CARSON, Calif. — If Chivas USA are going to rebound from their worst loss of the season – a 3-0 beating at the hands of D.C. United – they’ll need a return to what they do best: defending.
During training on Thursday ahead of their trip to Chicago (Saturday, 4 pm ET, Telefutura), head coach Robin Fraser went through a brief refresher course with his club on the importance of maintaining possession as well as what to do when they lose the ball.
Although the team’s problems have been cropping up sporadically in recent weeks, the deficiencies were at their most glaring in the United pounding - a game in which all three goals came from turnovers.
“It’s just reminders of what we do well,” Fraser told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s important that we look at the things that we do well to achieve the success that we’ve had. We’ve been a group that works hard, we’re a blue collar team, and that needs to be how we approach every game and every training session.”
The focus on handling possession comes as Chivas prepare to face a speedy Fire side who are hanging on to their own slim playoff hopes. Throughout practice, Dominic Oduro’s name came up repeatedly as the Goats look to prevent him or his fleet-footed teammates Patrick Nyarko and Marco Pappa from finding the same type of scoring chances DC enjoyed.
In order to counter that speed, Fraser has looked at a number of different combinations in central defense. In Thursday's training session, rookie Zarek Valentin played alongside Michael Umaña (pictured above, right) while Michel Lahoud got time at right back. It was a switch from Wednesday’s script, which had New Zealand international Andrew Boyens paired with Umaña in the center and Valentin in his natural right back spot.
With the defense stretched due to injuries to Heath Pearce and the suspension of David Junior Lopes, Fraser stressed that organization will be key against Chicago.
“If you look at the game against DC, all the goals were off counter attacks, which speaks poorly of organization behind the ball when we have it,” said Fraser. “We need to make sure that we’re behind the ball and we’re aware of where the threats are coming from and where their strengths are.
“Certainly, Oduro is lightning fast and you need to be very mindful of how you defend him, guys like that like Nyarko and Pappa. If you’re careless in your defending, then they’re going to hurt you.”
Pearce coming along
With the back line needing significant tightening, the Goats will get a big morale boost when defensive stalwart Pearce joins them in Chicago.
Pearce missed the DC match due to a hamstring strain and was expected to be sidelined for at least a month. However, he looked good during Thursday’s training session, firing crosses in and even scoring a goal during an intra-squad game.
Although he likely won’t play against Chicago — he’s listed as questionable for the match — the Rojiblancos are glad to have him back on the field.
“It’s good to have him coming this far along this quickly,” goalkeeper Dan Kennedy told MLSsoccer.com. “It looks like we’ll get him back for sure in the next three games and he’s been a very influential player for us, so we want to have him back.”
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter: @adamserrano