Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.
No. 9 in the West is Chivas USA:
Significant additions and subtractions: There’s the impression Chivas USA have undergone wholesale changes, but five of the club’s top seven in 2012 minutes played are still on the team. Right back James Riley, however, was number two on that list, and he was given away to D.C. United. Nick LaBrocca is also gone (Colorado), as are a number of significant contributors further down the list: Danny Califf (Toronto), Ben Zemanski (Portland), and Alejandro Moreno (Philadelphia’s TV booth).
Sharlie Joseph, who had become an albatross on the club’s payroll, was pawned off on Seattle yesterday. If that’s any indication, there are still more changes coming. And unfortunately for Chivas fans, the acquisitions of Eric Avila and Steve Purdy don’t quite make up for the losses. Carlos Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick out of UConn, may end up being the team’s biggest player acquisition.
The biggest overall addition: El Chelís – new head coach José Luís Sánchez Solá. The former Puebla boss has injected personality into an organization that had gone catatonic during Robin Fraser’s last months.
Strengths: There’s only one relative strength, and that’s in goal. Dan Kennedy is an All-Star caliber player, but as we saw last year, even the best keepers can be worn down when over-exposed. Can Kennedy extend his excellence farther into this season? If he does, he’ll be doing it with less talent in front of him.
Pressure points: Unfortunately, they’re everywhere, leaving Chivas with a bunch of ifs, all of which need to come good for the Goats to be even average at their trouble spots:
- [FORWARDS] IF Juan Agudelo plays to his potential and can produce like a league average striker, Chivas’s attack will be much improved. But for the attack as a whole to produce like a typical MLS offensive, they’ll need more production from Miller Bolaños, Jose Correa, and Tristan Bowan. All of them.
- [MIDFIELDERS] Even IF Alvarez and Avila play to their potentials and Oswaldo Minda can stay on the field a bit more, the midfield looks weak. At best, it’s thin, though Sueño Villafaña could always help.
- [DEFENDERS] IF the defense gels — and defenses can always gel with good coaching — Kennedy will avoid some of last year’s exposure. But Chelís has his work cut out of him crafting a viable back four from Purdy, Villafaña, Bobby Burling, and the returning Carlos Borja. Thankfully, Rauwshan MacKenzie and Ante Jazic are still around. For now.
Difference maker: Chivas only scored 24 goals in 34 games last season. That has to improve, and nobody is as capable of lifting that total as Juan Agudelo. Unfortunately, that means Chivas is relying on a player who has only scored 10 league goals in 3142 career minutes. That’s a goal every 3.5 games.
Potential breakout player: Eric Avila has all the skills to be an above-average MLS player, but in 107 career appearances, the former Dallas and Toronto midfielder has only made 37 starts. This year the 25-year-old will get all the time he needs to show he can be a part of a team’s core. If he breaks out, you could see corresponding improvement from Agudelo and Correa.
Bottom line: It all comes down to Chelís. If he finds the right formula, of course Chivas can improve. We’ve seen good coaches make meals of leftovers.
Unfortunately for Chivas fans, there just aren’t enough quality ingredients for this team to be competitive. It’s a transition year. Hopefully.