Ahead of Sunday's Clasico Angelino matchup, I asked four questions of The Goat Parade's Alicia Rodriguez. With MLS going into a rivalry filled weekend I wanted to know how Chivas has changed under the new coach, how Dan Kennedy and the back line were doing, and what the club plans to do about only having their top scorer for half the year. Of course I also had to ask about the buyout. Without further ado, and then my answer to her questions follow:
1) CD Chivas USA are on their third head coach in two years. That's gotta shake up the shape a bunch. So what form has Cabrera stuck to thus far? What players have benefited, and has it hurt any?
One of the constants with Chivas in recent years has been the continual turnover. So there aren't many holdovers from past regimes (11 from 2013, 5 from 2012, only Dan Kennedy from 2011 and before). Those who have remained have largely held their spots, with the exceptions of Homegrown youngster Marky Delgado, who's still gotten playing time, and forward Matthew Fondy, who hustles but hasn't yet shown a finishing touch in MLS.
Since Cabrera's only had four games at the helm of Chivas, it's not clear what his full coaching strategy is yet. Still, I'd say that he looks like a pragmatic coach, willing to change the formation when injuries have dictated it (from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 last week). He's also shown a balanced game plan, which has been sorely lacking for Chivas in recent times, with past coaches normally either prioritizing defense, to no success (Robin Fraser, Jose Luis Real), or emphasizing attacking, and getting blown away on the defensive end (Chelís). It certainly helps that it appears the talent level of this squad is better than it has been -- but it's early yet and we'll have to see if they can keep solid form beyond the first month.
2) Erick Torres is a fantasy soccer darling. Is it still the case that he's returning to Guadlajara in June, and has anyone looked like they can fill that void when the time comes?
The future of Torres is still up in the air. Team President Nelson Rodriguez revealed that Chivas USA not only have an option to extend his loan for the rest of the 2014 season, but also an option to buy him outright this year. Some people I've talked to think the option will be extended as a matter of course, and he'll stay permanently, but I'm not entirely convinced he'll stay in MLS for good.
Though Cubo has settled very well here and has started his second season on fire, I think there is a solid chance he could be subject to a tug-of-war between MLS and Chivas de Guadalajara. In particular, the Mexican club is still struggling, and no current Chivas players are among the top Liga MX goal scorers, so Cubo could find he could be in favor there again. Would he want to return to Mexico? Would he prefer to be away from the craziness of Jorge Vergara? Will he even have a choice in the matter? I think he's likely to stay beyond June, but I wouldn't be surprised if it got messy at some point.
3) Dan Kennedy recently said he hasn't been contacted by US Soccer. He's clearly more talented than his goals allowed will show, is the line in front of him improving enough that his stock might start to improve?
I try not to be a homer in general (really), but I do believe Kennedy can succeed on the international level. When it comes to the USMNT, however, he's never going to get a sniff while Jurgen Klinsmann is coach, and even beyond that, I doubt he'll get a call. The biggest reason is his age, of course, as he's 31, and so he's seen to be at his peak, and not on the rise to eventually replace Tim Howard and Brad Guzan.
I suppose that's fair, but allow me a moment to discuss a pet peeve: why have Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid been anointed the future U.S. goalkeepers? I realize they are very young, have loads of potential, and grooming them for the future appears to be a prudent policy. But with the United States being so deep at GK, why shut out other potential international-level 'keepers? Clint Irwin, Bobby Shuttleworth, and Steve Clark are all in the 25-27 range, and any of them (or any number of other GKs) could emerge to be the future, or at least depth for the national team.
But back to the question at hand: Chivas' defense has almost certainly improved from 2013, so that should help Kennedy's statistics, thankfully. That said, I'm still not convinced about the Goats' backline. They have played pretty well so far, so maybe I'm being harsh, but the defense is by far the biggest question mark surrounding the team, and that question persists.
4) The big news of course is MLS stepping in. What changes have you noticed in the culture (I noticed messages are going out in English first now)? What's been the fan reaction to the situation?
The cultural change, in many ways, literally took place overnight. I'm glad they've kept the bilingual coverage of the team, but it probably makes sense to use English first, since that is the predominant language around the league. There's also more transparency around the club, which is good because getting info in the past was often like getting blood out of a stone. Nelson Rodriguez has been candid and approachable so far in his role as President. The players who remain from prior seasons have not really discussed the changes in any specific way, but their body language alone indicates relief and hope for the future.
