By ADAM SERRANO
There's a new regime in town for Chivas USA and it brings a completely different style of play. After three straight first round playoff exits and an inability to score goals, former Chivas USA head coach Preki was removed from his duties for former Chivas USA assistant Martin Vasquez.
Under Vasquez, Los Rojiblancos have changed from a side that emphasizes defense first to a club that will strive for a positive approach. In order to create this, Vasquez has brought in players with superior ball skills who will be able to make the club more dynamic in the attacking third. In Vasquez's new scheme each players from the defense to those up front will be able to contribute creative flow of the game. Enter Salvadoran attacking midfielder Osael Romero to partner with Sacha Kljestan and bring the attacking flair that the fans of Chivas USA have been clamoring for since the club's inception.
To go with the club's new creative attacking mindset, Chivas USA brings back a solid defensive core led by 2009 Goalkeeper of the Year Zach Thornton and US International defender Jonathan Bornstein. Bornstein is likely to start the season at center back where he saw time during the past season, but will likely move back to left back once Columbian Yamith Cuesta proves his meddle to Vasquez. Thornton enjoyed a career year in 2009 and will be key to keeping Chivas in games as the club adjusts to Vasquez's new philosophy.
Here's a look at Chivas USA:
2010 Chivas USA
Players to Watch– Sacha Kljestan, Jesús Padilla, Justin Braun, Maykel Galindo
Key Arrivals– Michael Umaña, Osael Romero, Blair Gavin
Key Departures– Carey Talley, Jesse Marsch, Shavar Thomas, Paulo Nagamura, Sacha Victorine, Eduardo Lillingston, Jon Conway
Projected Lineup (New starters in bold)
—-Osael Romero———–Maykel Galindo————Jesus Padilla————
————-Michael Lahoud———————Marcelo Saragosa—————-
Ante Jazic—–Jonathan Bornstein——Michael Umaña—–Mariano Trujillo
Biggest Question- Will there be growing pains for Martin Vasquez?
As Chivas undergoes its transformation to attacking side, the question remains how will the defensive side fare now that the team has had such a dramatic change in philosophy. In 2009, Chivas struggled to create goals, but the club's solid defensive core allowed the Rojiblancos to earn a playoff berth. With a number of veterans like Talley and Marsch gone from the line up, it will be up to Bornstein and Kljestan to become the leaders and preach Vasquez's new offense.
Throughout preseason, Vasquez has brought in a more relaxed atmosphere to the training ground than his predecessor, emphasizing free kicks while also integrating younger players into the squad. Despite the new mentality, Chivas USA struggled to score against MLS competition during the preseason.
X-Factor- Sacha Kljestan: 2010 is sure to be the dynamic midfielder's most important year yet. Upon returning from national team duty, Kljestan demanded a leadership role in Vasquez's rejuvenated attacking side and was awarded the captain's armband. The midfielder will need to handle the pressure of running the new offense while also becoming the leader that the club needs. A good start of the season for the talismanic midfielder will not only help push Chivas USA to the top of the standings, but may also earn him a spot on the United States World Cup squad
If Kljestan fails to be the Sacha of 2008, Vasquez will need a big season from another Chivas USA question mark, enigmatic winger Jesús Padilla. Padilla, on loan from mother club Chivas de Guadalajara, struggled in 2009 at a number of different positions for Preki. However, Padilla looks to play a role in Vasquez's new 4-3-3 formation, the very same formation that Padilla enjoyed success with while in Guadalajara.
Outlook- As in 2009, Chivas USA will need to generate offense if the club is going to ascend to the top of the Western Conference. With a number of new faces and a new coach, the club will need to gel if they are going to be competitive in the West. For Chivas to return to the playoffs the squad will need to balance their stingy defense with a new dynamic offense.
Central to the club's success will be the club's ability to put goals on the board to compliment Chivas' defense. With the additions of Romero as well as the continued maturation of Chivas younger attackers, offensive fireworks may become common at Home Depot Center.