CARSON, Calif. – Stopping a forward on a hot streak is a tall order for any team. Stopping that same in-form striker is even more difficult when fighting for your playoff life.
When the Philadelphia Union pay a visit to the Home Depot Center on Sunday (8 pm ET, watch LIVE online), Chivas will face that exact challenge in the form of Sébastien Le Toux. The mercurial Frenchman has been carrying the Union of late, scoring goals in eight of his last nine games including two in a victory over D.C. United on Thursday.
"He's en fuego," said head coach Robin Fraser. "We just need to be smart in defending, smart in the spaces that we give him and the spaces that we take away from him, and hopefully we can be intelligent in doing that."
The blueprint to stopping Le Toux will likely be drawn up based upon the Rojiblancos’ victory over Toronto FC from last weekend. In that match, Chivas were able to cut off service to Danny Koevermans and prevent him from finding the ball in space to attack. Against the Union, Chivas must prevent playmakers like Freddy Adu and Roger Torres from unlocking the defense and allowing the fleet-footed Le Toux chances at net.
One striker who knows exactly how Le Toux is feeling at the moment is Chivas' Juan Pablo Ángel. The Colombian has scored six goals in six games since moving from the LA Galaxy, including a two-goal effort of his own against TFC last week. Having played against Le Toux several times during his career, Ángel is keenly aware that stopping an in-form striker is always a difficult task.
"For any striker, when you're hot, then you're always a threat," he told MLSsoccer.com. "We need to make sure that we defend tight and we don't give him space because he can run in behind. So we need to react accordingly."
Stopping Le Toux may be job one for Chivas as they keep look to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, but they must also keep from beating themselves. At times throughout the season, they’ve fallen flat in must win matches, but after two straight solid performances, it seems they may have learned how to keep their cool during big games.
"Over the last game and a half, we've handled that [pressure] much better," Fraser said. "We've been focused and loose at the same time, and our team knows what we have to do now. And when we pay attention to our focus and to details then we're a much better team."
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.