When Chivas USA comes into town to pay its first-ever visit to Spartan Stadium, it is not only a new team the San Jose Earthquakes will have to adjust to. There is also the issue of a radical formation.
Not many teams in the 10-year history of MLS have used a 4-3-3 as their base formation, but the Earthquakes are expecting the expansion Chivas to stick with the attack-minded setup in their inaugural matchup Saturday afternoon in San Jose.
"You have to treat them with loads of respect," said San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear. "We have to treat them like D.C. United, like they're the defending champions, because if you don't do that with every team in the league, you're in trouble."
Chivas USA does not bear much of a resemblance to D.C. United -- or any other team in the league for that matter. In its 4-3-3 setup, Chivas USA looks to Mexican stalwarts Ramon Ramirez and Hector Cuadros to anchor the three-man midfield, while MLS veterans Arturo Torres, Matt Taylor and Thiago Martins look to do the damage up front.
"We just have to shift quickly, make sure we have numbers up (in the back)," said Kinnear. "Even though it's a 4-3-3, we should be plus-one in the back. The one thing is, when we win the ball, we have to break that first line of pressure. If you can bypass four or five guys with that first ball, you're looking at a good space of the field to run into."
The player in charge of cutting off that space is Ramirez, one of the most decorated players in Mexican national team history. A veteran of two World Cups and three Copas Americas, Ramirez had an active debut with his new club, nearly tallying from a direct free kick early in the second half in the club's 2-0 loss to D.C. United.
The Earthquakes will need a strong defensive performance from their outside midfielders, especially left-sided player Brad Davis. With eight-year MLS veteran Ezra Hendrickson expected to roam forward from his right back spot, Davis will need to provide assistance to left back Wade Barrett, who is expected to have his hands full with one of the three front-runners.
"The outside (backs) are more one-on-one now," said Kinnear. "Sometimes they go through a game without defending one-on-one a lot because most teams play 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 and the outside midfielders are doing a lot of the defensive work for them."
On the other side of the field, San Jose right midfielder Brian Mullan is expected to be matched up with overlapping left back Orlando Perez, formerly of the Chicago Fire. Both Chivas USA outside backs are adept at getting forward, which puts pressure on the San Jose backline on one hand, but leaves the Red-and-White vulnerable to counterattacks on the other. For this reason, Kinnear has stressed the importance of his team playing the ball quickly out of the back to try to generate advantageous numbers situations.
In the meantime, the Earthquakes will also be working out a new central defense pairing, as first-game starter Eddie Robinson will be serving a one-match suspension for a red-card he incurred in San Jose's season-opening 2-2 draw against New England last Saturday. Second-year pro Ryan Cochrane gets the start in Robinson's place alongside veteran Troy Dayak.
The rest of the Earthquakes lineup is expected to be the same one that took the field against the Revolution. Forwards Ronald Cerritos and Brian Ching accounted for a goal apiece against the Revs and played with a good understanding of one another at times, especially in the first half. Right back Craig Waibel looks to build on an excellent performance in the opener, while the youthful duo of rookie Danny O'Rourke and third-year pro Ricardo Clark gets another start in central midfield.
Danny Kadah is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.