This week we had a chance to swap three questions with the one and only Alicia Ratterree who covers Chivas USA over at The Goat Parade ahead of the match on Saturday night against the New York Red Bulls. A lot has changed since the two teams first met back on May 15 (a night New York supporters would like to forget) so take some time to get caught up with Chivas and find out below if Justin Braun will score his second career hat trick against New York. We also discuss the newest addition to the Red Bulls, the madness of Hans Backe, and Rafa Marquez after the jump.
1) Once a Metro: Justin Braun torched the Red Bulls for three goals in just seventy minutes back on May 15, which shocked a lot of fans since New York had only allowed two goals total in the first eight games of the season. How has his play been since? Can he light up the Red Bulls again despite scoring just one other goal since his hat trick?
Goat Parade: Braun has been having a very up and down season, and unquestionably the hat trick against the Red Bulls was his high point. As you mentioned, he has only scored one goal since that game, so his lack of production is rather worrisome. But despite sounding like a complete cliché, Braun's work rate cannot be questioned this season. Coach Robin Fraser started him off the season on the right wing before realizing Braun's size was being wasted out wide. Despite that failed experiment, and despite the lack of goals, Braun puts in a good shift every game, and I expect his energy level to be high come Saturday. Ultimately, his true role is probably as a support striker to a true goal scorer, and if he had a dynamic game breaker next to him he would undoubtedly benefit. Unfortunately, his normal partner up top, Alejandro Moreno, is basically a support striker himself, so needless to say the goals are hard to come by from Chivas' forwards. I wouldn't necessarily put my money on him to score against New York, but maybe he will have a knack against the Red Bulls this season? I suppose we will find out.
2) Once a Metro: Chivas is right behind some of the league's best in fifth place for goals scored and they haven't conceded many either (relatively). Why are the Goats not higher up in the standings and getting better results?
(Goat Parade's answer and more after the jump).
Goat Parade: The biggest reason Chivas are scoring goals, have a positive goal difference and are still back in the pack is that they rarely win or lose by more than 1 goal. Their games are usually either very low scoring affairs, like 0-0 or 1-0, or they are goal fests, like the 3-2 score in the last meeting against New York. To me, the good news about that is that it demonstrates Chivas are capable of playing in different kinds of matches, and play to the level of their opponents, which of course is good when playing superior opponents (not so much against inferior teams). Although at this point in the season they firmly look like a mid-table side, they were not expected to be even this competitive in the preseason, so they have improved considerably already. The flipside is that expectations around the team have grown to the point that fans really believe Chivas can make the playoffs this season. It will probably be really close, but if they continue playing reasonably well and miss out on the playoffs, it will come as a real disappointment.
3) Once a Metro: With the official opening of MLS' transfer window, what moves do you think Chivas might make? What areas does the team most need to address to make the playoffs after missing out last season?
Goat Parade: The absolute number one priority for the Goats is to find a quality goal scorer. I think Chivas' midfield is actually pretty solid, and the preference would be to get a dynamic forward, but a midfielder who scores would also be fine. Of course, every team wants players who score goals, but I think Chivas are desperately missing a player who can break a game open, can take over a game, and can finish in the box. As I mentioned in relation to Justin Braun, the pure forwards on the team are of the support variety, and this team needs somebody who can score and preoccupy defenses in order to create chances for Braun and Moreno. Basically, a Thierry Henry-style guy would be nice. Know where Chivas could get one like that?
And now onto Goat Parade's three questions for Once a Metro.
1) Goat Parade: New York Red Bulls made a big move this week in acquiring German goalkeeper Frank Rost. Do you expect him to play on Saturday against Chivas USA? How prepared will he be in getting an immediate start? And do you believe he is an upgrade over the platoon of Bouna Coundoul and Greg Sutton and the answer to New York's defensive woes?
Once a Metro: Rost has completed all of his necessary paperwork and visa mumbo jumbo, and despite not having much time to practice with or even meet his new teammates, he will be thrown right into the fray and get the start against Chivas. He is an absolute upgrade over both Bouna Coundoul and Greg Sutton and is the type of keeper that help put the Red Bulls through to the MLS Cup. Despite his reputation for being one of the better shot stoppers in the Bundesliga, the most important upgrade will be Rost helping to keep the defense organized, particularly on set pieces which have cost the Red Bulls too many goals and games this season. It might take a couple of weeks for everyone to get on the same page but if he is their man between the sticks moving forward, New York may as well get him in there as soon as possible.
