The Tweet and Lowdown:
Chivas USA head into 2010 with a new coach. Does this mean a new attitude? How about a few more goals this season?
Setting the Scene:
Chivas USA spent most of 2009 dealing with an injury list that at times looked like a Starting XI. So how did the team not just compete, but manage its best start in franchise history? Then-head coach Preki squeezed the best out of his resources, leading Chivas to seven wins in their first nine games. Much of their success stemmed from arguably the league's best defense and goalkeeper combination. Had it not been for a pair of freak 4-0 defeats during their midseason slump, Zach Thornton and Co. would have led the league in goals-conceded by a wide margin.
But how about that slump? Offensive output was virtually non-existent during the weeks around the All-Star Game, with the Red-and-White scraping by with a single goal during five straight losses. When the regular season finally ended, Chivas had been shut out in 10 regular-season road games -- and their leading scorer last year, Eduardo Lillingston, tallied just eight goals. Preki has since moved on to Toronto FC, and new Mexican boss Martin Vasquez -- a former Chivas USA assistant -- has promised an improved offense. But with Lillingston out on loan until the end of July and no noticeable replacements lined up, Chivas' success may, once again, depend on a solid backline.
Players In: Osael Romero (Vista Hermosa), Michael Umaña (Liberia Mia), Blair Gavin (Akron)
Players Out: Jesse Marsch (retired), Paulo Nagamura (Tigres UANL), Eduardo Lillingston (Tijuana); Shavar Thomas (Philadelphia Union), Jim Curtin (waived), Bojan Stepanovic (waived), Sasha Victorine (retired), Carey Talley (waived)
Coaching staff: Martin Vasquez replaces Preki as head coach
Star Attraction: Sacha Kljestan
Kljestan holds the most star power at Chivas USA. The midfielder has the ability to take complete control of a game, and is capable of forging goals from nowhere. Too bad, then, that his 2009 form was patchy -- he managed just five goals and three assists in a season when Chivas craved production in the final third. That said, the 24-year-old is still in the hunt for space on Bob Bradley's World Cup roster, so this year he'll be looking to impress from the outset. It's possible he'll run the diamond in a new-look midfield, and with goals at a premium at the Red-and-White half of Home Depot Center, he'll be expected to contribute plenty on offense to keep the Goats in the hunt for the playoffs.
Unsung Hero: Mariano Trujillo
With so many veterans leaving this offseason, Chivas’ remaining unsung heroes are few and far between. Behind Thornton and Jonathan Bornstein, who both received their due praise last season, Mariano Trujillo was one of the Goats’ more consistent performers. Though tagged a midfielder, Trujillo last season played mostly at right back in 21 games, earning shutouts in 10 of them. This season, with the offseason losses of deep-lying midfielders Paulo Nagamura and Jessie Marsch, Chivas' defense will need to have another perfect campaign. Trujillo will once again be an integral part of what should be one of the league's best backlines.
Ready for Primetime: Justin Braun
If the Red-and-White need more goals in 2010, they should lean on the standout forward Braun. The 6-foot-3 forward was an amateur when Preki signed him in 2008, but Braun -- now a full senior with 39 regular season appearances and seven goals under his belt -- enjoyed a breakout year in 2009 that he iced with a trip to Bob Bradley's January camp. The 22 year-old is no longer the raw talent Preki took a risk on, however. He's matured into a powerful, clever and creative forward who scored some important goals last season and is primed to net more in 2010.
Storylines to Watch:
Will a new head coach mean a new attitude at Chivas USA? The hiring of Mexican-born Martin Vasquez is a nod to the club's roots. But whether the move opens up a stream of talent from Mexico remains to be seen. So far, only Salvadoran Osael Romero and Costa Rica's Michael Umaña have jumped onboard. If it's the same Chivas of 2009, goals will be at a premium -- especially with Lillingston out on loan with Mexico's Tijuana until July. Forward Maykel Galindo and trialist Artur Aghasyan have been doing much of the scoring in preseason, while Braun could also enjoy a big campaign. And Osael may provide a surprise offensive spark that Chivas so desperately need.
Essentially, however, they'll rely on Kljestan to create the chances, so Chivas will hope the 2008 edition shows up this year. Vasquez may also be looking at gaps in the roster if Kljestan and Bornstein earn Bradley's call this summer. Chivas also need to secure replacements for Nagamura and Marsch, though Michael Lahoud and Marcelo Saragosa can both handle that defensive midfield role. The team might also suffer off the field as much as on from the loss of Marsch, who was a mainstay with Chivas since 2006.
What He Said
"One of the things that we need to work on this year is our play in the attacking half. I see a team that understands the defensive side very well, but we want to be a good, balanced team. We have guys that are very offensively strong; we have to understand our strengths and use them for the benefit of our team."
-- Head coach Martín Vásquez
If everything goes right:
There are a number of questions surrounding Chivas USA as the club enters 2010. Will Vasquez's much-discussed dedication to offense bare fruit in the real world? The Red-and-White scored plenty in the preseason, with players such as Maicon Santos and Galindo -- who underperformed in 2009 -- finding the net freely. If Chivas can continue to be a force defensively and then find a way to score, too, then the sky's the limit for the Goats. Or, at the very least, they should expect a trip to the conference championship game for the first time in their history.