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Few slots open for ambitious Chivas USA
by Ridge Mahoney, February 7th, 2008 7AM
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[MLS TEAM PREVIEWS] With its front line shored up by trading for Alecko Eskandarian and Atiba Harris, another experienced defender on board in Jim Curtin and Brad Guzan back in the fold after an aborted transfer to Aston Villa, Chivas USA is looking pretty good as preseason gets underway.

Last year, it parlayed a sensational home record (10-1-4) and a stingy defense (13 shutouts, 28 goals conceded) into the Western Conference title. Its offseason losses have been minor, and in addition to the players named above Chivas USA has brought in a foreign import, but not from parent club Guadalajara.

The acquisition of former Swiss international Raphael Wicky has been made official, and he has to play somewhere. Central incumbents Jesse Marsch and Paulo Nagamura are back, as are left-sided Francisco Mendoza and right mid Sacha Kljestan. Yet the fact is, along with a well-publicized lack of depth up front last season, the Red-and-White wasn't all that deep in midfield either. Its preferred quartet stayed healthy for the most part, but with the club obligated to play in the SuperLiga and (perhaps) CONCACAF Champions League, reinforcements are desperately needed.

Wicky, who has played for more than a decade with clubs in Germany, Switzerland and Spain, can push Mendoza for a place on the left side and can also be slotted at left back, depending on the availability - and form - of Jonathan Bornstein. Wicky is not a DP; Chivas USA doesn't have a slot, having traded it away last year for Amado Guevara, who left the team high and dry when he bolted rather than accept a trade to Toronto.

Bornstein and Kljestan potentially face a busy season of international callups; Bornstein with the national team, and Kljestan for the under-23s, who in March will attempt to qualify for the 2008 Olympic men's soccer tournament. Wicky is getting back into shape following ankle surgery after training impressively for a week with Chivas USA last season.

"Raphael is a talented guy who can play in central midfield or on the left wing, and who has also played in defense," says Chivas USA head coach Preki. "Not only does he bring valuable experience to our locker room, he helps provide important depth to Chivas USA as we look forward to a busy MLS and international calendar in 2008."

Chivas USA faces that calendar much stronger than it was in 2007, especially up front.

Late-season injuries to Ante Razov and Cuban Maykel Galindo, who scored a combined 23 goals, defused the attack. Harris seemed lost after being moved to midfield by Real Salt Lake and should regain his attacking punch up front. Eskandarian, joining his fourth club since being taken with the No. 1 SuperDraft pick in 2004, will be closely watched in preseason to see if there are any effects of the multiple concussions he's suffered.

Working out as trialists are two strikers with remarkable backgrounds: Former Japanese international Takayuki Suzuki, who played in all four of Japan's matches at the 2002 World Cup, and longtime Paraguay and Toluca star Jose Cardozo. Yet the team starts preseason with 17 players on its regular 18-man roster, and one of those - you'd think - would be the backup keeper, so if Suzuki and/or Cardozo shows well, moves need to be made.

Also on the list of likely U.S. callups in Guzan, who could be summoned for as many as eight qualifiers this year. San Jose picked backup Preston Burpo in the expansion draft, and the team is holding auditions to replace him.

Three keepers are in camp with Chivas USA: Josh Saunders, Eric Reed and Sam Reynolds. The Fire waived Saunders last spring; he's been on the rosters of San Jose and Los Angles but hasn't played a league match despite a solid career in the USL with Portland and a callup to play for Puerto Rico in World Cup qualifying. Reynolds played a match for Toronto last season as an emergency callup.

Chivas USA will travel to San Antonio in March to play Toronto, D.C. United, and Houston in the Texas Pro Soccer Festival, but has no other preseason travel plans. Many MLS teams will be passing through Southern California during preseason. New York is there right now.

To replace former assistant coach Martin Vasquez, who left to work with Juergen Klinsmann at Bayern Munich, Preki has hired former Rapids goalkeeping coach Leo Percovich. He also replaces Zak Abdel, who left Chivas USA to coach the keepers for U.S. Soccer.

MLS Preseason Previews
Jan. 28 -- Real Salt Lake
Jan. 29 -- D.C. United
Jan. 30 -- New England
Jan. 31 -- Columbus
Feb. 1 -- FC Dallas
Feb. 5 -- Chicago
Feb. 6 -- Kansas City



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