With all of the offseason movement for Chivas USA it was evident to most Chivas fans that it might take a few games for the goats to start putting it all together this season. But with just six games underway it looks like Chivas USA is starting to put things together a lot earlier then most would have anticipated.
Chivas USA faced a big hole this offseason in their defensive midfield when Jesse Marsch retired and when Paulo Nagamura left to play in the Mexican League, but that hole seems to have been plugged by rookies Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski.
Last week against San Jose, Chivas USA head coach Martin Vasquez added Ben Zemanski (47th pick overall in this year's draft) to the starting lineup to combine him with his former teamate and first-round draft choice (10th overall) Blair Gavin. Adding Zemanski to the starting lineup in the midfield has paid huge dividends for Chivas USA defensively.
Zemanski and Gavin are essentially playing like a pair of midfielders that have been playing together for years, exhibiting great chemistry and an uncanny knack for knowing where the other is going to be and, as Chivas USA fans found out, that's because the pair played side by side for three years while at Akron College.
Real soccer fans know that most games are won and lost at the midfield but unfortunately defensive midfielders don't receive much praise or acknowledgment considering the value they bring to their teams. Chivas USA head coach Martin Vasquez drafted Gavin and Zemanski to fill the hole left by Nagamura and Marsch. And while the team started out a bit slow out of the gate with Gavin and Zemanski now starting in the midfield, the team is right back where it left off last season—in playoff contention.
Another area that has plagued Chivas USA for years is their lack of a shut down defense and that seems to have been addressed by the additions of Costa Ricans Dario Delgado and Michael Umana. Umana and Delgado are both above average stay-at-home defenders and playing them at the center back positions has also allowed Chivas USA to move Jonathan Bornstein to one of the bookend defender positions. In turn that has allowed Bornstein to assist in the transition of the ball upfield and that has helped out the offensive attack for Chivas USA.
Moving Bornstein away from one of the center back positions also puts him in a position that is better suited for him where he can better utilize his ball dribbling skills and agility.
MLS is a physical soccer league and with Bornstein standing only at 5'9", weighing in at 145 lbs., he was at a clear disadvantage against some of the bigger, stronger forwards in the league but out on the end he can rely on his speed and quickness which is what makes Bornstein an Olympic-quality soccer defender.
Chivas USA has also figured some things out on the offensive end and it all begins with Sacha Kljestan, the team's most talented player. Ever since head coach Martin Vasquez moved Kljestan from forward back to midfield, Kljestan has flourished and Chivas USA has started to score some goals.
To put it simply Kljestan is at his best when he is playing midfield and he has the option of passing or taking a shot at the goal. Kljestan is a play maker and he's already making some of the Chivas USA forwards look better then they actually are and if Chivas ever puts a real striker ahead of Kljestan the results could be devastating.
Kljestan is young, he's only 24, and at this stage of his game he reminds me a lot of a young Landon Donovan of the Los Angeles Galaxy. He has to play a withdrawn forward position or he has to attack from the midfield to be most effective. The opposition has a lot more to worry about when they have to worry about Kljestan taking a shot at the goal or making a pass to one of his teammates.
At this stage of his game I would say Kljestan is a better facilitator then he is a finisher. Matter of fact I don't think he's much of a finisher right now, period. But if he's running with the ball and he's got a striker running on his wing, he's definitely one of the best in MLS, if not one of the best in the world.
And finally Justin Braun was made to play forward in the MLS and head coach Martin Vasquez is starting to figure that out. And so is Kljestan for that matter...and, you heard it here first, look out for the Kljestan-to-Braun connection because I see this pair connecting more and more as the season continues.
Frankly Braun is not much of a dribbler but the kid is learning how to finish in MLS. Braun is made to play forward in MLS because he's big and strong. Braun is listed at 6'3" and 195 lbs. To put that in perspective last year Chivas USA played Jonathan Bornstein at center back and he's listed at 5'9" and 145 lbs. and he's considered to be one of the best defenders in MLS. Can you see how Braun can create some mismatches in front of the goal?
Braun is learning how to use his body in front of the goal and he's learning how to play within the confines of MLS. Now that his teammates and the offense are getting him the ball in front of the goal rather then forcing him to create his own shot out in space, the kid is starting to find the back of the net and that could spell trouble for the rest of MLS, particularly now that you have Kljestan orchestrating the offensive attack.
Chivas USA has a golden opportunity laid out in front of it and I'm not sure they even recognize it.
The Los Angeles Galaxy have their marquee player out for the season and while Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle are playing well the Los Angeles soccer community thirsts and yearns for a world class and big-time name a la David Beckham.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. All Chivas USA needs to do to become one of the best teams in MLS is acquire a world-class striker and preferably not one past his prime. Now that the team has overcome the offseason losses of some key players and improved it's defense, which was always suspect, it's time for Chivas USA to address the biggest deficiency that has kept this team from advancing in the playoffs the past few seasons...the lack of a big-time scorer.
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