CARSON, Calif. — The back line for Chivas USA has changed dramatically since the preseason due to a number of different factors.
Players like Jimmy Conrad and Seth Owusu, who were expected to hold or challenge for spots, have suffered with injuries. Mike Lahoud has been moved from spots in the midfield into the back line — and suffered some injuries as well. Ben Zemanski has filled in with spot duties. Rookie Zarek Valentin has been largely outstanding, but has missed time with the US U-20 national team.
In Chivas USA's last five matches, head coach Robin Fraser has played five different combinations in front of goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, and since the start of the season, nine different players have seen time in the defense.
Through it all the one constant has been Heath Pearce. The left back turned center back, who has started and played in each match for the Rojiblancos this season, admits that there have been challenges dealing with changing personnel.
"Obviously, it's hard any time that there are changes in a team, but I think everyone has come in and helped the team the way that they're supposed to,” Pearce told MLSsoccer.com. “I wouldn't say that it's difficult, but obviously it takes some adjustments every time that there's changes on the back line or changes on the field around you, but obviously you make the most of it and keep trying to get results.”
Over the last few weeks, the Goats have struggled with what Fraser called “individual mistakes rather than cohesion” after a disappointing defeat to Dallas that was caused by a defensive miscue.
"If you look at the goals that we've given up, I don't think that we've given up goals as a group that is not cohesive,” Fraser said following Saturday’s loss to Dallas. “Last week [against Houston] and [on Saturday] we gave up goals that were very preventable. This group has — more than less — played together for the last couple, so I don't feel that lack of cohesion is an issue because it's working pretty well. We just need to fix individual mistakes."
Since the injury to Conrad in March, Pearce has been paired with a number of different partners in central defense, from Zemanski to the more experienced Andrew Boyens and Michael Umaña. While some of his defensive counterparts have had more success, Pearce believes that he has become the leader that the still emerging Chivas USA back line has been missing.
"Definitely, anytime that you are one of the constants, you tend to step into that leadership role because you know what has made the team successful and what things have made us good on the field," Pearce said. "You try to implement it as much as you can, but the guys that are coming on are know their jobs and doing them well."
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @adamserrano