Three important questions for Chivas USA

Size, consistency and depth will make or break the Red-and-White

 

With the late loss to Columbus on Saturday, Chivas USA now sit in last place in the Western Conference with 10 points from nine games. To make matters worse, four of the seven teams above the Goats in the standings have at least a game in hand.

Examining some of the details of the Crew match, three questions for Chivas USA come to mind.

Is Chivas USA soft in the air?

The answer may be yes. The Chivas USA back line of Dario Delgado, Michael Umana, Jonathan Bornstein and Mariano Trujillo is certainly not the biggest defense in MLS.

Though the Crew struggled to break the Red-and-White back line and were kept from maintaining long spells of possession in the Goats’ end of the field, where they did find some success was in the air.

The Crew looked dangerous on nearly every ball that was crossed into the Chivas USA box. Their aerial attack finally paid off in the last minute, when a penalty kick was awarded to the home side after Justin Braun fouled Chad Marshall in the box on a set piece.

It’s the second time in two games that Chivas USA have given up a goal, either directly or indirectly, from a ball that was sent into the box. Houston’s Adrian Serioux punished the Goats last week, blasting a header past Zach Thornton on a corner kick in the Dynamo’s 2-0 victory in Los Angeles.

Is Justin Braun Chivas USA’s go-to striker?

After shuffling his attacking corps in the first few weeks of the 2010 season, Chivas USA head coach Martín Vásquez seems to have settled on third-year striker Braun as the go-to guy up top.

The Utah native certainly has a lot of upside. At 6-foot-3, he can be a dangerous target man, as evidenced by his towering header against San Jose last month. Most importantly, though, is Braun’s seemingly endless supply of energy, which he uses to hassle and annoy opposing defenses, create turnover, and wear out older, more veteran defenders.

Just ask 33-year-old Crew right back Gino Padula who, after following Braun around for 66 minutes on Saturday, had to be subbed off the field with an injury. Braun wasn’t directly responsible for hurting Padula, but the 23-year-old’s constant movement and physical play didn’t do the Argentine any favors either.

Unfortunately for Braun, however, his talents are sometimes marred by his inconsistency.

While he has notched some important goals for the Goats, Braun has yet to prove himself a truly dependable goal-scorer. In the first half against the Crew, for example, he was unable to find any real offensive chemistry with his teammates.

With Chukwudi Chijindu and Maicon Santos on the bench, both of whom have scored the same number of goals as Braun has this season in far fewer minutes, Braun will have to produce if he wants to keep his starting spot.

Can the Chivas USA attack survive without Sacha Kljestan?

With Saturday evening’s match now in the books, Chivas USA captain Sacha Kljestan will now turn his attention to the US National Team. The midfielder, along with co-captain Bornstein, joined the USMNT in Princeton, N.J., on Sunday to begin the final push toward making the roster for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Kljestan has been in fine form this season, playing every minute of 2010 and notching a goal and two assists for his efforts. More importantly, he has provided offensive leadership to a very young Goats attack.

Rookie central midfielders Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski have proven strong in defense, but lack Kljestan’s vision and skill on the ball. Michael Lahoud offers a dangerous option from the wing, but has yet to get into goal-scoring form this season.

The onus will likely fall to Jesus Padilla, who has already shown some attacking brilliance in 2010, most notably in his two-goal performance against New England on May 5. If Padilla can step up, the Goats may be just fine. But if he can’t, Chivas USA will certainly miss their midfield maestro in the coming weeks.