Alicia Ratterree, manager of the Chivas USA blog The Goat Parade, was kind enough to answer three questions in preparation of the Sporting KC-Chivas USA match coming up on Sunday. Definitely check out their site in order to see some great insight into Chivas USA and their take on it.
Without further ado, here we go.
1) Last year, Chivas scored 24 goals all season. Now, not even 1/4 of the way through the season and they have already reached half of that total. What's been the biggest factor in Chivas' better scoring this season?
Wow, where to start? There are probably two equally significant factors for the improved scoring so far this year: coaching and players. Chivas USA hired Jose Luis "El Chelís" Sanchez Sola to take over the coaching duties, and the roster has been completely overturned, with just 13 returning players from last season (and four of those players have a combined 15 minutes of playing time from last season). The result is that although the name of the team remains the same, nearly everything else has changed, from the personnel to the system deployed and formation used. More specifically, rather than employ a possession-based style as favored by former coach Robin Fraser, Chelís has no problem with conceding the majority of possession, and worrying about attacking in brief spurts. As a result, Chivas often look like they are playing on the back foot in matches, but more often than not, it is by design and it is leading to a fair number of results.
2) Dan Kennedy is leading the MLS in saves so far this season and gave Sporting a lot of grief last season. How important will he be to Chivas' success in this match?
He's always enormously important. As you noted, he continues to lead the league in saves, and there's a good bet that Sporting will score Sunday, since Kennedy has not had a clean sheet yet this season. While Chivas' defense has performed much better than I expected, they still leave Kennedy to do a lot of work. In particular, since Chelís typically uses a three-man defense (he modifies the formation and lineup from game to game, but three defenders are the default at this point) Kennedy is required to come off his line and deal with breakaways more than some goalkeepers. To be fair, however, he's been doing that since he became the starter in 2011 (even when there were four defenders on the back line) so he's accustomed to that pressure by now. I don't think any Chivas fans take him for granted, but a good night for the Goats will be if Kennedy has little work to do and isn't the biggest star for the team. Still, it is great to have DK in goal, and I would truly take him over any other 'keeper in the league (that's right, I said it).
3) What's been the biggest change in how new manager Jose Luis Sanchez Sola has handled the squad as opposed to last year?
It is radically different. I could write a book on the differences between Chelís and Fraser (seriously, if it isn't me, somebody should write a book about this). Chelís is probably the most charismatic coach in the league. He is certainly the best quote right now. But behind the sometimes-wacky stuff he says, he is truly a good coach. His formation may be unorthodox by MLS standards, but he is an outstanding motivator, his players love him, he is excellent at making substitutions and adjustments to the game plan during the match, all things that weren't necessarily on display with Fraser. Beyond that, with Chelís in charge, Chivas USA fans feel like getting results are possible again. Following the past few years, just having that belief is a massive change for everybody associated with the team.