The Portland Timbers mostly had their way with Chivas USA in 2013: 3-0, 1-1, 5-0. Yet through five games this season, Portland has failed to win and Chivas has started very respectably. As usual, we don't know much about what's going on in Chivatown so we turned to Alicia Rodriguez of SB Nation's Chivas blog, The Goat Parade, to fill us in.
1. Before Sunday's loss to LA Galaxy, Chivas had a pretty reasonable start to the season. What happened in the SuperClasico?
I think from a Chivas USA fan's perspective, the same old thing happened in the latest installment of the rivalry with the Galaxy. A surprising number of times in recent years the team has walked into that game with actual expectation of getting a result, only to be completely played off the field and embarrassed once more. Obviously, when it's a rivalry game, not only losing but losing so badly rankles worse.
In that way, it will be fascinating to see how the Goats respond Saturday against the Timbers. I'd say literally nobody really played above their teammates for Chivas against the Galaxy, so there are 11+ guys who will need to show they are better than previous Chivas USA teams and will raise their play to the level generally shown in March, when the team went a decent (for them) 1-1-2.
If I had to single out a group of players specifically to keep an eye on, it would definitely be the defense. To be fair, what was projected to be a big question mark heading into the season has been troubled by injury problems of late, so half of the first-choice starters were missing, meaning on-loan forward/defender Eriq Zavaleta has been paired with Carlos Bocanegra in the middle, and former Portland defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste, who previously dealt with injuries of his own, lined up at left back. Add to that Eric Avila, who has been converted to right back this season, and the questions regarding the defense remain. Even if starters Bobby Burling and Tony Lochhead, along with injured defensive midfielder Oswaldo Minda, return to the lineup vs. Portland, the defense is still the Achilles' heel for this club and will likely dictate Chivas' prospects this year.
2. From a wider perspective, how have the club sale and organizational restructuring affected on-field performance? Or have they?
On one hand, the players and coaches will tell you that they have been largely insulated from the constant turmoil surrounding the club, especially since the fall of 2012. And on some level, that's certainly true. While the team is not being marketed to the LA area or folks are filing discrimination lawsuits, that doesn't directly impact the play.
Still, it is certain that Jorge Vergara no longer owning the club has made a major difference to the organization, and that has trickled down to some extent to the players. Besides the fact that Chivas USA is no longer going to be used as a farm team for Chivas de Guadalajara, which happened last year, the new management has been fairly savvy in signing experienced international players on free transfers, since they don't have a real fund to buy players, apparently. Not all the moves are certain to work, but bringing in guys like Agustin Pelletieri (who has locked down a starting spot already), Luke Moore, Daniel Fragoso, and even Mexican cult legend Adolfo "Bofo" Bautista (signed under the old regime, but also on a free) shows a recognition on management's part to both increase the experience and talent level all over the field.
Beyond that, there seems to be a palpable relief among the few holdovers (now just 11 players from the end of last season) that the page has started to turn, and belief among everybody associated with the club that rock bottom has already been reached. That loss against the Galaxy may let some of those old insecurities creep in, however, so this game against the Timbers is going to be pretty important.
3. Cubo Torres scored in the first four games of the season, and last year the Timbers outscored Chivas 9-1. Is it more likely that Torres will get back on track or that the Timbers will win big again?
Can I say both? Seriously, though, I am really concerned about this game, as I've alluded to in previous questions. Last season, Chivas' season fell apart when they got blown away by Sporting Kansas City. The following week, they played Portland, and got crushed, and that was it for the season, despite it only being May. Could the tumble happen even faster this year? Two weeks ago, I would have thought those old demons were gone, but the awful showing against the Galaxy leaves me skeptical. Still, I do think this team is substantially better than 2013's, but there's obviously a long way to go before Chivas can really even be in the playoff mix again. Could it still happen this year? It could, but I doubt it. New team president Nelson Rodriguez has repeatedly said the goal for this team is to be competitive, and that is absolutely fair in my opinion. Still, new coach Wilmer Cabrera and the team will need time to get used to each other, and they will have show if they can respond to adversity.
When it comes to Cubo, though, I can't really complain about the guy. I didn't expect his scoring streak to last indefinitely, and he's going to need the help of his teammates scoring in order to give him chances to get open and score himself, but he's an elite-level striker, something Chivas haven't had for years, and having him on the field means there's always a chance the Goats can get a goal.
Marky Delgado (international duty); Projected injury absences: Oswaldo Minda (hamstring), Tony Lochhead (hamstring), Bobby Burling (shoulder)