Los Angeles Soccer: Oswaldo Minda
CARSON -- The Galaxy and Chivas USA face off in one of the most meaningful of SuperClasico showdowns, surely the biggest since the 2009 playoffs, and a rivalry first-timer will be playing the wild-card role.
The measure of Shalrie Joseph's impact in his Chivas debut Sunday night (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 8 p.m.) could determine the final regular-season meeting this season, one which could send the Galaxy streaking toward a top-three spot in Major League Soccer's Western Conference or leave the Goats within striking distance -- with games in hand -- in the battle for the West's final postseason berth.
Joseph, 34, was acquired last week in a trade with the New England Revolution, and although the four-time MLS Best XI selection is on the far side of his professional arc, bringing him to L.A. could be be the pivotal step in Robin Fraser's quest to return Chivas to league-power status.
He figures to solidify the Goats' midfield, combine in the middle with Oswaldo Minda in what surely will be MLS's most intimidating central tandem, and provide the link required to connect a fine possession game with a talented frontline that has starved for appropriate service.
“He's a winner, he's a battler ...,” Fraser said. “He's a very intelligent player at both ends of the field. Very solid in the defensive end, certainly very competent and potent at the attacking end. We've seen many times in the past where New England needs something, so they put him up front and he scores a goal. They need him to play in the back, he prevents goals. You need him to connect through the midfield, he does that.
“Bringing him into the mix is certainly going to help.”
Chivas (7-8-5, 26 points) could use some assistance. It has scored just 14 times in 20 games, by far the worst total in the league, and sits just seven points behind L.A. (10-11-3, 33 points) on the other side of the dividing line for a playoff spot because of defense that has conceded an MLS-low 21 goals.
“It's about me trying to connect the dots, passing forward, trying to get the ball to the talented guys ...,” Joseph said. “I just find it unbelievable they haven't been able to score so many goals. World-class forwards they have here. So I look forward to getting them the balls in [dangerous] situations.”
The Grenada-born, Brooklyn-bred Joseph is certainly a known quantity. He spent nearly a decade with the Revolution, some of that as captain, and led the club to four MLS Cup title games. He likely would have been a starting midfielder for the U.S. in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups had he not impatiently turned out for his native island's national team when he was younger.
The Galaxy, who look to bounce back from last week's 4-0 debacle at Seattle without David Beckham, who is in London for the Olympic Closing Ceremonies, certainly know what Joseph can do. Left back Todd Dunivant calls him “one of the best defensive mids, if not the best, in the history of the league,” and head coach Bruce Arena predicts “in time he's going to be able to reshape their midfield.”
The Galaxy (8-10-3) have won five of eight games since returning in mid-June from a three-week break, and they ought not to have lost the two games they've dropped in the span. Their resurgence, following a dreadful first 2 1/2 months, is all about the big names: David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
Chivas (6-7-5) has lost only one of its last nine league games, posted three straight shutouts -- the Rojiblancos haven't surrendered a goal in 318 minutes -- and gone 6-2-5 since mid-May, including the run to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.
The rivals sit fifth and sixth in the Western Conference, separated by four points on the boundary for playoff berths, and every conference encounter can be a six-point swing.
Here's a look at the 27th SuperClasico showdown, Saturday at 7 p.m. at Home Depot Center in Carson:
CURRENT FORM: There's been a lot of good and a bit of bad in both teams' recent performances. They're getting results, but Chivas USA's attack is toothless, and the Galaxy has taken to outscoring opponents, or at least trying to, which leads to some grossly entertaining encounters.
L.A. just picked up seven points in a three-game road swing, and they've come from behind for three wins and a tie in the past month. Two Beckham goals fueled last weekend's 5-3 romp over Portland, and 18-year-old rookie Jose Villarreal, from Inglewood, came off the bench to score a terrific 87th-minute goal to deliver a 2-2 draw Wednesday night at Portland.
Reigning MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez's absence because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament has been debilitating all season. He returned to action in the July 4 loss to Philadelphia but hasn't played since, complaining of pain in his surgically repaired right knee.
