Scouting Report: Ángel iffy for Chivas vs. Union
Without a doubt, Chivas USA have been one of the most intriguing stories in Major League Soccer this month.
Three weeks ago, Robin Fraser's side raised eyebrows with a stunning 1-0 victory against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium.
It was the club's first win of the year.
After dropping their next game at home to Kansas City, Chivas then pulled off a 2-1 comeback victory at Portland and a 1-0 shutout at Toronto.
Oddly enough, Chivas have won all three of their road games and lost all three of their home games. The Goats now sit in a tie for fifth place in the Western Conference.
The Union are 2-0-2 all time against Chivas. Goals from Veljko Paunovic, Carlos Ruiz and Danny Mwanga sealed a 3-2 comeback win at PPL Park last season. The return trip at the Home Depot Center played to a 1-1 draw with Juan Pablo Ángel canceling out Justin Mapp's opening goal.
Chivas have scored four goals in those three road wins, but not a single goal at home this season.
The club could get a big offensive boost with the return of Ángel this Saturday. The veteran striker hasn't played since the first game of the season because of concussion symptoms suffered in a preseason clash with Portland's Eric Brunner. If Ángel completes the league's post-concussion protocol this week he'll be cleared to make his season debut against the Union.
“He’s doing better and is back in training,” Chivas head coach Robin Fraser told MLSsoccer.com. “ I expect that he’ll be available pretty soon. There is a possibility that he’ll be available [Saturday].”
In last week's 1-0 win in Toronto, Fraser essentially ran a 4-5-1 with former Union striker Alejandro Moreno alone at the top of the formation.
Chivas' five-man midfield used Moreno as a pivot and target man, making secondary runs and using width to stretch the Toronto defense.
2011 All-Star Nick LaBrocca ran the show in the center of the midfield, which also included Oswaldo Minda, Miller Bolanos and wide players Ben Zemanski and Ryan Smith.
Smith, who earned his first start with the Goats, was particularly effective on both flanks, displaying speed and skill on the ball The Englishman can hit both shots from distance and dangerous crosses with his left foot. Similar to Philadelphia's wingers, Smith and Zemanski will float around the field and swap sides from time to time.
Fraser also has a fairly deep bench to utilize. Laurent Courtois has started games this season, while Cesar Romero provides another option at forward. Rookie Casey Townsend scored the game winner at RSL, while attacking midfielder Paolo Cardozo was recently acquired in a trade with the LA Galaxy.
The backline of Heath Pearce, Rauwshan McKenzie, Ante Jazic and James Riley has played nearly every minute this season. Pearce and McKenzie will partner in central defense, with James Riley at right back and Jazic at left back. It's an extremely experienced group with more than 20 years of combined experience in Major League Soccer. Pearce also played overseas in Denmark and Germany, while Jazic played in the Austrian and Croatian first divisions. Riley has more than 150 MLS appearances since 2005.
Chivas' defense has given up just four goals this season in front of 'keeper Dan Kennedy, who is one of the best netminders in the league.
Over the past two seasons, Kennedy has singlehandedly kept his team in a number of games in which they were otherwise outplayed. Kennedy's goals against average of 0.67 is among the best in MLS this year. He's logged a pair of shutouts and has two Save of the Week nominations so far.
Keys to the Game
As mentioned, Chivas have yet to win a home game this year. It's a bizarre statistic, albeit with a small sample size, considering the MLS trend of teams performing well at home and poorly on the road.
Philadelphia have played Chivas to two draws at The Home Depot Center dating back to 2010. While the Union have often struggled on the West Coast, they have done better against Chivas than others.
Five of Chivas' six games this year have played out to 1-0 scorelines, which basically tells us that there's been a lot of defense and not much offense. That also happens to be score of the Union's win against Columbus on Saturday, as well as the type of game the Union excelled at throughout last year.
Chivas are particularly dangerous running through the midfield and using space on the flanks to get forward. Smith looks to be a great pickup, and LaBrocca is among the best two-way midfielders in the league. Brian Carroll will be tasked with denying space to LaBrocca, while the Union fullbacks deal with Smith and Zemanski.
For manager Peter Nowak's squad, it's a tale of two streaks. The Union defense hasn't allowed a goal in 241, but the offense hasn't scored from the run of play in 299 minutes. The team will travel to Los Angeles looking to break one streak and continue the other on Saturday (10:30 p.m. EST, TCN).
WATCH: Union-Chivas preview