New Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser has a number of question marks as his team progresses in its preseason.
After beating PDL side Fresno Fuego on Tuesday, the Rojiblancos continue their preseason training on Friday at the Home Depot Center and will take on the San Jose Earthquakes on Monday in their second preseason exhibition.
The club will then head to Casa Grande, Ariz., before returning to Carson, Calif., ahead of the season opener against Sporting KC on March 19. With that game just over more than a month away, here are some of the questions Fraser must solve:
Who will wear the captain’s armband?
[inline_node:327673]First and foremost, Chivas USA will need to discover who Fraser’s on-field representative will be. Veteran defender and former Kansas City captain Jimmy Conrad appears the front-runner. Acquired in the Re-Entry Draft, the vocal Southern California native has already won praise from his teammates and coaching staff for his quick integration into the squad.
But another option to captain the squad already exists. Last season, after the departure of Sacha Kljestan and in place of Jonathan Bornstein, defender Mariano Trujillo led the team. While not the most vocal, Trujillo’s teammates applauded the way he calmly and quietly piloted the club through his professional demeanor both on and off the pitch.
Can a number of key players recover from injuries?
One of the vital factors to the Rojiblancos’ decline in 2010 was the number of injuries that plagued the team, especially that of midfielder Blair Gavin in August, who missed the remainder of the season.
Gavin has been recovering from the hamstring injury that put an end to his campaign for much of the offseason and is still on the mend. At the start of the year, his rehabilitation began to allow time on the ball, but it appears he is still several weeks away from match fitness.
Another injury doubt is forward Justin Braun, who suffered a left Achilles laceration while training with the US national team in January. The injury forced Braun from the camp, but as of last week, he had already begun to attempt to run.
Who will be the team’s starting strike pair?
[inline_node:317444]Forward is one of the deepest positions for Chivas USA, and Fraser should have a number of options to call on. The obvious inclusion is Braun, who scored a team-leading nine goals in 2010. But who’ll be his partner in crime?
After scoring only 31 goals in 2010, a mark that was second-lowest in MLS, additional production is desperately needed. Alan Gordon, Tristan Bowen and Alejandro Moreno are all potential candidates for the position, with newcomer Víctor Estupiñán and veteran Jesus Padilla also baring some consideration.
Gordon, who played with Braun frequently after arriving from the LA Galaxy via trade in mid-2010, and Moreno, who notched seven assists with Philadelphia in 2010, are wily veterans that could support a target man like Braun. Bowen looks to be a speedy option – which could help Braun develop into a more archetypical target forward – but Estupiñán, who promised 25 to 30 goals, is likely the most intriguing choice.
Who will be the man between the posts?
The starting ‘keeper position was one that suffered from inconsistency in 2010. After Zach Thornton earned the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2009, injuries and frequent change in the back line caused the Rojiblancos’ netminders to suffer. Thornton performed admirably last year, but was unable to return to the form that he displayed in 2009. Back-up Dan Kennedy is still recovering from offseason surgery, but will be eager to return to the form that made him the first-choice ‘keeper at the start of 2009.
The pair is joined by Sergio Arias, the man who backstopped Mexico’s run to the 2005 U-17 World Cup trophy win. He has bounced around the Mexican league since his breakout performance in Peru, but has impressed the Chivas USA staff during his short preseason stay, which included guarding the goal in the win over Fresno.
In addition to the trio, former MLS pool goalkeeper Kevin Guppy will also look to make an impression.
Can “Panchito” make the squad?
[inline_node:326976]The most intriguing non-roster invitee to Chivas USA preseason camp is Francisco “Panchito” Mendoza.
The Chivas USA fan-favorite was the club’s leader in games played before leaving Carson for the Mexican League. He rejoins the Rojiblancos from a two-year excursion in Mexico, where he played for a number of clubs, including Chivas de Guadalajara, Chiapas, Club Tijuana and recently Indios de Ciudad Juárez.
Mendoza’s constant energy from the flanks was vital to Chivas USA’s three consecutive playoff appearances from from 2006 to ‘08. The 25-year-old will try to break into a squad that could use his speed and explosive ability off the flanks after inconsistent play from the wide positions last season.