Contender or Pretender: Chivas USA

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Contender or Pretender: Chivas USA
(Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

The strong start of Chivas USA is not a uncommon theme. Since the club's inception in 2004, they've qualified for the playoffs three out of four seasons. Early in 2009, head coach Predrag Radosavljević (known as Preki) has his team off the best start in Major League Soccer. But can the Goats keep it up?

The early recipe for success has been simple: a dash of timely scoring, mixed in with solid and consistent defense, all topped off with a slimmer and rejuvenated Zach Thornton. Those three elements have been crucial in picking up 19 of a possible 24 points this season.

As with 2008, Preki has chosen not to rely on one or two proven goal scorers. A lot of that is due to injuries—but credit Preki's ability to get goals out of the likes of Mexican journeyman Eduardo Lillington and Chukwudi Chijindu.

Two surprises have marked their early run—the sensational play of Zach Thornton, and the struggles of Sacha Kljestan. The former came into the season having dropped a significant amount of weight, and the results have shown already.

The defense in front of him is always well organized as well; but I was among those surprised that Chivas didn't pick Stefan Frei. The play of Thornton, who has five shutouts in eight games has made people quickly forget about Frei.

Kljestan's play is more of an enigma. Coming off a solid 2008, in which he played in the Beijing Olympics, and was named the U.S. Soccer 2008 Young Player of the Year, Kljestan seemed destined to head to Europe. There was an air of inevitability around a switch to Scottish power Celtic after his hat trick in a friendly against Sweden.

However, it never materialized and Kljestan has been off to a slow start this season. He has yet to score or notch an assist and has not looked his usual self. If he finds his groove as the season progresses, this team becomes even more dangerous

Success has been no stranger to Chivas—t's the postseason success that has continued to elude their grasp. Three consecutive losses in the Western Quarterfinals has equated to no trophies out West.

This season could be the difference. With Thornton at the peak of his game, and the usual injuries continuing to be a non-factor, look for the Goats to actually contend this season.

Verdict: Contender

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