For the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will preview each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2011 and ending with the league's newest addition, the Montreal Impact. This is part one of two previewing Chivas USA's 2012 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
In his first year at the helm of Chivas USA, head coach Robin Fraser’s side took their share of bumps and bruises. Now, in his second year, Fraser believes his team can become a force in the Western Conference. In 2011, the Rojiblancos were in the playoff hunt until late in the season when turnovers and blown leads resigned the club to a finish just outside of the MLS Cup Playoffs field.
In order to prevent that from happening again, Fraser has been active this offseason, making a number of moves in hopes of creating a Rojiblancos team that can maintain its focus for a full 90 minutes.
With the steady goalkeeping of Dan Kennedy, a full season with Juan Pablo Ángel and the astute additions of midfielder Oswaldo Minda and defender John Alexander Valencia, among others, the Rojiblancos have reason to believe that they can compete for a playoff berth.
In and Out
IN: M Ryan Smith (11/21: trade from Sporting KC); D James Riley (11/23: from Seattle, via trade from Montreal); M Oswaldo Minda (12/21: SD Quito); M Miller Bolaños (1/11: LDU Quito); F Casey Townsend (1/12: SuperDraft); D R.J. Allen (1/17: supplemental draft); G Brian Rowe (1/17: supplemental draft); D Daniel Steres (1/17: supplemental draft); D Fabian Kling (1/17: supplemental draft); D Kevin Venegas (1/17: supplemental draft); G Tim Melia (1/17: free); D John Valencia (1/24: Atlético Junior); M Marvin Iraheta (1/24: Cosmos Academy); D Rauwshan McKenzie (2/22: free); M Peter Vagenas (2/22: free); F Cesar Romero (2/22: free)
OUT: F Justin Braun (11/23: trade to Montreal); M Gerson Mayen (11/23: trade to Montreal); D Zarek Valentin (11/23: expansion draft); M Paulo Nagamura (11/29: trade to Sporting KC); D Andrew Boyens (12/12: Re-Entry Stage 2/LA Galaxy); F Chukwudi Chujindu (12/12: option declined); M Simon Elliott (12/12: out of contract); G Zach Thornton (12/12: option declined); D Mariano Trujillo (12/12: option declined); D Michael Umaña (1/2: free/Comunicaciones); F Marcos Mondaini (1/4: loan option declined); G Sergio Arias (1/4: loan option declined); F Víctor Estupiñán (1/4: option declined); D R.J. Allen (2/16: released); D Fabian Kling (2/16: released)
Star Attraction: Juan Pablo Ángel
Ángel took Chivas USA by storm in his first stint with the Rojiblancos, now he’ll be asked to continue his brilliance over the course of a full season. Angel tallied seven goals in nine appearances for Chivas USA after being traded from the LA Galaxy at midseason. For Angel to duplicate his stellar performances in 2011, he’ll need the slick passing of Nick LaBrocca, Ryan Smith and Mike Lahoud to continue to put him in dangerous positions.
Unsung Hero: Mike Lahoud
The versatile right-sider (pictured right) has been a man without a position since coming into the league, playing everything from defensive midfield to right back to right wing. During the preseason, Lahoud appears to have found his position on the right side of Fraser’s midfield triangle. Frequently interchanging with left midfielder Smith, Lahoud has developed a penchant for making timely runs at goal that have helped set up numerous scoring opportunities for the Rojiblancos.
Ready for Primetime: Oswalda Minda
Minda brings a winner's mentality to the Rojiblancos midfield after winning championships in two out of three seasons for his previous club, Deportivo Quito. In addition to stabilizing the Chivas midfield, the Ecuadorian international’s physicality and ability to recover and find good positions following turnovers make him a valuable asset. By season's end, Minda may be considered one of the league’s shrewdest offseason signings.
Storylines to Watch
1. How will Miller Bolaños adapt to MLS? Bolaños arrives eager for a fresh start after a checkered career in Ecuador. Considered by many to be one of the finest products Ecuador has ever produced, Bolaños has plenty to prove in MLS. If the 21-year-old playmaker can settle in, he is expected to push LaBrocca for a spot in the midfield.
2. Can Chivas USA learn to finish games? Costly errors in possession cost the Rojiblancos points down the stretch. With the additions of Minda, Valencia and James Riley, Fraser hopes that his team will be able to turn some of those draws and losses into victories. If they can do that, they may make an impact in the playoff race.
What He Said
"We're ahead of where we were [this time] last year. We have more talent on our roster top to bottom than we did a year ago at this time. It's a relatively new group because so many players are in, and I just think this group will continue to jell rather quickly."
– Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser on the state of his squad ahead of his second season at the helm
If Everything Goes Right
Chivas USA have undergone a significant overhaul this offseason in the hopes of creating a squad that can maintain its focus throughout entire matches. If they can learn to close games consistently, they'll challenge for a playoff berth in a hyper-competitive Western Conference.
WATCH: Townsend adjusting to life as a pro