Three for Thursday: Clash of styles awaits in SuperClasico between LA Galaxy, Chivas USA
The first SuperClasico of the season between the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA on Sunday (5 pm ET, UniMas) holds the attention for a number of reasons, not least because of the vastly differing trajectories the two franchises have taken over the past few years.
But underneath the bluster from fiery Chivas manager José Luis "Chelís" Sánchez Solá, who is busy trying to reshape the franchise, and beyond the Galaxy's dominant run over the past few years and plethora of big names lies an intriguing on-the-field battle.
Here are three on-field storylines to watch out for as you settle in for Sunday's game:
1. Clash of styles
In some ways, this year's editions of the SuperClasico will serve as a microcosm for the larger soccer rivalry between the US and Mexico.
On one hand, you have former US national team coach Bruce Arena and a squad containing a number of present and future US national team players, while Chelís leads a Chivas USA project aiming to bring a more Latin style (and plenty of players with Mexican national team background to the league).
And while LA's American and British-influenced style has certainly paid dividends in MLS, the Galaxy, as with the rest of league and the USMNT, have usually come up short aginst Mexican sides in the recent past, which is part of the reason why the SuperClasico showdowns this year will be so intriguing. Will Chelís and Chivas come in and demonstrate that a tactical rethink is needed or will the Galaxy and MLS teams take enough confidence from their more frequent encounters with the Mexican style of play to continue on their current curse?
2. Donovan and LA's open-field threat
Nothing is quite as satisfying as crushing your rivals 4-0, which is exactly what happened in August of last year when LA dropped a four-spot on their in-stadium neighbors to clinch the season series
WATCH: Landon sets up four vs. Chivas USA
The key catayst in the blowout? Landon Donovan, who directly assisted all four of Galaxy's goals (right). Three of those were a direct result of his ability to get moving and use his speed in the swathes of space Chivas afforded him.
Between Donovan's sabbatical and the departure of David Beckham and his sweeping, cross-field passes, the Galaxy have been forced to deviate from this swashbuckling style of play. This is not to say what they have now is any less effective, given the four goals apiece they scored against Herediano and Chicago at the HDC. Rather, it is more to say that Chivas aren't the only team you'll see sporting a new look – LA simply don't have the pace and long-passing ability that helped destroy Chivas eight months ago.
And though the Galaxy may be taking a more measured approach this year and pose less of a breakaway threat, at least until Donovan returns, they still bear many of the hallmarks that have made them so successful – Robbie Keane and his seemingly endless off-the-ball movement, the ability to exploit the smallest seams in an opposition backline and patience in the attacking third.
So, the Galaxy may look different from the side that has terrorized Chivas USA in the past, but the early goings indicate they're not any less dangerous.
3. Will Chivas steady the ship on defense?
Chivas USA certainly deserved their first win of the season, a 3-1 win over Dallas that saw them score one-third of last season's home goal total in one game. The offense also had its looks even while getting blanked in the season opener vs. Columbus.
Where Chivas have struggled more, though is in the back. The gaps and seams left by the Goats defense as they try to adapt to Chelís fluid, somewhat-unorthodox formation were there for all to see, and were exploited by David Ferreira and Columbus. For their part, Dallas may be kicking themselves for not taking better advantage of the space they were afforded last Sunday.
The reasons for this range from the fact that this is a diverse group of players learning a new system – one that doesn't bear the hallmarks of the four at the back commonplace across MLS – and, especially in the case of players like Bobby Burling and Oswaldo Minda, individuals manning roles in which they have less experience.
Whatever the case, though, Chivas will know they need to cut down on the space they afford in their half of the field if they are to avoid the evisceration the first two teams to come up against the Galaxy this year suffered.