Los Angeles Soccer: L.A. Blues
Municipal, the record 29-time champions in Guatemala, are preparing for the first stage of the Liga Nacional and its fourth appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League. The Rojos, champions of last fall's Apertura, are in Group 7 with two-time defending CCL titlist Monterrey and Panamanian champ Chorrillo.
The match will kick off at 5 p.m. No time has yet been set for the first game, in which Pali takes on the Seattle Sounders for a berth in the USL W-League's final four. Pali, a two-time W-League champion, is 12-0-1 and wraps its Western Conference regular-season Sunday against the Sounders (8-2-1) at Palisades High School in Pacific Palisades.
Tickets are $30 and $20 for adults, $10 ages 12 and under for general admission, and are available by calling (714) 738-8011 or through the Blues' website.
Center back Andrew Jean-Baptiste, a first-round pick in January's MLS SuperDraft, has joined the Blues on loan from Portland in advance of this week's games against last-place Antigua Barracuda in Bradenton, Fla.
Also arriving on loan is Orlando City forward Maxwell Griffin (Palmdale/Littlerock HS), a former UCLA star who scored 10 USL Pro goals last year and finished the season on loan to the San Jose Earthquakes. The Blues sent winger George Davis IV to Orlando on loan in the deal.
The moves with Portland coincide with Monday's dismissal of Timbers head coach John Spencer, with general manager Gavin Wilkinson taking charge on an interim basis for the rest of the MLS season.'
The Blues also have signed defender Josh Suggs, who played for the club last year and has been with San Jose this season, and goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski, a Chicago Fire supplemental draft pick who spent nearly a week on trial in February with Chivas USA. Head coach Charlie Naimo indicated L.A. also is talking to an MLS club about acquiring an attacking player.
Woszczynski could be replacing Amir Abedzadeh, the Blues' No. 1 goalkeeper, whose transfer to a club overseas appears imminent.
Naimo, whose team has lost five in a row, expects to release a few players this week.
“Everybody knows we’re one win away from feeling good again,” he said in a club release. “That said, it doesn’t erase what I’ve seen over the past two weeks. Nothing will ever erase that -- not even two wins this week in Florida. What has happened has happened, and the mark has been left. Making changes now is nothing more than the logical conclusion from that.
“It’s never personal, but we’re absolutely going to release players and trade to bring on others who we think can help us. I’m exhausting every minute of my time right now to try to find a way for us to get better in our personnel.”
The game of the year for minor league soccer around these parts produced an unexpected result amid huge momentum swings and left one Southern California club joyous and another heartbroken.Tyler Coombes' 14th goal of the season lifted FC Santa Clarita, a first-year club born from the ruins of the Lancaster-based Rattlers, past the previously unbeaten San Diego Flash to claim the second Southern Conference berth for the National Premier Soccer League's Western Division playoffs.
Coombes (Palmdale/Palmdale HS and Cal State L.A.) scored twice as the Storm (8-3-3) posted a 4-3 victory Sunday at Canyon High School in Canyon Country, rallying for the winning goal in the 89th minute after the Flash (11-1-2) overcame a three-goal deficit. Sergio Valle Ortiz's second goal of the evening pulled San Diego just a minute before Coombes provided the victory.
The goal was a must -- a draw would have given the No. 2 spot to the Fullerton Rangers (8-4-2), whose 4-0 rout of San Diego Boca in Santa Ana, fueled on goals by brothers Andre and Diego Turoldo (both Torrance/North Torrance HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills), wrapped up about an hour before Coombes struck.
Martin Galvan scored the first goal and assisted two more for the Storm, who were up, 3-0, when Alex Harlley (Rosamond/Rosamond HS) tallied three minutes into the second half.
Santa Clarita will visit Hayward-based Bay Area Ambassadors (9-4-1), the Northern Conference champion for Saturday's Western semifinals. The Flash are home against Sonoma County Sol (7-3-4) in the other semi, and the winners will meet next week for a spot in the NPSL final four.
Fullerton looked likeliest to finish second after beating Santa Clarita, 3-0, on June 24, but it fell to third after a 5-1 loss to the Flash a week later.
It also was a big week for another So Cal side: Pali Blues claimed the W-League's Western Conference title. Another, Beach FC, failed in its bid for the Pacific-South crown in the Women's Premier Soccer League.
