Road, homecomings make tough draw for Chivas

Goats face tough midseason run, visits to old stomping grounds

CARSON, Calif. – Thursday's release of MLS' 2011 regular-season schedule brought optimism for the new cast of players at Chivas USA, but also pause for the difficult road ahead.

As the team looks to return to playoff contention, no span will test the Rojiblancos’ meddle more than a late summer stretch from mid-July to the end of August. From July 16 to Aug. 27, Chivas USA will face five playoff teams from last season while spending July 31 to Aug. 27 on the road. With away games at difficult opponents like New England, Seattle, MLS Cup champions Colorado and newcomers Portland Timbers, the focus is on a positive run during that stretch.

“We have a difficult stretch in midseason with [five of seven] matches on the road, which is tough towards the end of summer,” said assistant head coach Greg Vanney. “It’s a time where guys in this league generally wear down a bit. We’re relying on a good plan through the summer and Jim Liston, our trusty fitness guy, to stay on top of things. It’ll be a stretch that we need to manage well.”

Apart from the importance of the end of summer road trip, each player has circled matches on the calendar, typically first and foremost are the annual SuperClásicos between Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy. With a 3-12-6 record against their bitter rivals from across the hall, the grudge match always serves as motivation for the Rojiblancos.

But there are numerous storylines apart the Clásico. From Alejandro Moreno’s return to PPL Park against the Philadelphia Union to the "Jimmy Conrad Bowl." From the season opener on March 19 in Carson and July 9 at Sporting Park, matches against Conrad’s old club, Sporting Kansas City, take on an added importance.

Those matches also have added intrigue, as they feature as many as four former Akron Zips with Zarek Valentin, Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski lining up against former teammate Teal Bunbury. Conrad, a legend among Kansas City soccer circles, takes facing his old club with a grain of salt.

“It’ll be interesting," he said. "The name 'Sporting' doesn’t mean anything to me, I don’t identify with it, so had we been playing the Wizards, it may have had a bit more emotional impact to it. To take a little bit of knowledge knowing that I helped keep soccer on the tip of people’s tongues in the area and I tried do everything that I could both on and off the field ... it’s nice to see that they built the stadium which was something that fans and players richly deserved.”

The eagerness to face their old clubs is not limited to players. Head coach Robin Fraser and Vanney face off against Jason Kreis and their old club, Real Salt Lake, on May 7 at Rio Tinto Stadium. However, despite all the added emotion, Vanney stressed that in the end the goal is always the same.

"It’ll be something personal for Robin having come from his relationship with Jason and the guys," said Fraser. “For him, it’ll be a little more special, but it’s just one more game that we need three points in.”

Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at adam.m.Serrano@gmail.com . On Twitter @adamserrano