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.”
Chivas USA did what it needed to do and got a little help at the finish, braving the Texas heat and tiring legs in their third game in eight days to claim a point Saturday night.
Dan Kennedy made two big saves, Alejandro hit the post and referee Fotis Bazakos, making just his third Major League Soccer appearance, gave the Goats a gift in stoppage time of a scoreless draw at FC Dallas.
The Goats (5-7-4, 19 points) pulled even with fifth-place Colorado on points, although the Galaxy could vault past both and into the Western Conference playoff zone with a victory in a later game against Vancouver; L.A. led, 3-0, at halftime. Dallas (3-9-4, 13 points) climbed out of cellar, one point ahead of Portland, which plays Sunday.
Nick LaBrocca returned to action for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury a month ago, but Oswaldo Minda took a late yellow card for time-wasting after kicking away a ball following a foul -- his league-worst eighth of the season -- and will be suspended for the next league game, July 17 against Vancouver.
The Hoops, who outshot Chivas, 13-2 -- 9-0 in the second half -- deserved a penalty kick when defender Danny Califf spun around Fabian Castillo just inside the Goats' box four minutes into stoppage, but Bazakos, watching nearby, didn't make the call.
Chivas had plenty of first-half possession but just one legitimate chance at goal, with Kevin Hartman diving to stop a Juan Agudelo drive in the 12th minute and Moreno putting the rebound off the right post.
Chivas USA won't play its U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal at Home Depot Center, opting to return to Cal State Fullerton, where the Goats last played a home game in the competition.
The club Thursday confirmed that Titan Stadium would be the site of the June 26 clash with the Charlotte Eagles, a third-division club that plays in the USL Pro. Chivas has won road games against the fourth-tier Ventura County Fusion and second-division Carolina RailHawks in its first two games in the competition.
U.S. Soccer, which must approve all venues, had announced the game would be held at HDC, but Chivas' website listed the site as undetermined until this week.
The Goats beat the second-tier Austin Aztex, 1-0, at Fullerton in a third-round game en route to the 2010 semifinals. Their only other home game in the 99-year-old competition was played in Goleta, at UC Santa Barbara's Harder Stadium. Dallas-based amateurs Roma FC advanced on penalties after a scoreless draw.
Chivas also played a 2008 SuperLiga game against the New England Revolution, a 1-1 draw, at Fullerton.
Titan Stadium, which seats 10,000, is a more intimate venue than HDC, and the rent is cheaper. It was universally considered Southern California's best smaller soccer venue (and, thus, best soccer venue) for more than a decade and has been No. 2 on the list since HDC opened in 2003.
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.”
CARSON -- Juan Agudelo is back, Osvaldo Alonso is out. If that's not enough to push Chivas USA into the favorite's role for Saturday night's Major League Soccer clash with the Seattle Sounders at Home Depot Center, consider current form.
The Goats (4-6-2, 14 points) are quickly solidifying into a real contender, with the draw at San Jose two weeks ago followed by last weekend's victory over the Galaxy and a tie Wednesday at Eastern Conference leader New York -- plus the burgeoning partnership up front between Agudelo and Jose Erik Correa -- and Juan Pablo Angel, too -- promising big things down the road.
They're in better shape for once than Seattle (7-3-2, 23 points), which started so well -- six shutouts and just three goals allowed in its first nine games -- but has struggled in its last three, sandwiching home losses to Real Salt Lake and on Wednesday to Columbus around a draw at Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver.
There's a goalkeeping crisis, troubles at the back -- the Sounders have allowed four goals in their last two matches -- and now Alonso, perhaps the best holding midfielder in the league, is gone, suspended two games Friday by MLS's disciplinary committee for a two-footed tackle in the Columbus loss that wasn't caught by the referee.
How big is that?
Alonso is the foundation for nearly everything the Sounders do.
Danny Califf, a few hours before word was out about the Cuban star, said trying to “move Alonso around” was critical.
