CARSON -- Chivas USA's preparations for the 2012 season began with medical exams Sunday and moves onto good, old Field 6 at Home Depot Center on Monday morning, with head coach Robin Fraser welcoming a lot of new faces -- and not all of them, by any means, under contract.
The Goats have unloaded nearly half their 2011 roster and added a half-dozen or so new names, and if Fraser's second preseason in charge is anything like the first, plenty of trialists will get a look.
Chivas brass last year looked at more than 80 players, including academy kids, as Fraser and general manager Jose Domene presided over a rebuild that the coach said was more building “from scratch.”
Fraser's idea this year is to have a team in place as the preseason starts, but he's got roster spots to fill and areas of great need and not all negotiations are finished. Five players will be added in Tuesday's supplemental draft, and another overseas signing is possible.
Here's a quick look at the Goats as their campaign begins:
Chivas endured the kind of up-and-down season common to rebuilding years in 2011, playing some exceptional possession soccer but suffering from inconsistency at both ends. The Goats won back-to-back games just once, in April, and watched .500 slip away over the last two-thirds of the season. Playoff hopes died with a seven-game winless streak in August and September.
Nonetheless, Fraser and his staff built a strong foundation, several players -- especially goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, midfielder Nick LaBrocca and defender Heath Pearce -- enjoyed remarkable seasons and the addition of Juan Pablo Angel, in an August trade from the Galaxy, gave the Goats their first top-class MLS striker since Ante Razov.
Chivas finished 8-14-12, seventh in the Western Conference and 15th in the overall table.
What isn't? Fraser and Domene have turned over more than half their roster, dumping starters (Michael Umaņa, Marcos Mondaini) and scrubs (Sergio Arias, Gerson Mayen) alike while building midfield depth this league's never seen.
They've got 10 potential starters in midfield, or at least the rights to 10 (well, 11, but re-entry draft pick Arturo Alvarez is scouring Europe for a job). That number includes Jorge Villafaņa (the former Jorge Flores, who has adopted his mother's name), who appears destined to back up Ante Jazic at left back, and Englishman Ryan Smith (acquired in a November trade from Sporting Kansas City), whom we'll believe is here when we see him. Sadly, injury-prone Blair Gavin, we hear, is still struggling with that hamstring problem.
The Goats have added seven players to their roster -- Alvarez would be the eighth should he choose to join up -- including three from South America. Ecuadoran midfielders Oswaldo Minda (from Deportivo Quito) and Miller Bolaņos (from LDU Quito) add to the attack, and Colombian John Alexander Valencia (from Junior), not yet announced, will strengthen central defense.
Veteran James Riley, who came from Seattle via Montreal during November's expansion draft, nicely fills the hole at right back. Smith is an interesting addition. He impressed with K.C., then asked for leave last summer to return home for family reasons. He trained in Spain, but Sporting wasn't willing to sell him, and he hasn't been back on these shores, or so it's said, since then. He could be a key contributor -- if he wants to be here. Former RSL No. 3 Tim Melia bolsters the goalkeeping corps.
The other arrival is first-round draft pick Casey Townsend, a forward from Maryland. The Goats have five picks in the first two rounds and a decent pool to choose from in Tuesday's supplemental draft.
Chivas has cleaned house, excising players in positions where upgrades are necessary and making several moves solely with the salary cap in mind.
Central midfielder Paulo Nagamura, a pivotal figure who missed much of last season with injury, was sent to K.C. for allocation money. Right-back-of-the-future (and, sometimes, present) Zarek Valentin slipped to Montreal in the expansion draft when the Goats failed to protect him after his surprise “graduation” from the Generation adidas program. Justin Braun and Mayen went to Montreal in the Riley deal.
Loan options were declined on Argentine wing-forward Mondaini (now with Ecuador's Emelec), Mexican third-string goalkeeper Arias (loaned by Guadalajara to second-tier Irapuato) and Ecuadoran forward Victor Estupiņan (returned to LDU Quito. Veteran midfielder Simon Elliott was not re-signed. Options were declined on defenders Umaņa (joined Guatemalan power Comunicaciones), Andrew Boyens (to the Galaxy in the re-entry draft) and Mariano Trujillo, goalkeeper Zach Thornton and forward Chukwudi Chijindu.
WHAT ABOUT ...?
No deal yet with Colombian forward Angel, who scored seven goals in nine games after arriving in August from the Galaxy, but Fraser has said he's confident a deal will get done. The statuses of Home Grown Players Tristan Bowen and Bryan de la Fuente are unclear. Bowen has been on loan to Belgian club Roeselare since fall.
Fraser has at least seven roster slots to fill (and additional turnover could add to that), and trialists domestic and foreign will be seeking a job. The coach previously confirmed veteran MLS pool goalkeeper Kevin Guppy, a former Cal State Northridge star who has trained regularly with the Goats (and was considered by some the second-best keeper in camp last year, after Kennedy), will get a shot. Former Kansas City/Real Salt Lake defender Rauwshan McKenzie also will be in camp.
Chivas needs to add another goalkeepers, at least two more defenders (and three would be better) and at least one more forward, two if Angel doesn't return.
WORKING TOWARD ...
The Goats open the season March 11 against the Houston Dynamo at Home Depot Center. No word yet on where they'll go or who they'll play aside from a four-team tournament Feb. 27-March 4 in Portland, with the Timbers, Swedish club AIK and the San Jose Earthquakes.