CARSON, Calif. – Fabián Espíndola may be nearing his “Messi” moment as he looks to become the leading goal scorer in Real Salt Lake history, but a motivated Chivas USA side are looking to make sure that it does not come on their watch.
After being shut out at home twice by the score of 1-0 to start the season, Chivas make their first road trip of the year on Saturday when they head to Rio Tinto stadium to face a high-flying RSL side (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online). Led by Espíndola – who has two goals this season – Salt Lake’s offense has overwhelmed both the LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls en route to a pair of impressive victories.
Between the Lines: RSL's left channel
Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser is quite familiar with Espíndola’s attacking wiles, having served as RSL’s top assistant during the Argentine’s first two years in Utah.
“He’s been very dangerous,” Fraser told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “He’s got great pace and runs in behind and is a good shooter of the ball. And he’s a playing with a ton of confidence as well, so he’s obviously a player that we need to pay attention to.”
While stopping Espíndola and the high-powered RSL attack may seem like a tall order, the Rojiblancos defense has impressed despite two defeats, limiting their opponents to goals off set-piece opportunities.
Containing Espíndola will be the duty of the whole backline, but much of the onus will fall on veteran right back James Riley, who has been instrumental in containing attackers like the Houston Dynamo’s Colin Clark and the Vancouver Whitecaps’ Sébastien Le Toux.
Riley has had numerous tangles with Espíndola in the past, having faced RSL a number of times while serving as a member of the Seattle Sounders. Nonetheless, the cerebral defender is making sure that he does his homework on his opponents.
“Their diamond [midfield] is very good and their two forwards are very active,” Riley told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “They’re all very good with the ball and it allows their outside backs to get into the attack. Obviously, you have Espíndola, who has been their X factor on the left side so definitely, I’ll be watching a lot of video on him. I have tremendous amount of respect for him as a player, but we’re not going to fear anyone. We’re going to go in and definitely look [to get] a result and look to play.”
Although RSL are considered heavy favorites against a winless Chivas side, Riley believes that with a little hard work, the Rojiblancos can earn their first victory of the season.
“It’s an absolute challenge, it’s critical that us as a unit, we just go in and fight and battle to keep ourselves in games and I think that we’ve done that the last two games against two very good opponents,” said Riley. “A tremendous amount of respect for Salt Lake, but we don’t fear them at all.”
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org