José Luis “Chelís” Sánchez Solá came to Chivas USA promising entertainment and flair. José Luis “Guero” Real, Chelís’ replacement, has kept his promises small and, thus far, let the way he deploys his team make his statements for him.
So far, that’s meant one singular thing: defend. Entertainment and flair need not, for the time being, apply.
“Defense first, last and always” has been the mantra for Guero, and that remains a work in progress. Getting Carlos Bocanegra should be a bit more of said progress.
Chivas USA are currently second to last on goal differential with a humiliating minus-16 on the season, but are just minus-3 since Guero took charge. The three results with him on the bench have been a 3-1 loss to Vancouver, a 1-0 derby loss to the Galaxy, and a fairly surprising 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution this past weekend.
He’s scrapped the three-man backline that proved so delightfully exploitable under Chelís in favor of a more rugged (some would say dreary) 4-5-1, dropped his line deep and invited other teams to possess as much as they want, right up until about they get 40 yards from goal. At that point, Real’s squad tends to compress on the mid-flanks, try to force turnovers and then play vertical and quick on the counter.
Bocanegra probably won’t help much in that part of the game – he’s a solid, but not spectacular outlet passer, and he’s not at the stage in his career where he’s going on any 90-yard runs to finish off a counter or anything.
But while bunkering isn’t pretty, it does demand a high level of organization and an ability to get a line to step together. Bocanegra, whose bona fides speak for themselves, should be just what the doctor ordered in that regard.
Maybe even more important, though, is that he could allow Wálter Vílchez to push out to left back, which has been a serious problem spot this season (one of several). Vílchez isn’t a modern fullback – he’s not going to get all the way to the endline and whip in a cross Kofi Sarkodie-style – but he’s fairly good at defending in space and can push up just enough to facilitate the attack, if not necessarily take part in it.
So in theory, by being good defensively Bocanegra could help make the new Chivas USA slightly less defensive. All things considered, that has to feel like something of a win.