“[We can't] just let him sit in the middle, because he does such a great job of breaking up plays and really covering so much ground,” said Califf, Chivas' backline leader after just two games since arriving from Philadelphia. “I think also when they have the ball [we need to try] to really have someone on him. A lot of their game goes through him, and he likes to lift his head up and look for cheeky runs from [top scorer Fredy] Montero.”
Agudelo is back early from the U.S. national team camp after not making Jurgen Klinsmann's 23-man roster for the “five-game tournament,” as U.S. Soccer is calling three friendlies (the first Saturday against Scotland) and the first two 2014 World Cup qualifiers. He and fellow Colombian Correa represent the future for Chivas, which has been desperate for something in the final third and is starting to find it.
David Beckham took a fairly sizable cut in pay to stay with Galaxy rather than chase Paris Saint-Germain's millions, it turns out, and he's no longer Major League Soccer's top earner.
That's the big news from the MLS Players Union's release Friday of salary figures across the league, an annual event that provides the only substantial look at at least a portion of player contracts in the league.
Beckham, whose initial five-year deal with the Galaxy paid him $32.5 million -- $5.5 million in annual salary and $6.5 million in average guaranteed compensation -- settled for $2.5 million less this go-round: His salary is $3 million and guaranteed compensation is $4 million.
That drops him below New York Red Bulls stars Thierry Henry ($5 million and $5.6 million) and Rafa Marquez ($4.6 million for both figures). Galaxy striker Robbie Keane (making $2.917 million in salary, $3.417 million guaranteed) is No. 4 on the league's list, and captain Landon Donovan ($2.4 million) is No. 5.
Beckham was offered a reported 18-month, $18.7 million contract by French giant PSG before re-signing a two-year deal with the Galaxy in January.
Additional compensation, beyond base salary and guaranteed compensation, is not accounted for in the Players Union survey.
Chivas USA striker Juan Pablo Angel also took a substantial pay cut, dropping out of Designated Player territory. He's making only $350,000 in base salary (after receiving $1 million under his previous contract) but $600,000 in guaranteed compensation (down from $1.25 million).
The Galaxy has the second-highest payroll at about $10.76 million, behind only the Red Bulls' $12.2 million. Chivas is 14th at nearly $2.62 million.
Chivas has been economical in picking up talent in South America. Star central midfielder Oswaldo Minda is making only $50,000 ($68,750 guaranteed), fellow Ecuadoran Miller Bolaņos and Colombian forward Jose Erik Correa just $48,000 apiece, and Colombian center back John Alexander Valencia $50,000.
Decent raises were given to Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy ($175,000 from $62,496) and Galaxy defenders Omar Gonzalez ($180,000 from $120,000) and Sean Franklin ($205,000 from $97,389).
Chivas USA had to do without its new arrival from New York -- Juan Agudelo is off with the U.S. national team in Florida -- but there's another Red Bulls veteran on the Goats' roster, and he made himself quite at home Wednesday night.
Juan Pablo Angel, New York's all-time goals leader, returned to Red Bull Arena for the first time since he departed the Red Bulls after the 2010 season, received a warm reception from the fans, then did his best to make their lives miserable.
His best performance of the season was rewarded with a spectacular goal at the start of the first half, and although Chivas couldn't turn it into three points, a 1-1 draw was a rather satisfying result.
The Goats' attack had spark, their defending was mostly exceptional, and had they done a better job holding onto the ball, especially under New York's second-half pressure, they might have boosted their road mark to 4-1-1.
“I think any time you don't get three points, there's some level of disappointment,” head coach Robin Fraser acknowledged to ESPN Los Angeles. “But, realistically, on the road against the first-place team in the East -- with a five-game winning streak -- you have to look at the big picture. A point in Red Bull Arena is not a bad result.”
It could have been worse. Nick LaBrocca, a Jersey boy who tested rookie Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara just two minutes in, was done by the fifth minute, tweaking his hamstring chasing Dane Richards into the Goats' box. He figures to miss Saturday's game at HDC against Seattle and next week's U.S. Open Cup match against the Ventura County Fusion, and tests will determine if he'll be out longer.
