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CHIVAS USA: No time for failure

Chivas USA is going through its most difficult stretch of the season, with three straight losses and five matches without a win when victories are absolutely necessary to stay in the playoff race.

And the Goats (7-11-10), who have been beaten down by defensive liabilities and possession breakdowns, heads into Saturday afternoon's Major League Soccer game at Chicago missing another center back -- and considering a change in how they go about things.

David Junior Lopes is out after picking up a questionable red card in last week's loss to D.C. United, and with backline leader Heath Pearce out with a hamstring injury (and previous backline leader Jimmy Conrad retired after a concussion), there's not much depth in central defense.

Pearce, officially, is “questionable,” but he's targeting next Saturday's game -- at home against Toronto FC -- for his return. Chivas plays Wednesday at D.C. United.

Figure Andrew Boyens to team with Michael Umaña in the middle, with Chivas possibly taking a more conservative tack with its possession plan.

“We’ve got Andy Boyens, who has been training hard, and it’s an opportunity,” said midfielder Simon Elliott. “Heath’s on the mend -- he’ll be back soon -- but you have to look at it as an opportunity for someone to be raising their hand and saying, 'I deserve to play every week.' It’s what-are-you-preparing-to-do time.”

It has to happen now. The Goats have six games remaining, and they're only three points out of a playoff spot -- but are sixth of seven teams fighting for three berths (and separated by six points). And they're in the worst form of the seven.

“We have to win games,” Elliott said. “I think by and large the powers that be, the staff, the strength and conditioning guys, they get it right. From what I can tell, we focus on the right things. And as players, we have to put out hand up. We have to execute. We can't just talk about it, we have to go out and do it.”

Said head coach Robin Fraser: “We have to be honest with our assessments, we gave to be honest in our analysis of the choices we make with the ball, the choices we make when new don't have the ball, and we have to get better from it. This is a results-oriented business. It really doesn't matter if we play well. ... End of the day, we're not getting pts. If we're not getting points, it's not good enough.”

WORTH NOTING: Chivas has not yet announced that midfielder Francisco Mendoza was released although it occurred 10 days ago. Said general manager Jose Domene in a text message: “And we will not announce it.” ... Chicago on Wednesday waived injured midfielder Marko Maric, then lost to Guadalajara, 1-0, in a friendly. ... Chicago leads the all-time series, 6-4-3, and is 3-2-1 in home meetings. ... This season's first meeting, on July 2, ended 1-1, with Nick La Brocca scoring at the start of the second half to answer Dominic Oduro's first-half goal.

MISSING: Lopes is suspended for last week's red card. ... Central midfielder Paulo Nagamura (broken foot) is out, but defender Pearce (hamstring tear) has been upgraded to questionable.

THE OPPONENT

CHICAGO FIRE

Head coach

  • Greek-born Frank Klopas, 45, a gifted forward during his playing days, spent more than a decade with the U.S. national team and was part of the 1994 World Cup squad. He played with his hometown Chicago Sting indoors starting at 17, eight years in Greece and wrapped his career with stints in MLS with Kansas City and the Fire. He became Chicago's technical director in January 2008 and took over as interim coach when Carlos de los Cobos was dismissed at the end of May.

Three key players

  • Mexican legend Pavel Pardo, 35, a classy central midfielder who spent most of his career at America and played 148 times (and in two World Cups) for El Tri, signed with the Fire at the end of July.

  • Guatamalan midfielder Marco Pappa, 23, quickly emerged as one of MLS's most skilled and dangerous attacking midfielders upon joining the Fire in 2008. He's scored five goals this year, but none the past two months.

  • Speedy Ghanaian forward Oduro, 25, has been in MLS since 2006, and he's just starting to tap into his potential, with nine goals and a couple of assists in 27 games since arriving in a trade from Houston right after the MLS openers.

Current form/prospects

  • The Fire (4-8-15) have gotten plenty of results this season, just not enough wins, and they're best among three teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with 27 points -- still in the playoff hunt. They had won three in a row, including their U.S. Open Cup semifinal, before last weekend's 2-0 loss at San Jose. They've got the tools for a dynamic attack, with Pappa, Oduro, Diego Chaves and winger Patrick Nyarko -- and Orr Barouch and Cristian Nazarit off the bench -- but have a tough final half-dozen games in which to make their move.

Local connections

  • Midfielder Daniel Paladini starred at St. Francis High School in La Cañada Flintridge, and he played for the Galaxy's reserve side in 2006-07 and was with Chivas USA in 2008. ... Barouch played at El Camino Real High School and for West Valley Samba and Real So Cal and in Chivas USA's youth academy. ... Colombian defender Yamith Cuesta was with Chivas in 2009-10 and opened camp with the Goats this season. ... Backup goalkeeper Jon Conway was on Chivas' roster in 2009. ... Rookie defender Jalil Anibaba was born in Fontana, but he grew up in Davis.

Missing

Defender Dan Gargan is serving a yellow-card suspension. ... Midfielders Mike Banner (sprained ankle) and Gabriel Ferrrari (torn ACL) and defender Steven Kinney (abdominal strain) are out. ... Midfielder Corben Bone (knee strain) is doubtful. ... Midfielder Sebastian Grazzini (tight hamstring) and forward forward Dominic Oduro (bruised ankle) are questionable.

THE GAME

At Toyota Park (Bridgeview, Ill.) 1 p.m. PT

TV: Telefutura (KFTR/Channel 46) and KDOC/Channel 56

Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)

Referee: Jorge Gonzalez