The Ventura County Fusion, who are headed to the Premier Development League playoffs for the fourth straight year, can claim the Southwest Division championship Wednesday.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
FULLERTON -- Charlie Naimo has never been one to hide his emotions, but after his L.A. Blues hit bottom Sunday evening, dropping their fifth in a row with a 4-0 debacle against Orlando City SC, he made it clear that he's ready to dump some of the more useless players under his command.
The Blues' head coach/general manager railed against his team's penchant for costly errors, its naïvete, lack of “mental strength” and shortage of “resourceful guys,” and said if all USL Pro contracts weren't guaranteed, “I would cut so many guys from this team right now. ... Do you think I'd keep some of these guys around here? You kidding me?”
The Blues (5-8-2) were done after conceding two goals to Dennis Chin in first 17 minutes, both following turnovers, then gave up two more near the end, to Jean Alexandre in the 70th and Matt Luzunaris in the 78th minutes, Alexandre's also after a giveaway in the back.
“It's beyond frustrating to me at this point. The bottom line is we make too many mistakes right now,” Naimo told ESPN Los Angeles. “Nobody scores a hard-earned goal against us. It's always a gift. I don't know, I don't have any answers. It's my fault. I picked the team. I'm the one who signed some of these guys that are allowing these things to happen, so, whatever. It's on me.”
The Blues have in a week and a half fallen from fifth to eighth in the third-division league, and they haven't scored in their last three games, including back-to-back losses at Cal State Fullerton to first-place Orlando City (12-1-4), the defending champion.
They were without striker Bright Dike, who has six goals in 10 games after arriving on loan from Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers but tweaked a hamstring in Friday's loss.
Dike might be done with the Blues; he's set to return to the Timbers early this week, but what exactly that means is uncertain.
“He's supposed to go back tomorrow,” Naimo said. “It could be for good, we don't know. We discussed about him going back [to Portland] short-term, coming back [to qualify before] out roster freeze” date in two weeks. “We're working pretty well with Portland right now. I'm sure we'll get another player or two [from them].”
They're getting another defender Monday, with Josh Suggs, who played for the Blues last year and has been with MLS's San Jose Earthquakes this season, arriving on a free transfer. Suggs “is going to give us another winner, winning mentality, good athlete. Helps you in a game like that. I would have played him [rather than Corey Miller] at left center back today, and I promise you the first two goals don't get scored.”
Orlando City SC claimed a 1-0 victory before a sparse crowd at Cal State Fullerton, knocking the Blues (5-7-2) down another peg in the standings -- to eighth -- with a rematch set for Sunday, also at Titan Stadium.
“I don't know what to say. I'm baffled ...,” said Blues head coach Charlie Naimo, whose team lost three in a row on a six-day Eastern swing that ended Tuesday. “As the game wore on, I thought we got better and better and better and just didn't produce a goal. In a tight game like this, there's not going to be a whole lot of chances.
“I was happy with the way we played. We're a good team, and [Orlando knows] it. That's two games in a row against the best team that we could've won both matches [the first, in May, was a 1-1 draw in Florida], and it wouldn't have been we got lucky. Tough shape now, man. We're in real tough shape.”
Center back Kieran Bernard headed home Anthony Pulis' corner kick in the second minute, and although the Lions (11-1-4) couldn't create a whole lot more offensively, that was enough -- especially once Dike was done.
The forward, who has six goals in 10 appearances since joining the Blues on loan from Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, limped off with a hamstring injury just before halftime. It doesn't look to be a major ailment, but it will surely keep him out of the finale in the two-game set.
Dike had the Blues' best chance, muscling through Orlando's defense in the 28th minute for a sharp shot at the right post, but goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo made a fortunate stab to keep it out of the net.
“If we'd have played that well with Dike on the field in the second half, you've got to think he would generate three or four shots himself,” said Naimo, whose team managed just six shots, to Orlando City's eight. “So it definitely hurt us.”
Rodrigo Lopez tormented the L.A. Blues while leading Ventura County Fusion to a U.S. Open Cup upset a month and a half ago. Now he has the chance to do it all over again.
The former Chivas USA and Portland Timbers midfielder, one of the foundations of the Fusion's superb Premier Development League campaign this season, signed Friday with USL Pro champion Orlando City SC.
The Lions play tonight and Sunday against the Blues at Cal State Fullerton.
