last Tuesday, then following up with a weekend league victory over first-place Puerto Rico Islanders, Carolina's first NASL victory this season.
“They've had a great week, and I think they're on a run of confidence ...,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles on the eve of the match. “I think over the course of a season, there's probably a difference [between MLS and the NASL], but on any given day -- we've seen these guys are good players. They were in MLS for a reason and they're successful players for a reason. On any given day, they have enough quality.”
Chivas grinded out a 1-0 win in its tournament opener last week against the fourth-tier Ventura County Fusion and are aiming to surpass their 2010 run to the semifinals. A victory would send the Goats either to Texas to face first-year NASL club San Antonio Scorpions or back home for a meeting with third-tier Charlotte Eagles from the USL Pro.
Right back James Riley knows Open Cup success. He was part of the Seattle Sounders teams that captured the last three titles. The key to success? Taking it one game at a time, he says.
“I think on any given day, anyone can beat anyone. That's definitely the case in MLS, and it's more the case here,” said Riley, who played college soccer at Wake Forest. “You saw all the upsets in the Open Cup already. We're going into the game with full respect for [Carolina]. They're professionals, they like to play, they like to win. We're not going to fear them, but we have respect.”
Juan Agudelo scored his first goal with Chivas, and it might have stood up for a full three points had John Alexander Valencia not whiffed on a ball sent into the Goats' goalmouth just four minutes later. That's three times this season, and twice this week, they've taken a lead and given it right back.
That's on the list of things that still need to be corrected, and if it's a long list, it's getting shorter all the time.
“We would have liked to close the week with three points tonight. I think that goes without saying,” captain Alejandro Moreno said. “Listen, we had an emotional game against the Galaxy last week, we go to New York, a long trip, and get a [tie] there in a very physical and demanding game, and we were able to put together a decent performance tonight. In the end, I think we'll take whatever we got out of this week, but most of all, I think we'll take the fact that we seem to be taking steps forward, the way we're playing. There's more consistency to what we're trying to do on the field.”
Chivas had most of the ball, with 61 percent possession, but created only so many chances -- a recurring theme -- but they put away the best of the lot, maybe their best sequence all season, just 12 minutes into the second half.
Moreno played a ball back to Peter Vagenas, who sent it to James Riley -- outstanding all game, our choice as man of the match -- on the right flank. Riley had plenty of time to look up and pick out Agudelo, who got behind Jhon Kennedy Hurtado to head the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Bryan Meredith.
CARSON -- The Galaxy and Chivas USA renew their SuperClasico rivalry Saturday night at Home Depot Center, so what better time to weigh in on the best rivalries in soccer -- in MLS and around the world.
We asked a handful of players and coaches with both teams their thoughts on what matchups are the real Clasicos. Here's what they said.
- BEST WORLD RIVALRY
What's the best?
Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy: “The Real Madrid-Barça match has been pretty special the past few years. You don't want it to get diluted, because they play each other 12 times a year. Now that Manchester City is having their way in the English Premier League, them with Manchester City is pretty special. And I always like watching Tim Howard and Everton play against Liverpool.”
Galaxy midfielder Juninho: “Brazil-Argentina.”
Chivas forward Juan Pablo Angel: “Boca-River.”
Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza: “There's so many out there, man. Barcelona-Real is a pretty good one, I think. I think that one's got to be the top one.”
Chivas defender Ante Jazic: “Barça-Real.”
Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan: “Barcelona-Madrid.”
Chivas defender James Riley: “Ooh, that's a tough one. I think Celtic-Rangers has the best history, and Boca-River Plate. I would go with Celtic-Rangers.”
Jose Erik Correa made the most of his first start, but Chivas USA couldn't hold onto to its advantage at the finish, settling for a draw in game they should have won even if they didn't really deserve to.
Correa scored with a simple but tremendous touch in the fourth minute, and the Goats defended with everything they had the rest of the way, coming within two minutes plus stoppage of their fourth road victory of the season before Alan Gordon's header gave the San Jose Earthquakes a 1-1 draw at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara.
It's the sixth goal, of the dozen the Goats (3-6-1, 10 points) have conceded in 10 games, to come after the 80th minute. It's the first that turned a win into a tie, although twice would-be draws became losses on stoppage-time strikes.
“At the end of the day, you take every point you get, because at the end of the year, they're all going to be important,” Chivas head coach Robin Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles. “Certainly having lost [three in a row], it was important to come out of this with something.”
