Monday, April 1, 2013

Chivas USA vs. Vancouver Whitecaps - 3/30/2013

If you had to follow just one story this off-season and through March, it should have been the transformation at Chivas USA. They shipped out almost everyone and brought in an entire new cast of characters, the largest being El Chelis. He promised open, attacking soccer and has delivered thus far.

Chivas midfielders join the attack
Chivas plays a 3-1-4-2 with lots of moving parts. The band of four are all box-to-box and the Chivas USA midfield attack is based on them breaking forward to join the attack. Before Agudelo's injury substitution, he would drop to receive the ball from the defensive third and lay it off to an oncoming midfielder. Chivas would quickly end up with six in the attack with several overlapping runs and enough lateral movement to pull Vancouver's midfielders out of position to open space for a teammate. The off-ball movement and understanding between the Rojiblancos is very good for a team that has been together for such a short time.

Chivas midfielders join the defense
During the first half, Vancouver didn't make much out of their attack, so Chivas' defensive structure wasn't tested as much as it could have been. On the few times Vancouver attempted to build possession, the Chivas midfielders would drop into the defensive line and create five in the back. Minda dropped into a third center-back role while the far-side midfielder would drop into the back-line as an outside back.  The original outside defender would push wide and provide cover for the ball-side midfielder to provide pressure on the ball. 

When Vancouver countered quickly, the gaps in Chivas' defense showed. Unfortunately for Vancouver, their first touch and passing selection let them down and squandered any chances they should have created. The rate of Vancouver turnovers helped keep their midfielders pinned deep and stranded the attacking three to try to penetrate against Chivas' defending four plus the four box-to-box midfielders transitioning into defense. Chivas players also weren't afraid to take tactical fouls high up the field to disrupt several potential Vancouver attacks.

On the rare occasions that Vancouver held possession, Chivas would shift their entire team to the side the ball was on. All 11 goats were on one side of the field but the Whitecaps weren't able to quickly switch the field because Chivas players were immediately pressuring the ball. Again, Vancouver did themselves no favors with their poor first touch and lack of passing precision.

Vancouver makes second-half changes
What Vancouver was doing in the first half clearly wasn't working. Martin Rennie had the guts to make two early second-half substitutions and change the tactics his side employed.  Kenny Miller and Eric Hurtado came on for Camilo and Koffie while Kabayashi switched into a central role. This gave Vancouver four attacking players, plus Reo-Coker started getting into the attack quicker. The simple numbers game was now even with Chivas' defensive unit and they started to find each other in seams and create problems for Chivas on the break. Just seven minutes after Rennie made his changes, Vancouver scores a brilliant team goal: Miller nets a rebound after Hurtado's initial shot is parried by Kennedy. This type of counter-attack was open against Chivas all night, but this was one of the few times that Vancouver could successfully move the ball and hit their teammates in stride.

The introduction of additional speed in Hurtado and some simple movement by Kobayashi and Reo-Coker between the lines made the second half much closer than the first.

Final score: Chivas 2 - Vancouver 1
Although the statsheet says Vancouver had the better of  this game - winning possession and dominated shots taken - the scoreline reflected the actual course of the game. Chivas' chances were simply better than Vancouver's and they did it with a much more attractive style of soccer.

I was definitely wary of the Chivas transformation - and I'm not entirely sold on it yet - but I think they might be the most entertaining team to watch on the field. It's widely accepted that Chelis is the most entertaining in the press. If it weren't for another lackluster attendance, I'd almost be ready to call the transformation a success. However, until those attendance numbers strengthen or they're a clear playoff team, I will withhold a definite answer and stick with a cautiously-optimistic outlook.