Friday, March 26, 2010

Chivas USA 2010 MLS Season Preview

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Chivas USA is tired of being the “other team” in Los Angeles and the Home Depot Center.

They are also tried of their season ending in the early stages of the playoffs.

Three straight first round-playoff exits for Chivas USA— who share their home stadium with Western Conference champion Los Angeles Galaxy— also meant the exit of Head Coach Preki. In his place is former assistant coach Martin Vasquez, who will try to transform the team into a more exciting and potent offensive squad.

The franchise is known for its stingy defense.

Last season they allowed 31 goals against them. Only two teams let fewer past their keeper (Seattle and Houston, 29) and two teams tied with them (Los Angeles and Columbus).

Last year, the unit was lead by 2009 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Zach Thornton and US International defender Jonathan Bornstein.

Thornton had a career year in 2009, his thirteenth in MLS, posting a career low goals against average and leading the league in shutouts—12, a career high— and goals against.

Bornstein is a good MLS defender who also likes to push into the attack; although he may be a bit limited if he starts the season as a center back instead of an outside fullback.

What was sorely lacking last season was a scoring punch from Chivas’ offense. Only three teams (New England-33, Kansas City-33, and New York-27) scored fewer goals than the Goats (34).

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan needs to step up. He struggled at times last season and was even benched. He turned it around eventually, equaling a career-high in goals (5). As an attacking midfielder, the offense will run through Kljestan.

His latest effort with the US team in a friendly against El Salvador, where he scored the game-winning goal in stoppage time, grouped together with his assigning to the captaincy and still vying for a spot on the World Cup roster should be Kljestan to perform at a high level.

It isn’t just Kljestan that needs to have a turnaround 2010, though.

Maykel Galindo, who in his rookie season three years ago scored 12 goals, has fizzled out. After a 2008 season in which he only played in 10 games, Galindo struggled again last year, playing in only 23 games, starting only 15, and scoring a paltry four goals even though he is the main target up top.

Winger Jesus Padilla also struggled. He managed only one goal and no assists in 11 games. He never quite found a home on the field. The team hopes that Vasquez’s aggressive offensive mindset will help the winger.

The lone offensive weapon the team had last year, forward Eduardo Lillingston, who scored eight goals and notched two assists in 25 games, was loaned to Mexican second-division club Tijuana and will not be able to return until after the transfer window opens up again on July 15.

In order to improve the offense, Chivas brought in Salvadorian International winger Osael Romero. The 23-year-old is already considered the star of the El Salvador National Team, making 37 appearances and scoring eight goals. He is said to have a good touch on the ball, should provide great help to Kljestan in the midfield, and seems to be a very good fit on the wing for the style Vasquez wants the team to play.

The transition to the offensively astute side that fans would love to watch will take some time for the players to get used to and settle in. There may be some ugly results on the way.

So in order for Chivas to stay in contention until the offense figures itself out, the defense needs to continue to step up, even occasionally rising above the call of duty in order to preserve points.

If the team can gel and scoring chances become abundant, this could be a very good team that would be difficult to beat come playoff time.

If not, it could be just another disappointing season for Los Angeles’ “second” team.

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