Given the onslaught they survived in the second half, the Goats are fortunate to have that point. Dan Kennedy was again superb in the nets, making three huge saves -- on Simon Dawkins in the 28th minute and Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart in the 55th and 74th -- and the men in front of him were organized and committed, terrific if hardly perfect.
“I think if you were to tell us that we were going to come in here and get a point, we would have been happy with that,” said Kennedy, who faced 24 shots (to five by Chivas) and 15 corner kicks. “The team really put in a shift in the second half. Obviously, we were under pressure. They had a lot of service. For me, I think this is something we can build on.”
Gordon, a former Galaxy stalwart who spent time with Chivas in 2010 and most of preseason last year, returned from a hamstring injury to score the equalizer. First-round draft pick Sam Garza, from UC Santa Barbara, delivered the cross from the left flank, and Gordon got behind center back John Alexander Valencia to easily head the ball into the net.
Valencia failed to jump on the play, and Garza had far too much time to prepare his service. As relentless as the Goats were defensively -- Fraser called it “a very resolute effort” -- there were problems. They left San Jose little space to operate, but their marking was sometimes ridiculously poor (Chris Wondolowski and Dawkins were open at the far post for a cross from Lawndale's Rafael Baca in the 18th minute) and struggles to effectively clear the ball helped San Jose maintain constant pressure the final 45 minutes.
San Jose (7-2-2, 23 points) had far more possession -- 62.5 percent, officially, although completed passes (503 to 302 for Chivas) better illustrate the dominance -- and the Goats put just one shot on target, Correa's goal on their first genuine foray.
Chivas USA's match Saturday night at Colorado was following form: decent ball movement, not enough chances, zero finishing and a fifth one-goal loss on the horizon.
The Rapids turned a tight clash into a farce at the finish, scoring three goals in the final dozen minutes to romp to a 4-0 triumph, a scoreline that reflects only the conclusion.
Three quick thoughts on the Goats' first loss in four road games:
- 1. NO OFFENSE
Chivas had better possession, as is customary, especially in the second half, and it unleashed 14 shots, four of them on target. Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens came up big a few times -- especially on diving back-to-back saves in the 30th minute against Laurent Courtois and Juan Pablo Angel -- and a Courtois header bounced off the underside of the crossbar in the 55th.
Ryan Smith offered a bit of life immediately after coming on about 15 minutes into the second half, his penetrating pass creating a chance Nick LaBrocca placed across the goalmouth and past the right post. Chivas could have used more from him.
CARSON -- It happened again for Chivas USA -- another 1-0 loss at home, and in a match that turned really ugly at the end -- but forget the score and how Philadelphia got its goal, and it felt a lot like a victory.
The Goats dominated the Union on Saturday night at Home Depot Center, racking up 21 shots (to just four for the visitors), sending 40 crosses in from the run for play (to just five for Philly) and holding onto the ball for two-thirds of the game. Impressive numbers, but the only one that mattered -- how many of the chances generated were finished -- was nil.
“Obviously, we're gutted,” said right back James Riley, whose misplay in the box led to the goal, by Freddy Adu just before halftime. “Obviously we don't ever want to lose four straight at home, especially 1-0.”
The good news for the Goats: Next week's game is on the road, at Colorado. Chivas (3-4-0, 9 points) has won all three away games.
They should have had this one, too, but Philadelphia sat back, was difficult to break down, scored on its only real chance, then hung on as Chivas sent a barrage of balls into the box in the second half but forcing Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath to make just one tough save, diving to parry a 28-yard free kick from Blair Gavin.
Miller Bolaños was the primary instigator, repeatedly taking on defenders along the right flank -- Wildomar's Gabriel Farfan, largely -- and spraying balls into the middle, but the Goats struggled to get on the end of crosses, and when they did, the touches weren't quite right.
Philly's goal came from an odd play. Michael Farfan -- Gabriel's twin brother -- danced into the box from the right flank and was able to get a low cross into the goalmouth past defender Heath Pearce. It hit Riley, who should have cleared the ball but instead fell over. Adu backheeled it into the net.
“I take full responsibility,” Riley said. “For sure, it's a play I make 99 times out of 100, for sure. I feel bad for the team, letting them down that way. ... Just leaned back too much. It got caught under me. I was just going to try to swipe it out. I was in a good position, just didn't execute it.”
Juan Pablo Angel, back in action after missing five games following a concussion, came on in the second half and had Chivas' best opportunity. Bolaños delivered a perfect cross just beyond the 6-yard box, but the big striker's header bounced wide and high.
