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Chivas USA vs. D.C. United Preview: Behind Enemy Lines with The Goat Parade

The least in the east travels to play the worst of the west, and we check in with our counterparts in Chivaland to preview the Black-and-Red's trip to face the Rojiblancos.

Ned Dishman

Time to meet the Goats! As D.C. United embarks for the west coast in advance of tomorrow night's match-up against the Western Conference's worst team - which is still ahead of us in the standings - I used the wonder of technology to exchange a few questions of Matthew Hoffman of our goat-flavored sister blog The Goat Parade. Here are the results of that conversation.

Questions for the Goat Parade

1. I've missed the last couple episodes of As the Goat Bleats - since the sacking of el Chelis, what are the latest zany shenanigans Chivas USA has been getting into off the field? (Follow-up: Admit it, you miss Chelis, at least a little bit, right?)

I apologize in advance, but they pack a lot into each show. I'll try not to be too wordy, but no promises, k?

I miss Chelis terribly. Tactically, you're not going to see Jonathan Wilson dedicating any books to him but I'm still a fan. I hope he coaches again. But clearly there were forces above Chelis who were pulling the strings and not really keeping the coach in the loop. Alicia may disagree with me, she is after all much smarter than I, but I'm not even sure Chelis had much control over the team's style. Did you ever read Steven Goff's piece on Chelis' "No I didn't trade you; You're starting! It's on the board!" conversation with James Riley?

His Liga Mx teams didn't always, in fact seldom, played the 3-5-2. His best teams played a holding 4-4-2. I'm not even sure he was well versed in the setup because the teams that run that sort of option have no many options and players roles dictated on four or five other players their coach's clipboards looked a series of those circles you make when you try to see if there's any ink left in a pen you found.

Chelis's strength as a coach is in that he's an incredible motivator. His players will walk through fire for him. He has a history of twice being fired and brought back in the same season due to player and/or fan revolt. So as much as I liked him from a media point of view, I loved him as a fan. Chivas USA has had pretty rough road to hoe since ... pretty much forever (or 2005). The LA Galaxy are our landlords for crying out loud!

So having a Snake Pleskin-type instead of the usual "we'll take our lumps but I've got three year plan" guy, it was good. I mean, well it ended terribly. It was train wreck wrapped inside a meteor impact coupled with a sharknado. I wince a little more than I used to when I hear Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You."

But to actually answer your question, Chelis was canned, we had an interim coach before CD Guadalajara went with company man Jose Luis Real.

Real took the reins on June 19th and the results started, slowly, going our way. The team was still mired in a long winless streak when, on July 4, 2013, Chivas USA secured their first clean sheet of the year against FC Dallas. FC Dallas had one shot on goal, but Dan Kennedy was there to stop it.

Finally on July 17th in Carson, against Toronto FC, Chivas USA needed to win, otherwise the team would tie the second worst winless streak in MLS history set by, and Chivas USA as it turns out. Did I mention it was against Toronto? The winless streak was halted at 14-but take heart, a 14 game winless streak turns out to be the MLS single season record.

Besides the win, the match against Toronto featured the return of Carlos Bocanegra to MLS and the first game, start and goal of Mexican striker, and robot dance devotee Erick Torres. It's been quiet on the ownership front--Jorge Vergara owns both Chivas USA and Chivas Guadalajara. There's seldom any presence of ownership so naturally rumors and speculation fill the vacuum.

We've taken on a few more Mexican free agents but outside of that, the only recent team announcement came last week Chivas USA announced a local TV deal. The local TV deal is pretty much a requirement of all MLS clubs, but six months later, here we are!

Did news of the anti-Vergara LED screen flyover make it out your way? The Black Army 1851, one of the Chivas USA supporter groups had some Anti-Vergara signs confiscated. Through Reddit, they were able to fund a pilot to do a flyover of the stadium during halftime of a Galaxy/Chivas USA match.

I think you're now caught up!

2. Erick Torres is a guy many MLS fans are hearing about since scoring a couple of golazos in recent weeks (and following each of them up with the World's Second Worst Robot Dance), but most of us are only hearing about him for the first time. Where did he come from, what's his playing style, and how does his play affect the rest of your Goats?