The higher ups at the Red Bulls think so highly of Rost that they are publicly keeping open the option of extending his status as the team's third designated player into next season, but it's difficult to tell whether that's just talk or a serious possibility. If he has a stellar season and the team doesn't have other targets to bring in I wouldn't think it is completely out of the question.
2) Goat Parade: Given the expectations for the Red Bulls coming into the season, despite the talent on the team, one could say it would not be easy to win New York's first trophy in their history this season. In light of his substitution patterns and unwillingness to send any top players or himself to the U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal match against the Chicago Fire this week, there are some questions of whether Coach Hans Backe is the man to bring that first trophy to the club. How do you feel Backe has done in his tenure with the Red Bulls? Is he a mad genius or just mad?
Once a Metro: There are a lot of supporters who were deeply offended by the Red Bulls disdain, particularly this season, for the U.S. Open Cup, but also some who stand firmly behind Backe and the team's decision to not use their best available starting eleven for the quarterfinal loss against Chicago. I happen to fall into the former of the two, particularly since the semifinal would have been a home match against a lower division team. The Red Bulls aren't the only team in Major League Soccer that don't field their best players for the Open Cup, and despite having one of if not the best starting lineups in MLS the Open Cup really exposed the lack of quality depth on the squad and gave some rationale behind Backe's madness with substitutions.
When the team is completely healthy and free of suspensions due to yellow card accumulation, Backe only has three or four players that can come off the bench and really hold their own: Juan Agudelo, Carlos Mendes, Austin da Luz, and sometimes Mehdi Ballouchy. Of course, the injury bug has hit New York hard as of late, with both Rafa Marquez and Luke Rodgers out for extended periods, and a number of other starters dealing with minor knocks.
Backe's approach is that bench and reserve players need to earn their time on the field, and he does not deviate from that. Sometimes I think he would rather play down a player than substitute in someone who had a bad week in training. Even when the Red Bulls were destroying Toronto FC 3-0 in the 52nd minute (en route to a 5-0 thrashing) last week, Backe only made two out his three substitutions. I think that is what can be so frustrating to fans though, that the manager is claiming he can't spare players for the U.S. Open Cup and a chance at a trophy, but he runs his starting eleven into the ground by the end of the season because he refuses, even in out-of-hand matches, to give anyone a rest. It's also a bit strange to me that the club ownership isn't more interested in making the CONCACAF Champions League, by any means necessary.
At this point, I'm not sure if Backe is a mad genius or just mad stubborn. If the team can put together a run for the Supporters' Shield and at least make the MLS Cup Final, a lot will be forgiven and forgotten and the quarterfinal loss to Chicago will be a small blip on an otherwise successful year.
3) Goat Parade: Undoubtedly some Chivas USA fans have closely followed the career of defender Rafael Marquez. Now that he is with the Red Bulls, we get to see him every week (when healthy). How do you think he has been so far in his NYRB career? Has he provided what you expect from a designated player?
Once a Metro: Rafa really started to excel with the club early this season as he really took ownership of the centerback position next to Tim Ream. Last season when he joined the club midway through he battled nagging injuries, post-World Cup fatigue, and didn't really fit as the Center Defensive Midfielder in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Besides providing excellent coverage defensively, Rafa's distribution and ability to play long pinpoint passes over the top to speedsters Luke Rodgers and particularly Dane Richards is sorely missed when he isn't on the field, and because of the Gold Cup and an injury he picked up in the final against the United States that's been a lot recently.
While it isn't his fault, the arrival of the Mexican National Team captain hasn't turned out as many Rafa and El Tri supporters to Red Bull Arena as New York may have expected, but he is selling a lot of jerseys as he is second only to teammate Thierry Henry in that category for the entire league.
It will be interesting when he returns from injury to see if Marquez resumes his set piece assignments, particularly corner kicks, which he struggled with earlier in the season. Hopefully, he will be back for a mid-week game against Colorado next Wednesday, which is too bad for Chivas that their fans won't get to see him play but fortunate for them because he has quickly solidified his standing as one of the Red Bulls' best players.