Midweek matches are never easy, especially when they are on the road and are coming after a tough opponent. Without being able to train on a regular schedule, the ability to work on opponent-specific tactics is limited primarily to sessions away from the field. When you know that a line-up change is required — say your starting central back is sitting out a one-match suspension for earning a dubious second yellow card the weekend before — the mission to properly prepare your team becomes even more difficult.
The San Jose Earthquakes return to the Home Depot Center tonight to face Chivas USA in the final match of the first half of the regular season. Looking for revenge for a 2-1 home loss in late April, the Quakes have lost only twice in twelve matches since that night and have clawed their way into playoff contention over the past two months. Currently three points ahead of the Goats in the Western Conference standings, a victory for the Quakes would greatly help them create distance between a team that is scraping for a higher seed postseason berth.
For Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski, the chance to feast on the Goats must make for an appealing trip to the Southland. With five goals scored against Chivas USA in their last three meetings, Wondo will look to make it scores in four at the HDC. As a quick primer for tonight’s match, what better place to turn than to the Chivas USA blog here at SB Nation, The Goat Parade. While there are many questions to be asked of the Rojiblancos, the three most pressing are answered below:
Quake, Rattle and Goal!: Chivas USA turned some heads earlier in the season with a run of games that featured some excellent defending. The team has slipped down the Western Conference table as of late, winning just one of their last eight games, and letting their goal differential slip below zero. Has it been a lack of defensive effort or a sub-par offense that is chiefly to blame for the Goats recent run of form?
The Goat Parade: Neither the offense or defense is lighting the world afire, but I think the defensive problems have been much more worrisome, especially in light of the fact that Chivas did have that stretch when their defense was quite stout. While the defense hasn't totally gelled, I think there was hope that Coach Robin Fraser had found a backline that could compete on a weekly basis in the league. Now, that confidence has disappeared, and squad rotation has contributed to the troubles. When Chivas were playing well, they were essentially using a very small group of about 14 players, but since most players have returned from injury and international duty, I think the rotation of more players has hurt their chemistry, especially defensively. Rotation is necessary in a long season, but there have been growing pains in integrating more players into the lineup.
QRG: By all accounts, Nick LaBrocca has been the team MVP leading up to the midway point of the season. What are some of the qualities to his game, and can he continue to deliver for the remainder of 2011?
TGP: LaBrocca has been a real surprise this season. After being obtained in the offseason from Toronto FC, he has proved to be a real key for Chivas on the offensive end. He has scored 4 goals so far, which nearly equals his career MLS totals, and he has contributed 3 assists, so he has been involved in one-third of the team's goals on the season. In particular, two goals, on Saturday against Chicago and June 1 against Vancouver, demonstrate the effect he can have on a game. In both matches, he scored a much-needed goal within two minutes of the restart, his determination helping Chivas to a point in both matches. He is also capable of doing the dirty work behind the scenes in midfield, as he has some grit, can disrupt the opposition's midfield play, and can win balls for his teammates. I think the best sign moving into the second half of the season for the Goats is that LaBrocca and Marcos Mondaini have played exceptionally well together and have really formed an understanding where they can delegate offensive duties and bring the best out of each other. If both players can stay on the field for the rest of the season, Chivas have at least a shot at a playoff spot.
QRG: Chivas beat the Earthquakes earlier this season at Buck Shaw Stadium 2-1 courtesy of a late goal from little used substitute Mariano Trujillo. What newcomer or unheralded player currently getting playing time for the Rojiblancos could be making headlines this Wednesday night in the rematch?
TGP: He is still learning the game, but I think this has been midfielder Jorge Flores' breakout season. Fraser likes his play, as he has started 14 games this season, and has really shown flashes that he can blossom into a fantastic player. He is still only 21, even though this is his 5th season with Chivas, and he needs to continue to work on his finishing ability and consistency, but I think Flores has a few more goals in him this season, and Wednesday night might be the time for him to get some more recognition.