“I always wanted to be in an environment where I can truly improve each day,” Lopez said in a statement. “I believe Orlando City is that place and I look forward to helping the club for the rest of the season.”
The Fusion's run to the third round of the Open Cup, with victories over Fullerton Rangers and L.A. Blues before a tight loss to Chivas USA, was in great part about Lopez and Chivas USA draft pick Daniel Steres' partnership in central midfield. Steres signed with the Seattle Sounders last month.
Lopez, 25, who grew up in Santa Barbara, was with Chivas USA from 2005 through 2007, making eight Major League Soccer appearances. He spent some time in his native Mexico, including a spell with Gallos Blancos, and last year was with the Timbers, although he saw no MLS time.
Orlando City (10-1-4) are atop the USL Pro standings. Tonight's game begins at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday's at 5 p.m., with the Blues (5-6-2) looking to climb back into the third-division league's top six.
Ryan Heins scored the goal for the Kickers (5-5-5), who vaulted the Blues and Harrisburg into fifth place in the third-division league's standings, squarely into playoff position.
The Blues (5-6-2), who lost late last week at Charlotte and Wilmington and have games Friday and Sunday at Cal State Fullerton against first-place Orlando City -- the reigning USL Pro champs -- dropped to seventh place and could fall as far as ninth if things don't turn this weekend. The top six teams advance to the postseason.
L.A., which started the second half of its campaign, has lost three in a row just once before: last year's playoff defeat at Harrisburg and shutout losses to Rochester in the first two games this season.
The game did not start well for the Blues, who lost captain Ricky Waddell in the 13th minute. He twisted his knee in a tackle, causing damage to his meniscus, and tests will be required when he returns home to determine the extent of the injury.
Israel Sesay hit the crossbar moments after coming on for Waddell. A Matt Fondy breakaway was thwarted by Henry Kalungi's fine defensive play in the 29th minute. Two more chances -- by Allan Russell just before halftime and Irving Garcia with about 15 minutes to go -- were just wide of the mark.
Wynalda guided Cal FC to the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup -- with a surprise victory over Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers included. He previously lobbied for head-coaching jobs with Chivas USA and Chicago.
“I’m absolutely thrilled for this opportunity with the Silverbacks. It was truly one that I didn’t want to pass up,” Wynalda, also an on-air analyst for Fox Soccer Channel's international coverage, said in a statement. “This is a case of an underperforming team, and I’m honored that the club chose me to take on the challenge of turning things around and helping the Silverbacks fulfill their potential on the field.”
Atlanta, which has played in whichever league served as America's second division all but two years since 1995, has made the playoffs only three times in 15 seasons. It went 4-20-4 last year and is winless at home (0-4-3) this season.
The Silverbacks play Tuesday against Carolina and Saturday at Minnesota. Wynalda will make his debut in a July 14 home game against the Puerto Rico Islanders.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
The Blues dropped their second in a row after conceding twice in the first five minutes, falling to the Wilmington Hammerheads by a 4-2 count in a wild, sloppy, at times invigorating USL Pro affair that ought to have some bearing on the third-division league's playoff race.
Bright Dike scored for the fourth straight game for the Blues (5-5-2), who dropped from fifth to sixth in the standings and can fall to seventh with another loss Tuesday at Richmond.
Bryce Taylor scored from former Cal State Northridge standout Dylan Riley's feed after just 137 seconds, then fed Corey Hertzog two minutes later to give Wilmington a two-goal lead by the fifth minute.
L.A. twice crept within a goal, but the second strike -- from Bryan Burke in the 60th minute -- was costly. Galindo was caught in a scuffle in the net after the goal, and referee David McPhun produced the red card.
Hertzog, whose loan agreement from the New York Red Bulls was extended this week for the rest of the USL Pro season, scored his second 13 minutes later. Corey Miller hit the net in the 88th for the Blues, but it was waved off.
ORIGINAL POST: Bright Dike scored two more goals but they only made the score more respectable for the L.A. Blues, who opened a six-day, three-game Atlantic Coast swing with a 3-2 USL Pro loss Thursday night to the Charlotte Eagles.
Dike, on loan from Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, tallied in the 58th and 88th minutes, each time narrowing the Eagles' advantage to a goal.