Erick Torres is a young Mexican player who is a product of the CD Guadalajara system. He's played a handful of games for Guadalajara in Liga MX and the Mexican U-20 team. He remains part of the Guadalajara team as he is one of seven Chivas USA players on loan from CD Guadalajara. And, if you want to impress girls, now the Portland Timbers have purchased Diego Valeri's contract, Erick Torres is the only Designated Player on loan.

We didn't even know Torres was a DP! When the Colorado Rapids signed Panamanian Gabriel Torres to a DP deal on August 8th, MLS announced all of its clubs had a DP on its roster. So yeah, Chivas USA just full of surprises.

If you look at his minutes leading up to his loan, you wouldn't think he's be making such an impact. In five appearances in the 2013 MX Clausura for Guadalajara he made a single start in which he was substituted off. In his other appearances, he averaged less than fifteen minutes per game. Not the sort of minutes you'd expect of player entering the league signed to a DP contract, but clearly the team has thought highly of him. In 2010 Vergara compared Torres favorably to Chicarito.

Rock critic Dave Marsh described Jimi Hendrix's escape to England allowed Hendrix to embrace his destiny. That could be Torres's story as well. Unshackled from whatever from whatever burdens or situation he was in Guadalajara, can come to MLS and just focus on the soccer. At 5'10, he's not your typical target man, but he's quick, durable and, yeah I hate this term, he has a nose for knowing where the ball is heading. Technically gifted, his feet are constantly moving. I haven't had the pleasure of watching him live, so I'd like to better see how he positions himself on the field. I'm not sure where his runs come from or break, but he seems to be where the balls going.

He's 20 so of course he's young. He won't always be able to burst by defenders. His shots are powerful but also at relatively close distance. I think he's reliable for the diving header in the box or the breakaway goal, which play to his strengths. I'm not sure about his accuracy but this point, why not? Take the shot.

He, and the team as a whole, play best when Torres is paired up top with Julio Morales. I think this is a defect more on Chivas, than Torres. Under 4-2-3-1, it just seemed like a very sadistic game of fetch. It was more or less, Torres is supposed to track these long balls, protect it from three, four-sometimes five or six-opposing players and wait for the cavalry to arrive.

I'm not exaggerating-that was the game plan against San Jose last month. The poor cameraman must have needed some icing, Vicodin and rest after trying to capture that melee.

3. Somehow, Chivas USA have allowed more goals than D.C. United this year, and that's quite an accomplishment with the depths of shamblry to which the Black-and-Red back line has sunk. But the Goats have some recent additions like former USMNT captain Carlos "I don't actually speak Spanish" Bocanegra, and they've also switched away from their train-wreck 3-man defense to a more traditional 4-man setup. Have these changes had the intended effect, or is the Chivas D every bit as bad as their record indicates?

Hilarious and also a great question. At the beginning of the season, Chivas USA actually traded Portland the second spot in the Allocation Order. Yet Chivas USA got Carlos Bocanegra. How many center backs have the Timbers lost this year? Unlike Clint Dempsey, center back was an area of need for the Timbers.

I'm not sure if Bocanegra will be ready to go tomorrow. He's dealing with a heel contusion on his right foot. It's not the first injury he's suffered on his right since his return.

You live in D.C., so surely you understand the importance of informing your audience that times may be bad, but dabnabit it's certainly an improvement over his or her predecessor. And so it is with Chivas USA-our defense bends and breaks but it's not nearly as bad as it once was. Jose Luis Real installed a four-man-back in his first game as coach on June 19th and immediately lost 3-1 to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Last year we lost to them 4-0. See the progress?

Okay, let's put our serious hats on. Under Real the Chivas USA defense allowed a lot of goals (22 in 14 games) for an average of 1.5 goals allowed per game. But that's a 25% reduction from the previous regime, i.e. 26 goals in 13 games, an even 2 goals per game.

The problem, with a few but not many exceptions, is that the bulk of these goals are being allowed in the final ten minutes of play. That's horrible for any team. But factor in age of this squad, an average age 24 years (yes, including Carlos Bocanegra's 34 years), and that's a recipe for a complex. As we didn't already have daddy issues with Vergara.