Chivas USA showed off the best and the worst it can be Saturday night, but it saved the good stuff for the end en route to a second win in as many road games.
English winger Ryan Smith fueled the comeback from an early deficit, whipping in pinpoint crosses from the left wing for Alejandro Moreno and Nick LaBrocca to finish, and the Goats (2-3-0) escaped the Western Conference cellar with a 2-1 triumph at Portland (1-3-1).
LaBrocca's header in the 82nd minute was the difference as Chivas, which has dropped three 1-0 decisions at home, followed its worst half of the year with its best.
“The attitude [at halftime] in the locker room was one of 'this game is here for us, this is an opportunity for us, can we get it, will we do the work required to get it' …,” said Moreno, who beat Eric Brunner to Smith's cross to tie the score just three minutes into the second half. “I think we showed ourselves that when we're aggressive and we have the right mindset and we can put a good effort on the field, we're going to give ourselves a chance to get the result.”
The Goats were on their heels all of the first half, unable to hold onto the ball but minimizing the damage through the usual backline heroics, although it was a defensive miscue that put them behind. Scottish striker Kris Boyd got Portland's goal in the 16th minute, finishing after goalkeeper Dan Kennedy collided with defender James Riley as he grabbed (and then dropped) a cross from Franck Songo'o on the right flank.
They were otherwise pretty good defensively -- fortunate, too, when Rauwshan McKenzie wasn't whistled for a penalty kick after shoving Brunner in the 25th minute, a gift returned when referee Chris Penso missed another PK, failing to call Portland defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste for a handball from a Moreno volley in the 58th.
Coach Robin Fraser switched from the 4-2-3-1 formation Chivas has been using to the old 4-4-2, with diamond midfield, that was the foundation for last year's group. The pluses -- “We get more bodies in the box, and that in iteself creates better chances for us to score,” Moreno said -- didn't add up until the second half, when Smith came on and immediately added a spark.
It paid off right away, with Smith taking a long ball from Heath Pearce, dribbling one way and the next past Lovel Palmer, then sending in the cross for Moreno to powerfully nod home. It was the first shot on goal for Chivas since Casey Townsend's goal to beat Real Salt Lake two weeks ago, a span of 155 minutes.
The Goats, who benefited from a superb showing by energetic midfielder Ben Zemanski, were in command the rest of the way, finding passage into the box and putting a few shots on target but not really threatening until another fine sequence -- Pearce to Zemanski to Smith to LaBrocca -- made it 2-1.
The rookie's opportunistic half-volley in the 72nd minute and another exceptional performance in the back was enough for Chivas to claim a 1-0 triumph Saturday night over powerful Real Salt Lake in Sandy, Utah, a stirring upset that might be worth a lot more than three points.
The Goats survived a half-hour under relentless pressure in the first half and a late RSL push at the end to give Robin Fraser his first victory over his former club and Chivas its first win at Rio Tinto Stadium. The way they did so, and how they turned their first-half turmoil into a fine second-half performance, might prod them along the next step in their evolution under the second-year coach.
“I would like to think so,” Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles by phone when he was asked if he thought the victory might be a huge step forward. “In our tenure here, I don't think the results have gone that way for us in this sort of game. When times got tough tonight, our guys dug in and dug deep and defended like nothing else mattered. … These guys just fought, gritted and gutted out a victory.”
It wasn't particularly pretty, even with Chivas matching RSL's possession for long stretches of the second half. The Goats created just two real scoring chances -- Townsend's goal followed Peter Vagenas' half-volley and Rauwshan McKenzie's rebound, both knocked aside by Nick Rimando, from a 16th-minute corner kick -- and had to stave off nearly nonstop forays by RSL, which entered the game No. 1 in Major League Soccer's overall standings.
The Utahns (2-1-0) had nearly a dozen scoring opportunities, and at least half of them were good. Former RSL reserve McKenzie was outstanding -- his 42nd-minute takeaway in the box from Fabian Espindola was clinical -- and fellow center back Heath Pearce and right back James Riley were nearly as good. Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy was a difference-maker, diving to stop Espindola in the 22nd and 93rd minutes, dominant when coming off his line to attack crosses, a master of his box. He was, Rimando said, “why we had this result.”
Townsend delivered the knockout punch following the Goats' best sequence of the night. The final three passes were key: Ryan Smith threaded the ball through three defenders to give Nick LaBrocca space to head forward, LaBrocca put Ante Jazic into open territory on the left flank, and Jazic whipped a cross into the middle for the rookie to battle for against Rimando and big center back Chris Schuler.
