The New England Revolution are taking on Chivas USA in Foxboro tonight in their first home match since they took a 3-0 shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia Union back on July 17th. The Revs just wrapped up a surprisingly successful road trip, taking 5 out of a possible 9 points and picking up their first away win of the season over DC United. More importantly, perhaps, New England just signed their first-ever designated player, forward Milton Caraglio, and there's a good chance he will feature at some point. Chivas sit at 6th place in the Western Conference after last week's 1-0 loss to FC Dallas, but the perennial MLS basement-dwellers have looked very dangerous in some spots this year and already trounced the Revs 3-0 back in California.
Chivas' strength is in their organization and their dedication to coach Robin Fraser's system. They lack true superstar options in most places on the pitch - although Nick LaBrocca is an all-star and Heath Pearce a USA international - but their best performances this season have come when they cut mistakes out of the game and played exactly the way Fraser has trained them to do. Apart from that, forward Justin Braun is always a major physical threat up top with his size and finishing ability.
Kheli Dube remains out as he struggles with whiplash, while Franco Coria joins him in that category thanks to an MCL sprain. Alan Koger and Rajko Lekic are doubtful, the latter with a toe fracture. Stephen McCarthy and Pat Phelan are listed as questionable, the former still recovering from a dislocated left shoulder and the latter with a hip flexor strain.
TBM: Chivas had a slightly rough start to Robin Fraser's tenure at the helm, but despite sitting at 6th in the Western Conference they've also produced some very encouraging displays and surprised more than a few people. What's been the secret to the team's good performances, and what do they have to do to make those happen more consistently?
TGP: I think Fraser has the attention of the squad, and there seems to be a real team ethic in most games they've played this season. Considering the squad is made up of role players for the most part, guys have been willing to buy into Fraser's system and take advantage of the playing time they might not otherwise see on a more successful team. I also think Fraser has demonstrated a capacity to implement a tactical plan well, but also make adjustments from game to game and occasionally within a game. It is too soon to tell if Fraser will be a good coach, but the signs are promising.
In order for the team to play well on a consistent basis, I think the team needs to make some upgrades. The team has made some moves, and French midfielder Laurent Courtois is expected to make his debut Saturday, and I think the preliminary expectation is that he will provide service on the attacking end, something Chivas desperately need. It will probably be too soon to see him this weekend, but Chivas are also bringing in a center back, David Junior Lopes, who is expected to provide some size and skill to the backline. And Fraser indicated this week that the team is looking for a striker, which has to be the number one weakness on the squad this season, so if these signings pan out, Chivas will have a more talented and competitive team from week to week.
TBM: Nick LaBrocca has experienced a total career renaissance with the Goats this season. A serviceable MLS defensive midfielder with Colorado and Toronto in previous seasons, he's relished the advanced role Fraser gave him this year and returned the favor with six goals, which is more than he scored in his entire career before this year. How do you explain this completely unexpected turnaround? Is it a fluke, or do you think this is the Nick LaBrocca we'll continue to see for seasons to come?
TGP: The main reason LaBrocca has emerged this season is because there was a vacuum on the team in attack, and he stepped up and has delivered. With a new coach and a lack of options in attack, especially in the first month of the season when injuries decimated the squad, LaBrocca was able to work his way up and has slowly worked his way into becoming the team MVP at this point. Believe me, Chivas fans did not expect this emergence either, but we appreciate it. I don't think it is a fluke either, as he has been contributing steadily all season, not in scoring hat tricks and then disappearing for weeks. As for the future, I think as long as there is no true attacking midfielder able to pull the strings and score consistently for Chivas, LaBrocca's role looks secure, and if a player is brought in, his experience as a defensive midfielder gives him the versatility to make an impact in a variety of positions.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revs fans should watch out for in this match.
TGP: I think Blair Gavin is a player who may have an impact on Saturday. He missed most of the season with a hamstring injury, but recently returned and is rounding into form. A midfielder with attacking creativity, Gavin gives the team a spark that is often missing from the team. His ability coupled with the team's work rate means he may be able to provide the assist or even link-up pass to get a scoring chance for Chivas. Since the attention on the offensive end will be on LaBrocca and on Courtois as a new player, Gavin may slip under the radar and surprise the Revs on Saturday.
TBM: Who do you think Chivas USA fears most on the pitch for New England?
TGP: The easy answer is that Chivas will probably make an extra effort to stop Benny Feilhaber since they declined to pick him up earlier this season, and will not want him to show what they are missing. But I think more realistically Chivas know Shalrie Joseph has the quality to really make opponents pay for mistakes and will seek to neutralize him as much as possible.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
TGP: My best guess for Chivas starting XI would be:
GK: Dan Kennedy; DEF: Zarek Valentin, Michael Umana, Heath Pearce, Ante Jazic
MF: Michael Lahoud (DM), Jorge Flores, Simon Elliott, Nick LaBrocca, Blair Gavin
FW: Justin Braun
Score: Chivas win 1-0