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CHIVAS USA: Last-ditch efforts

Chivas USA can remain alive in the postseason hunt with a victory Saturday night over Toronto FC, a harder proposition than perhaps it ought to be.

The Goats have never lost to the Canadians at Home Depot Center, but they're long, hard fade down the stretch offers only so much hope. They haven't won in seven games, falling from playoff contender to pretender, and no victories in their final four games would leave them one win short of last year's total.

Last year, you might remember, was disastrous, and Chivas cleaned house afterward, in the front office, on the coaching staff and on the field.

There can be few qualms with the work head coach Robin Fraser and Greg Vanney have done in building a new culture for the club -- the Goats (7-12-11) are on the right path, but patience is required -- but questions about the viability of the front office are growing.

Toronto FC (6-12-12) seems a mirror organization, except the Reds have never gotten things right -- and Chivas was a force in MLS during Bob Bradley's and Preki's tenures as head coach.

That seems to be slowly changing. The Reds have lost just once in their last seven games, and the imprint of Designated Players Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings, both acquired at the end of June, has been massive.

If Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the club's owner, shows more patience with Dutch coach Aron Winter than it did with his predecessors -- and provides the resources necessary, which it seems to be doing -- Toronto could be competing for the postseason next season.

Right now, both clubs are in the race, but only barely. Either side could be eliminated with a defeat and results elsewhere, and it's really just a matter of time. Miracles can happen, and that's what the Goats and Reds need.

WORTH NOTING: Chivas leads the all-time series, 6-2-1, and are 4-0-0 at HDC, outscoring the Reds, 9-1. ... The first meeting this season, on April 2 in Toronto, was a 1-1 draw. Alejandro Moreno scored in the second minute, but Alan Gordon -- playing his first game against the team that traded him (for Nick LaBrocca) during preseason -- netted an equalizer toward the end of the first half. Gordon has since been traded to San Jose. ... Michael Lahoud, Zarek Valentin and Ben Zemanski face suspensions with their next yellow cards. ... TFC has conceded a league-worst 52 goals in 30 games.

MISSING: Central midfielder Paulo Nagamura (broken foot) is out. ... Defender Heath Pearce (hamstring tear) is probable after making his return in the midweek game.

THE OPPONENT

TORONTO FC

Head coach

Winter, brought in over the offseason to rebuild the hapless Reds, was a top central midfielder for the Dutch national team (84 caps, two World Cups, three European Championships) and for clubs in Holland (Ajax Amsterdam, Sparta Rotterdam) and in Italy (Lazio, Inter Milan). He joined Toronto FC after serving as an assistant coach at Ajax.

Three key players

  • Dutch striker Koevermans has been a sensation, scoring six goals in seven games.

  • Former German national-teamer Frings' steady hand and leadership has been key for the Reds, whether he's in midfield or on the backline.

  • Swiss-born, NorCal-raised, Cal-educated Stefan Frei is MLS's best young goalkeeper, has been since snaring a starting spot as a rookie in '09.

Current form/prospects

  • Toronto FC's bleak history has raised the ire of its faithful supporters and spurred owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment to start over this year, bringing in a new management team (led by Winter and former New England assistant coach Paul Mariner), which has revamped the roster throughout the season. It's a work in progress, but progress is being made. The Reds have won back-to-back games (and over Columbus and Colorado), are unbeaten in three and are 3-1-3 in their last seven. Frings' move from midfield to central defense has been a catalyst.

Local connections

  • Defender Dan Gargan spent two weeks with Chivas in 2008 before an abrupt but short-lived retirement. … Defender Kyle Davies was with the Galaxy until the roster-freeze deadline, when he was traded for defender Dasan Robinson. ... Midfielder Nathan Sturgis started his pro career with the Galaxy in 2006-07, and defender Ty Harden was a rookie starter for L.A. in 2007. ... English defender Andy Iro and midfielder Eric Avila were All-Americans at UC Santa Barbara.

Missing

  • Midfielders Joao Plata (hamstring strain), Oscar Cordon (hip flexor strain) and Elbekay Bouchiba (knee surgery), and defenders Adrian Cann (ACL tear) and Dicoy Williams (knee surgery) are out. ... Defender Demitrius Omphroy (knee swelling) is doubtful.

THE GAME

At Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.

TV: KWHY/Channel 22 and KDOC/Channel 56

Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)

Referee: Kevin Stott