Richards was a handful for Chivas defenders -- he was the pivotal figure on Kenny Cooper's 56th-minute equalizer -- but the Goats did well limiting the effectiveness of Thierry Henry, returning to the Red Bulls' lineup after missing four games with a hamstring injury, and Cooper, who nonetheless tallied for the fourth straight game.
The Danny Califf-Rauwshan McKenzie partnership in central defense, just two games in, looks very good, and Oswaldo Minda was a force in front of them, keying Chivas' transition game while frustrating Henry and Cooper, both of whom confronted the Ecuadoran midfielder.
Dan Kennedy was sharp, making a fine reaction stop on Henry's 51st-minute header, and Ante Jazic secured the point by clearing Dax McCarty's header off the goal line following a corner kick in the 83rd.
Angel, who is still finding his form after missing five games because of a concussion, was the sharpest he has been since his scoring tear last year. He hit the left post in the 25th minute, following a nice sequence involving Paolo Cardozo and Miller Bolaņos, and brilliantly provided a 47th-minute lead.
Juan Agudelo, after his first training session as a Chivas USA forward and again after his first game with the club, spoke of his excitement to return to Red Bull Arena and face his former club.
That game has arrived, but Agudelo is missing, off with the U.S. national team in Florida preparing for next month's World Cup qualifiers. He is, however, a big part of the conversation heading into Wednesday's Major League Soccer showdown against the New York Red Bulls.
So, too, defender Heath Pearce, who a week ago was on Field 6 at Home Depot Center preparing for a tough stretch of games on Chivas' schedule. Now he's anchor to the Red Bulls' backline, ready to take on his former club.
If ever a trade were win-win, Thursday's was it. Chivas (4-6-1) picked up a young, rising star that New York, for whatever reason, had no interest in. The Red Bulls' thin defense got a versatile veteran with national team experience. And then Chivas, in another trade, picked up Pearce's replacement, veteran Danny Califf. Everybody is happy.
Agudelo, just 19, already has impressed with the national team and is a regular on U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's rosters. But he didn't fit in stylistically at New York and struggled for playing time last year behind Thierry Henry and Luke Rodgers and this year behind Henry and Kenny Cooper, although he also was dealing with a knee injury.
Henry is happy to see him at Chivas.
“[Red Bulls GM] Erik Soler said it at halftime [last weekend]: He wanted to go. So you’ve got to respect that,” Henry told the New York Post. “He wasn’t playing here, so I thought and he thought actually that it was a waste of time for him. ... I know some people were upset about it, had [something] to say about it, but at the end of the day, if you think about Agu, he had to play. It’s good for him.”
Klinsmann weighed in when he announced that Agudelo, who debuted for the Goats in Saturday's 1-0 SuperClasico victory over the Galaxy, was coming into camp with the U.S.
CARSON -- Chivas USA has had its share of legends and big stars, most of them -- Claudio Suarez, Ramon Ramirez, even Francisco Palencia and John O'Brien -- near or at the ends of their careers.
Juan Agudelo is something else: a superstar in the making, and his Goats debut in Saturday night's SuperClasico victory over the Galaxy could go down as one of the signpost events in club annals.
The tall, talented teen with bearing beyond his years did nothing spectacular and a whole lot of things really well in his first start with his new club, playing a key role setting up Jose Erik Correa's penalty kick and showing flashes of what he, Correa and Miller Bolaņos -- and Juan Pablo Angel, too, perhaps -- can achieve once they're all on the same page.
“I think Juan had a good debut,” coach Robin Fraser said after Chivas (4-6-1) ended a 12-game winless streak against their cross-stadium rival. “He’s a player that wants to be on the ball, he’s a very attack-minded player, he’s got very solid feet. You can see there are times when he wanted the ball, he wants to run at people, he wants to make things happen, and I thought his impact was immediate.
“We’re extremely excited to have him, and we’re extremely excited to watch him develop. He’s very special.”
