2011 Chivas USA Preview: Regime change at HDC
The Tweet and Lowdown:
Robin Fraser is planning a revolution with Chivas USA. The Goats are being revitalized across the field and may make noise in the West.
Setting the Scene:
The 2010 season was a disaster for Chivas USA. The club missed the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since their expansion season in 2005 and struggled across the park.
With a number of key injuries and poor play, Chivas USA finished last in the Western Conference. In the offseason, the club released head coach Martín Vásquez and brought in former RSL assistant Robin Fraser to lead the team.
A former stout defender, Fraser has sought to rebuild the Goats in his own image by strengthening the back line, bringing in players such as veteran Heath Pearce and drafting right back Zarek Valentin. Defender Jimmy Conrad joined the team in the Re-Entry Draft and will be charged to lead Fraser’s new defensive-minded team.
During the offseason, Fraser added veterans across the park to balance the youth that Chivas USA already boasted. The additions are part of Fraser’s hope that the team becomes more “cerebral” in 2011.
For all their problem-solving abilities, Chivas USA will still need to find where the goals will come from in 2011. To aid the offense, the team has added a number of explosive playmakers like Marcos Mondaini and Víctor Estupiñan.
Players In: Jimmy Conrad (Sporting Kansas City), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Sergio Arias (CD Guadalajara), Francisco Mendoza (Indios de Ciudad Juárez), Zarek Valentin (Univ. of Akron), Alejandro Moreno (Vancouver), Víctor Estupiñán (LDU Quito), Andrew Boyens (New York Red Bulls), Simon Elliott (free agent), Marcos Mondaini (loan from CA Fénix, Uruguay), Tristan Bowen (LA Galaxy), Seth Owusu (loan from Medeama SC)
Players out: Jonathan Bornstein (Tigres UANL, Mexico), Giancarlo Maldonado (loan expiration, Atlante), Marcelo Saragosa (option declined), Alex Zotinca (option declined), Eduardo Lillingston (Estudiantes Tecos, Mexico), Maykel Galindo (released, training with FC Dallas), Osael Romero (CD Águila), Sal Zizzo (Portland) Dario Delgado (Puntarenas, Costa Rica), Rodolfo Espinoza (option declined), Yamith Cuesta (released, Expreso Rojo, Colombia), Carlos Borja (waived)
Coaching staff: Martin Vasquez was relieved of head-coaching duties in October and Robin Fraser was brought in as head coach in January. Greg Vanney was added as an assistant coach.
Star Attraction: Justin Braun
Any conversation about the Rojiblancos must begin with the burly forward. Chivas USA’s leading scorer in 2010 with nine goals, Braun earned his way onto the initial US national team’s January camp roster before suffering an Achilles injury. That injury has kept him out of most of the preseason and has forced him to prove himself all over again to Fraser.
In Chivas USA’s single-forward formation, Braun should have a chance to flourish with his ability to face off against big central defenders as well as his ability to hold up the ball and make passes that stretch defenses.
Unsung Hero: Blair Gavin
The second-year midfielder from Akron can arguably be called the most important player for Chivas USA in 2011. Gavin was enjoying a Rookie of the Year-caliber season in 2010 with three goals before a hamstring injury ended his campaign. During the preseason, Gavin has battled additional injuries and faces a fitness test for the season-opener.
Gavin has the potential to develop to become the creative midfielder the Rojiblancos have been lacking, but he must remain healthy. With a fit Gavin in the lineup, the Chivas USA attack is significantly stronger.
Ready for Primetime: Gerson Mayen
Mayén is set to make an impact with Chivas USA after seeing little time in 2010 with an increased role under Fraser. The creative central midfielder has impressed during the preseason and has spent some time with the first team. It is likely Mayén will be used to provide a spark off the bench for the Rojiblancos.
Meanwhile, Valentin is set to challenge for Rookie of the Year honors, having appeared composed and confident in heavy preseason action. It is believed that the defender will open the season starting at the right full back.
Storylines to Watch:
Fraser has build an impressive back line loaded with depth, but the main question for Chivas USA will be where the goals will come from – the Rojiblancos have struggled to score all preseason. Braun will need to have another strong year up top, but for Chivas USA to remain competitive, he must have help.
Alan Gordon and Moreno will likely be paired up with Braun in a withdrawn striker role. The veteran forwards are set to aid the maturing Braun as he looks to become an elite MLS forward. In addition to the veterans, Bowen and Estupiñan remain intriguing additions to the attack, but they have seen a majority of time in the preseason deployed along the flanks.
What He Said:
“My expectations are for improvement and we expect it of ourselves and of the players. We just want to keep getting better and, if we keep getting better, then I suppose at this point, anything is possible.”
– Head coach Robin Fraser on his his first season and potentially making the MLS Cup Playoffs.
If Everything Goes Right:
Fraser isn’t keen to repeat 2010’s basement finish, and there’s optimism in Chivas USA camp. It will be difficult however, for the rookie head coach to turn the Rojiblancos around in the first year with a new philosophy to teach and many new players on the field.
Chivas USA does boast a great deal of veteran defensive talent and will be difficult for opposing offenses to break them down. If they can develop a scoring punch alongside their defense and remain healthy, then a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs is a possibility.