Guadalajara has tried to mold itself after the Total Football of the 1970's Dutch. Vergara has paid boatloads of money to Johan Cruyff to implement that style of play. Then Vergara fired Cruyff. I don't know if that has actually been resolved but the Chivas brand has many Cruyff acolytes running the show. As such, the team plays a tight, pressing defense. They moving the center backs forward often stranding Dan Kennedy on one-on-ones with a well hit/timed long ball.

As an aside, Dan Kennedy leading MLS in saves once again.

So there's all this pressure and movement, swarming the ball and... Come the end of the game, the guys are worn out. I'm not suggesting their not conditioner or malnourished. It's just that expecting that level of play for 90 minutes is just unsustainable.

Questions for B&RU

1. Canadians Dwayne De Rosario and Dejan Jakovic will miss Sunday's match due to international call-ups. Since both players are current Goat-of-The-Month candidates, it sounds like addition by subtraction.

With Jakovic's current form, which is to say lack of form, his promotion to his national team definitely represents a bearable loss for most United fans. With his taking the blame for so many of our recent goals against and with Ethan White potentially fit again and Conor Shanosky returning from his loan spell with the USL Pro regular season champion Richmond Kickers, there's a decent chance Dejan could have been benched in this game anyway.

As for DeRo, he's still an important part of the attack - in fact, we nominated him for Player of the Month in addition to his Goat nod. But his forced absence will provide a convenient opportunity to see what a Dwayne-less D.C. United looks like, and that'll be important going forward since DeRo is now 35 and only has so long left in his time with the Black-and-Red.

2. According to the stats on MLS*, D.C. United hasn't scored an unassisted goal this season in league play (i.e. 16 goals, 16 assists). Is this a product of a system or the players? (*I'm dubious; Dwayne De Rosario scored a recent goal that look pretty unassisted to me.)

To be clear, some of those assists are secondary (or "hockey") assists - the pass that led to the pass that led to the goal. Or else somebody got to pad their stats by "assisting" on a penalty kick goal or two. I think the high ratio is primarily a product of the system, and that's not necessarily good in this instance. It means we aren't getting a lot of the classic unassisted goals - dispossessing an opponent deep in their own half and beating the keeper 1v1 or being in position to put in the rebound after a save. Earlier in the year, this had to do with United's inability to create any danger or goals whatsoever, but more recently it has to do with the "double false 9" forward pairing of DeRo and Luis Silva, which has resulted in lots of long-range shots but relatively little creativity inside the opponent's 18-yard box.

The bright side is the fact that we're getting so many secondary assists, though, which means that our passing movements - when we score - have some purpose and coordination to them; there are times when players are looking and thinking a pass or two ahead. This is especially true since Silva joined the team from Toronto. Now we just need more of that kind of quick thinking and a whole lot more of those elusive scoring moves to get us over that embarrassing mark of 16 goals from 26 games.

3. Kevin Payne is out as GM of Toronto FC who've stated Payne's replacement must be a salary "capologist". Do you have a reaction to this news? What's the feeling about salary cap regarding the current D.C. United roster?

When KP was down here in the District, the conventional understanding of United's front office was that Payne set the direction and did most of the GM-type functions, but Dave Kasper was the guy who knew the ins and outs of the various MLS salary mechanisms and could make damn near anything work under the cap. With their split last winter, neither has done a particularly good job of stepping into the void created by the other. Judging by TFC's statements, Payne had trouble navigating the salary cap and its many exceptions, while back at RFK Stadium, Kasper has had issues evaluating talent and negotiating appropriate salaries for a few different players.

The result was that an inordinate percentage of United's roster budget was dedicated to the worst-performing central defense in the league, as both Brandon McDonald and Dejan Jakovic were guaranteed a combined $575,000 this year. B-Mac was traded to RSL, but a portion of his salary for this year remains on United's books, and now that known Jakovic fanboy Kevin Payne is out at BMO Field, there appears to be few options for beneficial trades that involve the Canadian international. The rest of United's cap looks pretty good, though; DeRo is the only Designated Player on the roster, and the sales of Andy Najar last winter and Alain Rochat this summer should have provided lots of allocation money for Kasper & Co. to throw around. For next year, that pile of Monopoly money will only be added to when D.C. finish last in the league (Thank you, parity police!) and might be bigger still if United can pull the upset in the USOC Final in Salt Lake on October 1.

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