That's six goals in the past six games for Dike, a fast, muscular striker who has found the net in five of seven appearances since joining the Blues (5-4-2). He'll look to add to the total Saturday night in crucial showdowns against the Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads and Tuesday against the Richmond Kickers.
The Kickers (4-5-5) are even on points with the fifth-place Blues, and Wilmington (5-5-4) is in fourth place. The top six teams advance to the playoffs.
Mauricio Salles converted a penalty kick after an Erlys Garcia hand ball to give Charlotte (4-8-2) a 28th-minute lead, and Christian Meza made it 2-0 four minutes later. Jorge Herrera scored the third one minute before Dike's second goal.
Blues coach Charlie Naimo was so unhappy with the Blues' play in the first half that he made four substitutions at halftime, changing three flank players and pulling former Chivas USA striker Maykel Galindo.
Charlotte (4-8-2) made seven changes in the team that lost to Chivas USA in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal two days earlier on the Blues' home field at Cal State Fullerton, then brought on four more Open Cup starters in the second half.
The Fullerton Rangers took a huge stride toward the National Premier Soccer League playoffs with Sunday's victory over FC Santa Clarita, a showdown for second place in the Western Division's Southern Conference.
Former Chivas USA/New York Red Bulls forward David Arvizu (Santa Ana/Foothill HS) scored two goals as the Rangers avenged a loss two months earlier in Santa Clarita with a 3-0 triumph at Santa Ana Stadium.
The Rangers (7-3-2) have a two-point advantage over the Storm (6-3-3) with two games to play. Both have matches remaining with the San Diego Flash (9-0-2), which has clinched the Southern Conference title.
The Rangers' NPSL team finished second to the Flash and went to the playoffs last year, when they were affiliated with the Santa Ana Winds.
Arvizu scored in the 17th and 60th minutes and Cuban forward Eder Roldan tallied in the 24th for Fullerton, which has won three in a row and scored at least three times in its past four games. Santa Clarita has won just twice in its past five games, over the division's two worst clubs (Phoenix and North Coast, with a combined 2-18-1 record), and could rue a 1-1 draw at home June 9 with San Diego Boca (4-5-3).
Santa Clarita is likely to vault back to second next weekend, when it faces fading Conejo Valley side FC Hasental (3-7-2), but getting a resullt against the Flash on July 7 is critical to the Storm' playoff hopes. Fullerton plays the Flash in San Diego this weekend, then closes July 8 at home against Boca.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
The Premier Development League expansion side rallied for a 1-1 draw although down a man in a showdown of the Southwest Division's Nos. 1 and 2 clubs at Ventura College, an intense clash that ended with a little postgame dustup in the parking lot, the Arizona club reported on its website.
Francisco Lopez gave Ventura the lead five minutes into the second half, but Danny Toia -- Real Salt Lake's first Home Grown Player, released by the Major League Soccer club in February -- netted the 61st-minute equalizer. Tucson was down to 10 players after Eli Galbrath-Knapp's dismissal in the 30th minute.
The Arizonans (6-1-3) surged into first place, one point ahead of the Fusion (6-1-2), with Monday's 1-1 draw against L.A. Misioneros.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
USL PRO: Bright Dike is the third-division league's Player of the Week after scoring the goals in the L.A. Blues' 1-0 wins Friday and Sunday over Dayton, which sent them from seventh to fifth in the table. Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh made the PDL Team of the Week. Only first-place Orlando City (9-1-2, 2.4167) and second-place Charleston (8-3-0, 2.1818) have more points per game than do the Blues (5-3-2, 1.7000).
The L.A. Blues turned again to Bright Dike to finish off a two-game sweep of the Dayton Dutch Lions, and the star striker did not disappoint.
Dike scored for the fourth time in six games Sunday to deliver another 1-0 victory over Ohio's USL Pro entry and vault the Blues (5-3-2) from seventh to fifth in the 11-team league, just one point out of fourth.
Dike tallied in the 62nd minute, taking a pass from Matt Fondy and curling the ball in from the top of the box with a shot that left Dayton goalkeeper Matt Williams no hope.
Dike also scored in Friday's win over the Dutch Lions, and he netted the Blues' goal before that one, too, in a 1-1 draw last month at Orlando City. The big forward, on loan from the Portland Timbers, has scored or assisted L.A.'s last five USL Pro goals.