I'd say fans are essentially universal in their happiness that Jorge Vergara is gone as owner. He was profoundly unpopular and simply did a bad job running the club, between his lack of investment, failure to market the team, hiring employees who were often incompetent, allegedly being racist, turning CUSA into a Chivas de Guadalajara farm club, etc. So there was elation on the day the news broke.
However, there is a split opinion among fans concerning the future direction of the club. Some are happy to see the Chivas brand disappear, while others have mixed opinions or have said they won't follow the team any longer once the team is rebranded. I'd say the majority of current fans are going to stick with the team, and both Supporters Groups have pledged to continue to support the team, but beyond the unanimous criticism of Vergara, like any fanbase, there are differences of opinion. You don't want to see any fans turn their backs on the team, but it is likely inevitable, and ultimately, this team needs to gain a lot of fans if it is to ultimately become successful. If that means losing some fans to gain more, I guess that has to happen.
GK: Dan Kennedy
D: Eric Avila, Eriq Zavaleta, Carlos Bocanegra, Tony Lochhead
M: Mauro Rosales, Agustin Pelletieri, Carlos Alvarez, Thomas McNamara, Leandro Barrera
F: Erick Torres
1) The Galaxy return most of their team from last year, but there are some new faces. Who are some of the notable additions, and how have they fit in so far?
The buzz word this offseason was target forward, and it has everything to do with LA's shape. Replacing David Beckham's influence has been an ongoing project, and the way in which the Galaxy were beaten last season was by teams going narrow. No one stepped up to deliver crosses like he could, and even then there was no target outside of Omar Gonzalez on corners and he was shut down about midway through.
The new additions Samuel and Rob Friend are there to make teams rethink allowing crosses to come in uncontested, and the book is still being written on how they will ultimately fit in. Friend earned a penalty in the season opener with teams needing to keep hands on him in the penalty area (that combined with an ability to gracefully fall down). Samuel is greatly skilled on the ball, and he's shown that poacher ability that goes well toward padding goal totals. The biggest test is going to be how they mix with Robbie Keane, and neither forward has shown themselves better there.
2) It seems there's been concerns about the Galaxy's defense to start the year. Is that the case, or is there a sense that the perceived shakiness is overblown?
Since I've been blogging about the club the only major loses to the back line are Gregg Berhalter and now Sean Franklin. The former was easily replaced by A.J. DeLaGarza, but last season Arena started to get experimental with Franklin's cost rapidly rising and the team in need of a midfielder. There's been a revolving door of center backs trying to allow DeLaGarza to move to right midfielder since the beginning of last season, and none of them have been permanent.
Leonardo is prone to high profile mental mistakes. He challenges when he should stay back, without a defender behind him to mop up the mess when he fails to win the battle. Against Tijuana is was awful, he was directly responsible for the early goals that LA was never able to overcome.
What gets a lot of fans upset is that every time the club gets Gonzalez and DeLaGarza back together, the brass brags about the great record in limiting goals when they're next to each other. And yet, Arena has spent the better part of a year trying to break them up. It's like they're that couple in college that have been dating since high school, and they're at the party with that guy who believes in his bones everyone must experiment in college.
Then just when things looked like they might be getting back to normal, James Riley is out for six months. That can be the study abroad year in the metaphor.
3) Ok, so I've been asked many times about the Chivas USA ownership situation, but I'd like to turn the tables. What's the scuttlebutt from the Galaxy perspective on the league takeover of CUSA and the planned sale and rebrand of the club, on various levels (organization, players, fans)?
Hah, get used to it. I still expect to be asked about Beckham this year (and I've volunteered his name twice now so poo on me). Anyhow, you know how the Galaxy ambassadors tend to downplay the rivalry with Chivas. That's all for us reporters, and for them it's just another match against a team which happens to have their logo on a few doors.
There's also the strong contingent of Galaxy fans that see the club formerly known as Chivas as a blemish, that they should just be moved already so everyone can get on with their lives. So that side certainly believes things haven't gone far enough.
Certainly Don Garber doesn't feel that way, as he specifically mentioned the importance of Chivas being to give the Galaxy a rival. Which, can't feel that great as Chivas fans. Existing to be a foil for LA, what is Chivas a female character in an action movie?
4) (Bonus) Prediction for this match?
Both teams have noted defensive difficulties, but I think in league play LA's attack will prove too much to counter. LA 3 - Chivas 1