CARSON, CA - APRIL 30: Alejandro Moreno #15 and Nick LaBrocca #10 of Chivas USA celebrate after Moreno's goal against the New England Revolution at The Home Depot Center on April 30, 2011 in Carson, California. Chivas USA won 3-0. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Nearly half of Chivas USA's players were let go during the offseason, raising hopes of a turnaround in 2012.
2011 Record (Finish): 8-14-12 (8th place in Western Conference)
Bold Prediction: Chivas will make the playoffs
Biggest Fear: Chivas will fare worse in 2012 than 2011
For a team whose very existence is questioned on a daily basis by opposing fans and observers, it can be difficult to face losing on a consistent basis. But while Chivas USA have had a reputation of being perpetual bottom-dwellers, a look at the club's short history indicates a kind of selective memory among the boo-birds. They have made the playoffs four of the seven years they have played in MLS (2006-09), but they haven't made it into the postseason the past two years. The big question is if they can make a significant step in their development and get back into the playoffs in 2012.
Coach Robin Fraser is in his second year in charge of Chivas, and he has had a full offseason to prepare for the 2012 campaign. He has made major changes to the roster, cutting loose about half of the players in 2011 and bringing in a slew of new players. While the departures of Justin Braun and Zarek Valentin (both to the Montreal Impact) were unexpected, fans realized both players, while talented and fan favorites, had limitations, and it remains to be seen if losing them will harm the team in 2012 and beyond. Meanwhile, the Goats have brought in MLS veterans James Riley to help shore up the defense and Ryan Smith to provide a dynamism on the attack that was completely lacking in 2011, and both players will be expected to make significant contributions. Furthermore, Fraser signed three South Americans that will likely feature prominently in the 2012 Chivas lineup: Oswaldo Minda is a box-to-box midfielder and Ecuadorean international, while compatriot Miller Bolanos is a young midfielder/forward who could prove to be a breakout star if he settles in the league. Colombian John Valencia is a big center back whose spot in the starting lineup is already assured heading into first kick.
The biggest question heading into the season is if Chivas' defense will improve. Although their offense also went through some dry spells during the 2011 season, it was defensive frailties that ultimately doomed their playoff aspirations. In fact, it could be argued that the team would have faired far worse if goalkeeper Dan Kennedy hadn't had such an outstanding season, as he often bailed out his defenders by making spectacular saves to keep the club in matches. But with veterans Ante Jazic and Heath Pearce returning to the team, and with the additions of Valencia and Riley, there are expectations that the defense will be able to prevent breakdowns, and will be able to keep their concentration for a full 90 minutes every match.
Although the Western Conference is stacked and looks to be getting better for 2012, the goal for Chivas is to make the playoffs. While they play under the radar and stars like Kennedy fail to get the attention they deserve leaguewide, there is a good chance this group could gel and end up making a season-long push to get into the playoffs in 2012. However, with so many new players in the squad and with the reliance upon aging forwards like Juan Pablo Angel and Alejandro Moreno and young forwards like Casey Townsend and Cesar Romero, there is also a decent chance the wheels could fall off and it could get ugly. But if the Goats can get on the same page and keep their objective in mind for a full season, they have the talent to surprise many and get back into the postseason in 2012.