MLS 2010 Team Preview: Chivas USA

With a new manager at the helm, Chivas USA looks to overcome their playoff woes and overtake their cross-city rivals.
Chivas USA enter the 2010 season with a new manager, new players and a new outlook. Former head coach Preki's departure was due in large part to the fourth consecutive first-round exit from the MLS playoffs. His replacement, Martin Vasquez, hopes to turn around one of the most talented clubs in the league and forge a new identity for the Goats.
Last Season: 2009 was a season of disappointment for Chivas. After a torrid start going 7-3-1, Chivas USA went on to lose eight of their next 11 games before finishing fourth in the Western Conference and sixth overall.  Though Chivas appeared to be peaking at the right time, it was not enough to overcome a bitter elimination at the hands of their cross-town rivals.

While they appeared to make strides in recovering from an injury riddled 2008, their defensive mindset seemed to stifle the club’s young, exciting players.  Jesus Padilla and Maykel Galindo seemed all season to be on the verge of a breakout that never materialized. Chivas most celebrated player, Sacha Kljestan, could not live up to the expectations and lost his spot on the U.S. national team..

Dearly Departed:

Manager Preki moved on to Toronto FC following a fourth consecutive exit from the playoffs. While finishing fourth in a stacked Western Conference is no small feat, his departure is a signal of a front office looking to change directions in the upcoming season.

In 2010, Chivas USA will have to cope with the losses of several key midfielders, leaving the opportunity for young prospects to make the most of a golden opportunity.

The midfield saw the most departures. Paulo Nagamura and Jesse Marsch, for so long the defensive platform on which the rest of the team was built, both left in the offseason. Nagamura joined Tigres UANL in Mexico while MLS original Marsch retired to take an assistant coaching gig with the United States. Fellow midfield veteran Sasha Victorine also retired.

The back line lost some personnel as well. The Philadelphia Union selected Jamaican international central defender Shavar Thomas in the MLS Expansion Draft and the club released Carey Talley.

Last year's leading scorer for the club, Eduardo Lillingston, joined Mexican second division side Tijuana on loan.
New Faces:

At the helm, the Martin Vasquez signing gives the club's image a different complexion. Vasquez has previous coaching as an assistant in both the MLS and the Bunsdesliga with Jurgen Klinsmann. In addition to high level coaching and playing experience, Vasquez understands the complexities of Major League Soccer and operating under the constraints of a salary cap, a factor that has negatively affected the careers of several high profile coaches that have tried to manage in MLS.

While there is still no sighting of Omar Bravo, Gerardo Torrado or any other high profile Mexican national team player at the Home Depot Center, Chivas USA took some significant steps to shore up some of their departing veterans.

The signing of Osael Romero is significant to Chivas USA on several levels. Professionally, he is a well-regarded El Salvadorian international who has not yet entered the prime of his career. Coming to the United States from Vista Hermosa in El Salvador as a loanee, he is a threat from the midfield who looks to combine with Sacha Kljestan, Maicon Santos, and Blair Gavin, the 10th choice in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.

Another relatively new face trying to improve on last year's brief performance is Jesus Padilla, a Chivas de Guadalajara loanee who scored one goal in 11 appearances. After an offseason training under the tutelage of Martin Vasquez, Padilla will look to regain the form that impressed in Mexico.

Michael Umaña, a Costa Rican international with 40 caps will try to be a stabilizing force for the Goats. Though talented, Umaña has already played for six other clubs in the last 10 years, including city rivals the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Projected Starters:

Zach Thornton (GK) – The 2009 Goalkeeper of the Year is enjoying a solid swansong.

Jonathan Bornstein (D) – After a much improved season in defense, Bornstein looks to continue to make strides at both the club and international level.

Yamith Cuesta (D) – The Colombian will try to continue the excellent form that he displayed last season after coming on loan from Expresso Rojo. 

Michael Umaña (D) – The well-traveled Costa Rican will anchor the defense.

Mariano Trujillo (D) – Hopes to continue the good form that he displayed last year.

Osael Ramirez (M) – Promising midfielder will balance the attack opposite Kljestan. Should bring out the best in the Chivas attack and will also be a draw at the box office.  

Marcelo Saragosa (M) - A ruthless performer in the middle of the park, the Brazilian will add steel and bite.

Michael Lahoud (M) – Young, promising midfielder will have the opportunity carve out a position in the starting lineup. Showed glimpses last year that he is ready.

Sacha Kljestan (M) – The mercurial talent will be charged with running the offense. He enters this year as one of the league's elite players.

Jesus Padilla (F) – Has impressed this offseason after managing only one goal last year. Should flourish under a more attacking system.

Maykel Galindo (F) – Could be a breakthrough season for the speedy Cuban if he stays healthy. Needs to be more efficient in front of goal.
Best of the Rest:

Keepers: Dan Kennedy, Jon Conway  
Defenders: Claudio Suarez, Ante Jazic  
Midfielders: Jorge Flores, Gerson Mayen, Blair Gavin
Forwards: Ante Razov, Justin Braun, Maicon Santos, Chukwudi Chijindu

Season Storylines: There will be three big stories woven through Chivas' season:
1. The Playoff Problem - After four consecutive first-round playoff exits, Chivas USA is desperate to progress farther than that. Martin Vasquez will be charged with organizing a talented team with many new faces into one that can compete with some of the league’s best teams. Vasquez’s main hurdles will be a lack of depth on a back line that was very reliable in 2009.
2. New Faces - Along with a new coach, the front office has revamped the roster with fresh young players. The issue will be how the team will react to losing their veteran leaders to retirement. Though Claudio Suarez is still on the books, it remains to be seen whether he will remain healthy enough to see the pitch in any meaningful capacity this year. The young Goats will have to prove to Martin Vasquez that they can defend as well as they attack.
3. A Tale of Two Kljestans - By January 2009, Kljestan had one foot on the European continent. His superb play at both the club and international level had fans believing that he was the next American midfielder to ply his trade in Europe. The pressure or the distraction proved too much, and Kljestan's form suffered considerably. In 2010, look for Kljestan to relish a more offensive philosophy under Vasquez. Osael Ramirez's arrival will also make for a more balanced Chivas attack than what has been the case in the past. The result should be a rejuvenated and more dangerous Kljestan.

Predicted Placement: Expect Chivas to challenge in the weakened Western Conference this year. Los Angeles will be without David Beckham, Houston will be minus Rico Clark and Stuart Holden and Real Salt Lake will have to cope with the burden of the title. Once in the playoffs, it's anyone's guess.

Did You Know? Manager Martin Vasquez played for both the U.S. and the Mexican national teams.

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