If last week's SuperClasico loss to the Galaxy let Chivas USA know how far it has to go to match Major League Socder's elite, it also showed the Goats how close they are.
Their performance in the second half of a one-goal defeat, marked by superior possession if not enough scoring chances to satisfy, offers plenty to build on Saturday at Columbus, where Chivas (3-4-3) looks to hand the Crew (3-3-4) their first home defeat of the season.
It's also the first encounter in the Goats' initial three-game weekend-to-weekend stretch of the campaign and the start of a roster rotation based on international duty rather than injury, which has limited Robin Fraser's options all season. The first-year head coach has masterfully utilized his depth, in some circumstances finding new positions for players, in the season's first two months, but call-ups are about to deprive him of three starters.
Venezuelan forward Alejandro Moreno, who has worn the captain's armband most of the season, and New Zealand midfielder Simon Elliott and defender Andy Boyens are off after Saturday's match for national team friendlies and will miss next week's games at Home Depot Center on Wednesday against Vancouver and Saturday against Portland.
The returns from injury of, especially, forward Tristan Bowen and midfielders Blair Gavin and Paulo Nagamura -- all expected back as soon as next week -- will help immensely, but Fraser isn't looking to get players rest, unlike his Galaxy counterpart, Bruce Arena, whose team's schedule is far more complicated.
"We'll play it game by game," Fraser said Friday. "It's early enough in the season that we don't have to make changes. ... Right now we can play a group that will give you the best chance to win, and that's the case every single week.
The Goats have looked good enough win in nearly every game the past month. The exception was last week's 1-0 loss to L.A., and Chivas left the field thinking they'd learned a valuable lesson.
"The first half was a little how we came out in the first couple games of the season," said central defender Heath Pearce, "but we’ve come a long way since then and are better team since then. We’re a blue-collar, working team, and we know what makes us successful."
Said Fraser: "No one expects the team to be perfect rock solid week in and week out just a couple months into the team's life, basically. You have to be aware there are going to be peaks and valleys. Most important is to learn from mistakes, learn from not playing well."
MISSING: Nobody is listed as "out" on the injury report, but none of the ailing sextet is going to play. Bowen (sprained ankle) and defender Seth Owusu (torn meniscus) are now "probable," and Gavin (hamstring strain), Nagamura (calf strain) and defenders Michael Lahoud and Jimmy Conrad (concussions) are "doubtful." No word on whether Lahoud and Conrad have completed the concussion protocol; Fraser said Conrad wasn't close to returning.
Forward Marcos Mondaini is serving the third game of a four-game suspension for the foul that injured Javier Morales.
WORTH NOTING: Elliott and Boyens will join New Zealand's national team for games Wednesday against Mexico in Denver and next Sunday against Australia in Adelaide. Moreno and Venezuela face Guatemala on Wednesday in Guatemala City and Spain on June 7 in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela. ... Armenian midfielder Artur Aghasyan, a former Ventura County Fusion standout who spent much of this season on trial with Chivas USA, was signed Friday by Real Salt Lake. Aghasyan is the cousin of Pasadena's Yura Movsisyan, a former RSL forward based in Russia. ... Chivas is 6-4-3 all-time against the Crew but have won just one of six meetings in Columbus, and that back in 2005. ... Columbus (3-0-2 at Crew Stadiim) hasn't scored in 203 minutes and has been shut out in four of six games this year, including the 0-0 draw with the Goats on April 9 at Home Depot Center. Half of the Crew's goals have come on penalty kicks. ... Crew forward Jeff Cunningham, 34, hasn't scored in five appearances this season and remains one goal behind MLS all-time leader Jaime Moreno, who retired last season with 133.
Former Polish national-teamer Robert Warzycha, a winger of quality, was an MLS original with the Crew, wrapping up a 17-year career with seven seasons in Columbus. He became an assistant coach upon retiring, spent the last half of 2005 as interim head coach, then got the job full-time after Sigi Schmid took off for Seattle after the 2008 MLS Cup triumph.
Three key players
Midfielder Eddie Gaven, a ninth-year veteran at 24, has evolved into a tricky flank creator, expert at beating defenders to score or set up chances for teammates.
Robbie Rogers, an MLS Best XI selection in 2008 and a preliminary-roster selection for last year's World Cup team, could be MLS's premier winger if his productivity rises.
Big Chad Marshall has long been one of MLS's top central defenders, and his leadership has been pivotal to the Crew's defensive success this season.
The Crew have lost two in a row, both shutouts on the road, and last week's 1-0 defeat at Portland came with a price: Venezuelan forward Emilio Renteria, the top scorer (with the club's last four goals), went down with a quadriceps strain in the first half, and Tommy Heinemann -- not disappointing DP Andres Mendoza -- is expected to get the call. The Crew have surrendered more than one goal twice, in losses at D.C. United and San Jose, and have otherwise been among MLS's best defensive sides, conceding just twice in five games.
Marshall played at Rubidoux High School and for Irvine Strikers. ... Rogers lived in Palos Verdes and Huntington Beach and played at Mater Dei High School and for Orange County Blue Star. ... English defender Andy Iro was an All-American at UC Santa Barbara. ... Midfielder Josh Gardner played for the Galaxy from 2004 to 2006.
The Crew is without two starters -- Renteria and midfielder Danny O'Rourke (knee surgery) -- plus defender Josh Williams (torn hip labral) and forward Santiago Prim (sprained ankle). Defender Shaun Francis (hamstring strain) has returned to practice and is off the injury report, but he's not yet ready to go.
At Columbus Crew Stadium (Columbus, Ohio), 4:30 p.m. PT
TV: Prime Ticket
Radio: W Radio (XEWW-AM/690, Spanish)
Referee: Jasen Anno