CARSON, Calif. – Chivas USA have never been closer to the franchise’s first trophy, and are keenly aware that, with three more victories in the US Open Cup, they can do something historic.
But they know they've got a challenge on their hands with their quarterfinal opponents, the Charlotte Eagles of the USL Pro, who they'll face Wednesday night at Titan Stadium on the campus of Cal State Fullerton (10:30 pm ET, streamed live at cdchivasusa.com).
The workman-like Eagles have made a miracle run through the tournament by defeating FC Dallas and second-division club San Antonio Scorpions. Although their opponents sit two divisions beneath them, Chivas players like Peter Vagenas are fully aware that facing a lower-division opponent is far more difficult than it appears on paper.
“It’s a difficult tournament because in some respect these games are harder than MLS games because these guys are salivating at the mouth,” said the veteran midfielder (above), a four-time winner of the tournament. “You play teams that are desperate and have nothing to lose and that’s always difficult. We need to expect more of the same [against Charlotte], but this is our first pseudo home game and we’re excited about it.”
While playing host for the first time in the tournaments history the Chivas will welcome back several key contributors from injury. Joining the likes of Nick LaBrocca, who returned from a hamstring injury on Saturday, the club expects forward José Erik Correa and midfielder Miller Bolaños back from their own hamstring injuries. Both Correa and Bolaños participated in training on Monday and are expected to play a role against Charlotte.
Although head coach Robin Fraser will have much of his first choice lineup available for selection, little is known about their third-division opponents. Fraser admitted on Monday that the club had seen only scant game tape on the Eagles, but did have the opportunity to watch all of their Open Cup results including their May 29 victory at FC Dallas Stadium.
“It’s difficult to track information down on them,” Fraser said. “We certainly know that they are a gritty team that will fight hard and they’ve certainly come off a good result recently [a 4-1 victory in league play] and a couple of good Open Cup results and you know they’re a capable team.”
With the trophy in their sights, Vagenas believes that a win against Charlotte is not just a step forward in the tournament, but could also be a step forward for the franchise as a whole.
“And at the end of the day, this is the quickest way into the Champions League and that’d be a great step for this team and this club in general," he said. "I don’t think this club has won a tournament or a trophy yet so we’re three steps away.
“We’re not one of these teams that, once we're out, will say that we’re glad that we’re out and we didn’t take it serious. We’ve taken it serious from day one and we’re going to continue to take it serious and we’re going to try and win the whole thing.”
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org