The other team in Los Angeles begins its ninth league campaign hoping to climb out of a long period in flux. After finishing last in the Western Conference in their inaugural season in 2005, Chivas reached the postseason four straight years. Since their last appearance in 2009, though, Chivas has yet to return while their fellow occupant at the Home Depot Center is coming off its second consecutive MLS Cup victory.
José Luis Sánchez Solá took over as the head coach after the team finished last in the Western Conference in 2012. A 7-18-9 campaign led to Robin Fraser’s ouster after two years and the installation of the Rojiblancos‘ eighth coach in nine seasons of existence. No team had more trouble scoring last season than Chivas; with only 24 goals in 34 games, they scored ten fewer than any other club. Nobody but Chivas averaged less than a goal a game in 2012, leaving Chelís with a tall task as the new manager in L.A.
Can the new manager make the right moves to return Chivas to a postseason position for the first time in four years? Can new acquisitions like midfielder Eric Avila, the six-year MLS veteran who started with Chivas USA’s academy but ultimately made his way to the senior club after stops in Dallas and Toronto, bolster an anemic attack enough to take the pressure off the defensive end of the pitch? Guadalajara’s sister club in the States has an uphill battle to return to prominence in the Western Conference, but there is hope for more than just the Galaxy in the City of Angels.
Chivas certainly had a strong preseason, going undefeated with a 6-0-2 record. The Goats played a wide variety of clubs, everyone from college teams to minor league teams to a pair against South Korean K-League side Gangwon FC. Most importantly, Chivas ended up drawing 1-1 against the Chicago Fire and defeating the Colorado Rapids 3-0 in Las Vegas to finish 1-0-1 against MLS competition in the preseason.
It all started on Jan. 26 with a 4-1 rout of UC Irvine in a pro/college scrimmage. Next came another 4-1 win on Jan. 30 over the Santa Clarita Storm, the well-traveled fourth-tier NPSL club. On Feb. 5 their first MLS test arrived, and Chivas passed when Juan Agudelo set up Bolivian sophomore Miller Bolaños for a goal to draw against the Fire.
A come-from-behind 7-3 win in their first Gangwon challenge preceded more victories, including their three-goal rout of the Rapids at Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas. Chivas concluded a strong preseason with a final win over the USL Pro’s L.A. Blues, though the strength of competition overall leaves question marks about their true strength.
ROSTER OUTLOOK FOR 2013
After keeping nine clean sheets in 32 starts in 2012, Dan Kennedy is the mainstay in the net for Chivas. The team’s starter for each of the past two seasons, Kennedy has emerged over his six seasons with the club to become one of the top five goalkeepers in MLS. He will have to remain healthy throughout the season to ensure that Chivas has a shot at returning to playoff contention. Behind him are Tim Melia and Patrick McLain — who between them have a combined two MLS appearances.
The defense sees the return of Bobby Burling, a starter for Chivas in 2008 who was in San Jose from 2009-2011. He joins a rotation which Chelís has largely been playing three at a time. In addition to Burling the Goats have Mario Di Luna from Chivas Guadalajara, 36-year-old Canadian defender Ante Jazic, and minor-league vet Carlos Borja. The real question is whether Di Luna or other Guadalajara defenders such as Walter Vilchez or Joaquin Velasquez will remain with the American sister club.
The midfield has seen the departure of players like Designated Player Shalrie Joseph via trade or release. The Rojiblancos have largely decided to depend on their fellow Chivas club for replenishment of their talent. Bolaños, on loan from Ecuadorean side CD Quito, headlines the influx of talent. Edgar Mejia, the Guadalajara midfielder, looks to step into that defensive mid role that Joseph’s departure left void, with Jorge Villafeña another possibility. Salvadorean Marvin Iraheta could become a key starter in his second season with the club, and Laurent Courtois will provide width for the club. Also in the midfield mix are Oswaldo Minda, Avila, Carlos Alvarez and 17-year-old Marco Delgado.
Up front, Chivas features U.S. men’s national team member Agudelo. Giovanni Casillas, a goal scorer in Mexico’s U-17 World Cup victory in 2011, comes to MLS from Guadalajara and will likely join Agudelo in the starting lineup. Jose Correa and Tristan Bowen offer opportunities for fresh legs off the bench, and Bolaños also offers the flexibility to move forward in attack.