Schuler was between Rimando, who leaped and had the ball in his hands, and Townsend, who applied the necessary physical pressure in the air. The RSL goalkeeper, a former UCLA star from Montclair, fumbled the ball. Townsend, the No. 5 overall selection in January's MLS SuperDraft, followed the ball with his eyes as it fell to the ground, instinctively kicking at it as it landed. The ball sailed hard and true into the net.
“For a first [professional] goal, it was obviously very cool,” said Townsend, who scored 17 last fall as a senior at the University of Maryland. “As far as watching the ball on the way down, that's the striker instinct in me. I just kind of swung at it instinctively toward the net.”
CARSON -- There's plenty for Chivas USA to improve upon following its Major League Soccer opener Sunday afternoon, but the finish against the Houston Dynamo, who pulled out a 1-0 victory with nearly the last boot of the game, dampened the Goats' spirits only a smidge.
Chivas was organized, spirited and battled evenly, more or less, all afternoon with the club that played in last year's MLS Cup final, and if everything didn't quite click -- especially on attack -- there was more than enough reason for optimism.
“I'll be honest,” said midfielder Peter Vagenas, who made his Chivas debut in central midfield. “Like a lot of people, I wasn't sure what we had. ... We have character, we have heart, we fight. The soccer wasn't ideal, but let's be realistic. This team hasn't played together very much. We're facing a team that's got, I mean, how many games have Brad [Davis] and Brian [Ching] played together at this point? Right?
“At some points it was disjointed, we didn't get the service in to Juan [Pablo Angel up top], and that was frustrating, but at the end of the day we were tough, we were organized, we fought, and I promise you it's only going to get better.”
Chivas looked sharper and stronger than at any point during preseason, created four clear scoring opportunities -- with Angel volleying off a post with one and three headers, two by Angel, off-target -- and benefited from another big game by goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who solved whatever problems surfaced until almost the end.
The Goats were seconds from a 0-0 draw and a share of the points, but defender Andre Hainault lifted Houston two minutes into stoppage after Davis' corner kick was cleared. It fell outside the box to Adam Moffat, who possesses a rocket shot, and his blast appeared to deflect to Hainault.
Chivas' backline was racing forward, as it should, so Hainault was left 1-on-1 with Kennedy. The finish was simple.
“It's a tough one,” said right back James Riley, one of seven players making their club debuts for the Rojiblancos. “In practice this week, our whole focus was set pieces, because we know that's what Houston lives and dies on. I thought we defended it well, guys jumped out to the second ball and tried to block it and prevent it, and it was just one of those things that are unlucky.
“That happens. For it to happen in the 90th minute was absolutely gutting. It's a cruel game sometimes. Very cruel game.”
CARSON -- Robin Fraser has bolstered his roster with 12 acquisitions since his first campaign in charge of Chivas USA closed 4½ months ago, adding experience, depth and more than a little talent to a decent base.
Will it translate to success -- and if not now, then when?
That's the biggest question facing the Goats in year two of Fraser's reign, and where they sit come the end of October -- in or out of Major League Soccer's postseason -- will determine whether it has worked.
The playoffs are the goal for Chivas, and anything less will be considered abject failure. Fraser wants more.
“You should try to win it,” he said. “The goal is to win a championship. … I've said so many times: There's no sense in being in a competition if you're not trying to win it. Obviously, at the end of the road, we're all in this trying to win an MLS Cup.”
It's a heady aim for a franchise that has won only one of eight playoff games in its history and never advanced beyond the initial stage, not even when it won the West in 2007. The Goats have missed the postseason the past two years and are still rebuilding since so many important figures departed after 2009.
Fraser took aggressive steps during this offseason and preseason, bolstering a tattered backline with the acquisitions of veteran right back James Riley and Colombian center back John Alexander Valencia, strengthening a deep midfield with, especially, Ecuadoran national-teamers Miller Bolaños and Oswaldo Minda, and improving attacking options up front, with first-round draft pick Casey Townsend, especially, demonstrating the gravitas needed to become a seasoned pro.
The most influential of players from last year -- goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, defenders Heath Pearce and Ante Jazic, midfielders Nick LaBrocca and Alejandro Moreno, star forward Juan Pablo Angel -- have returned, and Fraser and his staff have been able to build on something; camp opened last year less than two weeks after he and top assistant coach Greg Vanney were hired.
On paper, Chivas has a far better side than the one that went 8-14-12 and finished eighth among nine in the Western Conference last year, but it might take a little time before that becomes apparent.
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.