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CHIVAS USA: D.C. matchups are the biggest

9/9/2011

CARSON -- Chivas USA has seven games left to prove they belong in the postseason. All seven are pivotal -- the Goats are just one point outside the bubble, and the stretch drive to the Major League Soccer season is going to get heated.

Saturday night's Home Depot Center encounter against D.C. United is something more.

How does Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser describe it?

“Massive. So massive.”

The Goats (7-10-10) and D.C. (7-7-10) are among three teams just outside the top 10, and with showdowns 11 days apart -- they'll get together again Sept. 21 in Washington -- their battles represent a potential 12-point swing.

It's particularly important for the Goats (31 points), who have three fewer games to play than does D.C. (31), and one less than Philadelphia (35), New York (32) and Portland (32). The seven clubs likeliest to fight for the final four berths make for three matchups this weekend (the others: Sporting Kansas City-Houston and Philly-Portland), and Chivas is paying attention to the out-of-town scoreboard.

“I'm starting to watch [other games] a bit,” Fraser said. “I still think at the end of the day, it comes down to what we do. So I try not to get too caught up in the emotion swings of other teams' results. But you certainly are keeping an eye.”

WORTH NOTING: Chivas has released midfielder Francisco Mendoza, who returned to the Goats this year after playing for the club in 2005-08. He shares the club record for career appearances with Jonathan Bornstein, with 123. ... Right backs Zarek Valentin and Michael Lahoud, coming off injuries, are ready to go. ... Swiss center back Mattias Schnorf, from the second-tier NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks, and outside back Mark Bloom, who played this season for the USL Pro's Charlotte Eagles, have been on trial this week with Chivas. ... D.C. United leads the all-time series, 6-4-2. At HDC, it's 2-2-2. ... Chivas won last year's game in Carson, with Justin Braun scoring the lone goal.

MISSING: Central midfielder Paulo Nagamura (broken foot) and defender Heath Pearce (hamstring tear) are out. ... Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy (groin strain) and midfielders Simon Elliott (groin and quad strains) and Laurent Courtois (knee strain) came off the injury list this week.

THE OPPONENT

D.C. UNITED

Head coach

  • Former U.S. national team midfielder Ben Olsen, who took charge last August on an interim basis and given the job for real during the offseason, was a passionate and well-loved midfielder. He was a fairly speedy winger until ankle injuries slowed him and a solid central defender later in his career, almost all of which was spent at D.C.

Three key players

  • Five-time MLS Best XI selection Dwayne De Rosario bounced this season from Toronto FC to New York to United, where he's added dimensions to the attack -- scoring six goals with three assists in nine games -- and was the league's Player of the Month in August.

  • Forward Charlie Davies was a shoo-in starter for the U.S. at the 2010 World Cup until suffering major injuries in a deadly October 2009 car crash. He's making his comeback with D.C., on loan from France's Sochaux, and has a team-best eight goals.

  • Winger Andy Najar, just 18, is one of the two or three most explosive attacking players in MLS, and he was the league's rookie of the year last year because of it. He made his debut for Honduras' national team last weekend.

Current form/prospects

  • MLS's worst team last season has had its ups and downs all season, but De Rosario's addition sharpened the attack and helped prod a 10-game stretch with just one loss that ended with a 1-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City in its last game, nearly three weeks ago. They're in the battle for a playoff berth, and with an advantage -- 10 games to play, vs. seven or eight for their rivals -- but a tough slate that includes games in the next month at Seattle, against Real Salt Lake and at Philadelphia and Columbus.

Local connections

  • Midfielder Chris Pontius played at Servite High School in Anaheim, for Irvine Strikers and at UC Santa Barbara. ... Forward Joseph Ngwenya began his pro career in L.A., playing for the Galaxy in 2005-06. ... Goalkeeper Steve Cronin spent four seasons with the Galaxy, was their starter in 2008. ... Midfielder Santino Quaranta played six games for L.A. in 2007. ... Defender Brandon McDonald played 16 games for the Galaxy in 2008. ... Davies' family lives in San Diego.

Missing

  • Center back Dejan Jakovic (hamstring strain), midfielder Branko Boskovic (torn ACL) and defender Jed Zayner (sprained knee) are out. ... Cronin (shoulder strain) is doubtful. ... Forward Josh Wolff (hip flexor strain) is probable.

THE GAME

At Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.

TV: KWHY/Channel 22 and KDOC/Channel 56

Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)

Referee: Elias Bazakos