Agudelo, whose excitement was such that he experienced “probably one of the most anxious feelings that I’ve had before a game ever,” was happy with how things went:
- “I felt great, and at times I wasn't able to find the spacing [with teammates] that I wanted, but I think that it's something that over time I'll improve, knowing the positions and holes with this team.”
- “[My chemistry with Correa] is going great. We're both Colombian, so we speak Spanish to each other, and I think that connection of South America is working.”
- “[Fraser's system] suits me really well. Just with my height [6-foot-1], I felt like crosses to the far post, I was dangerous then, and I think that moving forward that could be something that could help us get some goals. I feel like sometimes with my heading that I’ve got more power on it, and in this type of system, I love it that the coach encourages freedom.”
The 19-year-old, Colombian born striker, who departed Sunday to join the U.S. national team's Florida preparations for next month's start to its World Cup qualifying campaign, has impressed in international play but didn't fit into the New York Red Bulls' Eurocentric approach, and his trade Thursday to Chivas has rejuventated his young career. The Goats are a far better fit stylistically, culturally and in terms of opportunities to grow.
CARSON -- Chivas USA took care of their first need Friday night, finally finding the net in a home game. It took 383 minutes and came from the penalty spot, courtesy of Juan Pablo Angel.
That was supposed to spark the Goats to some real home success, but another hit-and-mostly-miss performance -- marked by many of the same troubles -- led to another home defeat.
Marco Pappa scored a superb goal in the third minute of stoppage time to deliver to the Chicago Fire a 2-1 victory, handing Chivas their fifth one-goal loss in as many matches at Home Depot Center.
“Not a whole lot to say, really,” said Robin Fraser, who dropped to 5-12-5 in home games as Chivas head coach. “Bitterly disappointing to give up a goal in the dying seconds to lose at home. It's a bitter pill to swallow for sure.”
Their season-worst third successive loss left them 3-6-0, and things aren't going to get any easier. The next five games, through mid-June, are against a Major League Soccer murderers' row: at San Jose, home against the Galaxy, at New York, home against Seattle, home against Real Salt Lake.
Fraser changed his formation, heavily altered his lineup and gave four players their season debuts -- two of them, Colombian defender John Alexander Valencia and newly arrived Colombian forward Jose Erik Correa, their MLS debuts -- but Chivas' game ebbed and flowed, with moments of great clarity obscured by extended spans in which they created very little.
They got the goal in the 23rd minute, with Angel converting after rookie Austin Berry, making his MLS debut, dragged down Alejandro Moreno just inside the Fire box. Berry made up for it about two minutes later, volleying a chip from Sebastian Grazzini inside the left post after a throw-in was cleared.
The Goats did enough to earn a point, but Pappa crushed those aspirations following a sequence on the right flank with Federico Puppo, firing across the goal and inside the left post from about 22 yards.
“[It's great] any time you can score a goal like that late and put three points in a difficult place,” said Fire coach Frank Klopas, who was confined to a luxury suite while serving a one-game suspension. “It took a special player to make a special play at the end.”
Kennedy was, as always, outstanding, making three big saves -- including back-to-back stops on Grazzini and Dominic Oduro in the 62nd minute. There was nothing he could do on Pappa's winner.
The intricacies of soccer formations can be incredibly nuanced -- or overanalyzed to sometimes ridiculous proportions. As Robin Fraser says of how his Chivas USA side lines up: “Depends on how you want to write it up. It's a 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1 -- take your pick.”
To get technical, the current plan is a 4-1-4-1: with a holding midfielder in front of the back four and a forward in front of four attacking midfielders. It's a subtle shift from the two-holding midfielder alignment with which Chivas kicked off this season, one designed to promote better attacking soccer from a side that's struggled offensively through the first seven games.
There's one reason for the alteration: Oswaldo Minda.
The Ecuadoran veteran has quickly established himself as a force in central midfield, a physical presence whose ability to shut down foes, win balls and start transitions had made the Goats one of Major League Soccer's most effective sides everywhere except in front of the goal.
