CARSON, Calif. — Injuries have taken their toll on the Chivas USA defense at the most difficult time of the season for the club.
With the Rojiblancos in the playoff hunt and with their most difficult stretch of the season ahead, the backline is in need of some reshuffling thanks to a rash of knocks — both long- and short-term. The most notable is the loss of defensive leader Heath Pearce for a least a month due to a hamstring injury. Unfortunately for the Goats, the count doesn’t stop there.
They've also been without rookie Zarek Valentin since he was forced to abandon Chivas' 2-2 draw with Colorado on Aug. 21 just 16 minutes in.
Since that injury, the precocious right back has missed two games, and he has been working tirelessly to return to the field. However, with the club facing a pivotal match on Saturday against D.C. United (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), Valentin admits he’s still in the process of recovering.
“I’m working my way back to sprinting and full pace, and once that comes, then it’s just a matter of getting in game shape,” he said. “It was one thing that we were taking into account because I maybe could have pushed hard through the Salt Lake game. But they didn’t want to risk it.
“If I had missed one more game, then I would have missed one to play for the rest of [the season], as opposed to pushing through one and getting hurt and being out for the rest of the season. It’s a give or take.”
Valentin has endured an up-and-down rookie campaign for Chivas since being selected fourth overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Starting 21 matches for the Goats primarily at right back — but with stints at center back earlier in the season — the Akron product has had his struggles adapting to the physicality and pace of the pro ranks. But he’s also earned steady praise by teammates and coaches for his willingness to learn.
Getting him back into the lineup is key for a defense suddenly in flux. Luckily, the extended rest – Chivas’ last game was a 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on Aug. 27 – allowed the team to heal some of their bumps and bruises and recharge their batteries with seven games remaining.
“[The break] came at the perfect time for our team,” said Valentin, “because it’s an important time of the season. It’s great for everyone and all of the guys are starting to feel better.”
As the Rojiblancos prepare for their match against United, Valentin hopes he can return to action sooner rather than later.
“I just need stick to the regimen and then I’ll be good,” he said.
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @adamserrano