In political parlance, the “laugh test” is the method to determine the reality of a proposal or idea, as in if a person laughs when you tell them your solution to a problem, it both unrealistic and ridiculous. A few weeks back on the MLS Talk podcast (subscribe on iTunes today) I suggested that Chivas USA could make a playoff run, a suggestion that I almost made without chuckling to myself. In fact, if you look at the standings, Chivas is in a position to make a playoff run as they are ten points behind fifth place (and slumping) Vancouver but have four games in hand over both the Whitecaps and Dallas, the two teams ahead of them in the standings. Doing the math, a hot streak could spark the Goats into the playoff conversation and, based on their mid-season acquisitions, that is exactly what the team is aiming to do.
Yet the words “Chivas” and “playoffs” outright fail the laugh test, and the reason why was shown in yesterday’s game. Despite the ability to pick up three valuable points at home the team was run over by the Seattle Sounders. It is certainly no disgrace to fall to Seattle, maybe the second best team in MLS, but it was the way they lost that epitomizes the foolishness of the playoff dreams. Despite mounting a decent comeback after going down 3-0 in the first third of the game, they simply had no answer defensively for Fredy Montero and his teammates. Again, not a disgrace necessarily until you look at the starting XI. Shalrie Joseph started in midfield and while he can play a little offense, he made his name in New England as a defensive presence in front of the back four. Starting center back John Valencia was a heralded international signing and right back James Riley was a veteran presence from… Seattle. Bobby Burling, who was the other starting center back in place of recent acquisition Danny Califf, was another veteran who just looked old in the game.
While schedule congestion plays a role in the sluggish play, the way Chivas has built itself is the real reason this team is failing to live up to a promising off-season. Remember, last season Chivas made a late playoff run and keeper Dan Kennedy was a revelation in net. A playoff push was not out of the picture in the preseason analysis. But instead of looking to build on a system or having a plan (ala Frank Yallop in San Jose), Chivas and Robin Fraser pretended to play Football Manager and grabbed the biggest names out there. Besides the aforementioned Burling, Joseph, and Riley, the Goats has also picked up Juan Agudelo to bolster an absolutely anemic offense. But as you look through the roster and starting XIs, there is little rhyme or reason.
The reality is that in the offseason, Chivas’ management needs to take a hard look at this team and decide how it wants to proceed. The dumping ground for failed designated players and trade partner for recognizable but middling MLS players is a failed system for Chivas and has set them up to be pretty good, but not good enough to be consistently relevant. It beats being, say, Toronto but it is eerily familiar to how other “second city teams” in other sports are viewed, such as the pre-Blake Griffin Clippers. If the Goats are committed to remaining in LA, and there seems to be no suggestion that they are not, they need to build a team that can actually win at the Home Depot Center (where their 2012 goal difference is -13!). With its wide field, the Goats should look not to their cross-city rivals but to the north to San Jose to see how a fast, aggressive teams can succeed in this league and in a unique home venue.