It bodes well for the speedy, powerfully built forward from Notre Dame, who has struggled with little success to find playing Major League Soccer playing time.
“I can only hope at the end of this loan he gets back where he needs to be,” Blues coach Charlie Naimo said following Friday's triumph. “I think the games he's getting here, the opportunities he's getting, the chances to finish under pressure and helping this team is going to bring him back to where he needs to be. That's what loans are all about.”
It took 14 months and a brilliant second-half goal from Bright Dike, who put on a clinic as the Blues took down the Dayton Dutch Lions, 1-0, before a tiny crowd at Titan Stadium.
The Blues went 0-4-2 in their primary venue last season -- one of the losses was in the U.S. Open Cup, as a road team against the Galaxy -- and were 0-2-1 this season heading into the first of a two-game series with Dayton.
“The curse is dead,” Blues coach Charlie Naimo exclaimed. “Now we can just play soccer. ... Now we can just get on with it, not come in here every day thinking, 'Are we cursed?' We won the game deservedly. We had all the chances in the game. ... We broke the curse, but we played a pretty good soccer game. That's what's important now.”
The Blues climbed above .500, at 4-3-2, while dominating the winless Dutch Lions (0-6-5). They should have scored three or four goals, and Dike, on loan from Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, easily could have had a hat trick.
The goal he scored, in the 56th minute, was a beaut, and he hit the crossbar with a powerful drive just two minutes earlier. He might have had another in the first half, when Dayton goalkeeper Matt Williams' clearance caromed off the athletic striker and rolled back, slowly scooting just past the right post.
“That's what I came here to work on, is get that sharpness,” said Dike, who has three goals in five games since arriving in early May. “When you look at a game like that, you could have one or two, maybe even three. That's what I'm here for, and I'm in a good environment.”
Dike's pace and strength caused the Lions' defenders trouble all night, and he destroyed them on the goal. He took a pass several yards inside the midfield stripe, raced alone to the box, then fired across the goalmouth and inside the right post.
Dike made it all out of nothing, more or less, and most impressive were how he dealt with Dayton's defenders on the play, holding one off as he collected the pass -- he then turned and sprinting right past-- and expertly turning his body against another in the box, protecting the ball as he shot.
The message out of Fullerton is simple: Don't overlook Dayton.
Ohio's Dutch Lions haven't won a USL Pro game this year, and they only won two of 24 last year, but the L.A. Blues are leery as they prepare for a two-game set this weekend.
“It's not going to be easy,” Blues head coach Charlie Naimo told ESPN Los Angeles in advance of Friday night's 7:30 meeting at Cal State Fullerton. “The USL Pro is pretty tight this year. There are no blowouts. We've seen enough now and know [Dayton] is as good as anybody.”
Dayton, it should be noted, is 0-5-5. That makes the second-year club 2-21-11 in almost a season and a half -- numbers that hardly seem frightening -- but the number combination that matters most, that demonstrates what the Lions can do, is 2-1: the score in their U.S. Open Cup upset at Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew.
The Dutch Lions are 3-0 in the Open Cup and set for a quarterfinal showdown June 26 at Sporting Kansas City. They're 3-1-2 in all competitions over the past 3½ weeks -- the lone loss by a goal to second-place Charleston -- after halting the Rochester Rhinos' string of shutout victories with a 1-1 draw nearly a month ago.
The Blues (3-3-2), who are returning to action after a three-week break, won the season's first meeting May 11, a 1-0 decision in Ohio, and Dayton had the better of play for good stretches of the action. It's a possession team with some dynamism, as the name might suggest -- rather like the Blues.
“Thinking of Dayton, the first thing that comes to mind is the Dutch philosophy of keeping possession and knocking the ball around, which is somewhat similar to ours,” Blues winger George Davis IV, who played last year for Dayton, told his club's website. “That seems to have worked really well for them lately, given the run they're on with those Open Cup wins and having been so tough to beat in the league.
“When you add in the fact that they haven't won a league game, that makes them very dangerous. They have every reason to believe in themselves and at the same time are dying to get their first three points, which is a powerful combination.”
Former Chivas forward Maykel Galindo will play his first match at full strength after using the break to recover from a foot injury, and Naimo is looking forward to seeing him teamed up front with Bright Dike, who has tallied twice in four games since joining the Blues on loan from MLS's Portland Timbers.