“He's a true competitor,” says Fraser, whose Goats (3-4-0, 9 points) take on the Colorado Rapids (3-4-0, 9 points) on Saturday night in Commerce City, Colo. “Winning is the only thing that matters to him, and he's the kind of guy that will do anything to win a game. He's brought a powerful defensive presence for us in the midfield, breaks up a lot of plays, [has a] tireless work rate. And that in turn has allowed our attacking players to be even more attacking.”
Minda, 28, acquired a few days before Christmas from Ecuadoran champion Deportivo Quito, has size -- he's a rugged 6-foot, 175 pounds -- ample athleticism, speed, deceptively fine ball skills, good vision, plus experience in South America's biggest competitions, both at the club level and with Ecuador's national team. Add it all up, and it's enabled him to physically dominate games.
The switch from a 4-2-3-1, with two holding midfielders in the central-midfield triangle, is possible because Minda can handle the holding role by himself.
“There's still defensive responsibilities [for the attacking central midfielders],” Fraser said, “but I think knowing that you have this defensive presence, and the defenders behind you are doing a very good job, it's freed up our attacking players to be a little bit more attacking. ... He's done a really good job. Look at the games we've won on the road, his presence was very big. He's an unselfish kind of guy, and that's probably the most important characteristic for that position, is that you're unselfish. Because you do a lot of work for a lot of other players, and you don't get a lot of glory.”
Some glory is starting to come Minda's way. Some observers, vocal on Twitter and in the blogosphere, believe he's already the best holding midfielder in MLS. He certainly could be the most dominant.
“I've worked so hard to compete and to win. That's what I have in mind,” said Minda, who was a driving force in Deportivo Quito's success the past four years: three Ecuadoran titles (the last captured days before he joined Chivas), plus three appearances in the Copa Libertadores, South America's club championship, and three more in the secondary Copa Sudamericana. “For me, there are no excuses, no justification when you lose. A soccer player has to always think of winning. Thank God, that's the way I was raised, and that's the way I believe I'm going to die.”
CARSON -- Chivas USA has quickly revealed itself as a most effective road team, winning all three encounters away from Home Depot Center after staving off extended pressure and scoring goals both beautiful and timely.
Victories at Real Salt Lake, Portland and last week in Toronto have produced within the team a standard of confidence absent since the glory days of Preki's reign, and suddenly the Goats are starting to look like a genuine contender for a postseason berth, perhaps more.
Their next step? Prove they can win at home.
Chivas (3-3-0, 9 points) is zero for Home Depot Center, with three losses in three home games -- all by 1-0 scorelines -- heading into Saturday night's match against the Philadelphia Union at Home Depot Center. Road wins are terrific, but a team can't succeed unless they claim points at home.
“We need it,” midfielder Nick LaBrocca said. “We definitely need to win at home. Dropping three [points] at home is definitely something to be forgotten.”
Since they were last home, three weeks ago in a defeat to still-perfect Sporting Kansas City, Chivas has overcome a deficit with two second-half goals, both off astoundingly good service from Ryan Smith, to win in Portland, then tallied from a corner kick and held on against a heavy win to pick up all the points in Toronto.
A better focused, more aggressive attacking mindset is turning possession into chances, and the Goats' defense has been among the best in the league -- in great part because of Ecuadoran midfielder Oswaldo Minda, who has been dominant in the middle. Miller Bolaņos, Minda's Ecuadoran countryman, is starting to assert himself.
“Everyone's personalities are starting to come out,” LaBrocca said. “You can't just throw it all out there right away without knowing where to really be effective. ... We're starting to see more relationships being built. The chemistry on the field, on the ball is growing, and also learning the quality of you teammates and ... what position you need to be there to help them in.”
The Goats could have Juan Pablo Angel back against Philadelphia. The Colombian striker, who has missed the past five games, cleared MLS's post-concussion protocol Friday morning and will be available for selection. Maybe he starts, maybe he comes off the bench, maybe he doesn't play until Monday's MLS Reserve League match against Seattle.