CARSON -- The best sight for Chivas USA fans as the club's preseason camp broke Monday morning at Home Depot Center had to be of striker Juan Pablo Angel, suited up, working hard and declaring he's looking to lead the Goats to the next level in 2012.
The regal Colombian goal-getter, who scored seven times in nine games after arriving in a mid-August trade from the Galaxy, is the pivotal figure in the Goats attack, and it wasn't certain when the team wrapped its year in mid-November that he would be back.
Angel remains without a contract, but he says that ought to be taken care of in the next few days.
“I wanted to be a the start of preseason from day one,” he said after the first of two sessions Monday. “There's still minor details to take care of. The will from both sides is that we hope within he next few days everything is going to be sorted out. I'm very optimistic.”
No word yet on how the contract will be structured and whether he will remain a Designated Player, a category for top players who earn more than the maximum charge, $335,000 in 2011, against the salary cap.
Angel has been a DP through five Major League Soccer seasons, the first three with the New York Red Bulls and a difficult, eventful campaign last year with the Galaxy and, following an October trade, Chivas USA. Angel made $1 million, with the Galaxy picking up the bulk of the total after he moved down the hall and around the corner.
Chivas, which had never before had a DP -- the Galaxy, by contrast, have three -- will be responsible for the total this year. No problem.
“Obviously, that's a big piece for us,” said Galaxy head coach Robin Fraser. “He's just quality. He's a quality person, a quality player, and he adds to us on and off he field. We hope we get [the contract] ironed out quickly and move on.”
Angel was signed by the Galaxy out of the 2010 re-entry draft and was expected, with Landon Donovan's and David Beckham's support, to score at the rate he had in New York, where he netted 61 league goals in four seasons. He never meshed with L.A.'s attack, struggled to create on-field relationships, suffered through minor injury and managed just three goals in 22 league appearances.
The Galaxy moved him so they could bring in Irish forward Robbie Keane last August, and Angel was an immediate hit for the Rojiblancos. He scored in his club debut, then tallied six times in a four-game span as Chivas halted a winless streak that ended its playoff hopes.
Whether Angel wanted to return, and whether Chivas could afford to bring him back, were among the biggest questions facing the club heading into the offseason. Some of the maneuvers Fraser and general manager Jose Domene have made -- to increase competition for jobs and add more bite to the Goats' game -- helped in the forward's decision to stay.
“I wanted to take a little break, find out where In was,” Angel said. “I was in continuous contact with [Fraser and club officials], to tell them where I was and to hear where they were going. ...
“I still wanted to play. In the back of my head, the end of last year was a little bit difficult because of the circumstances, how things changed so rapidly. So you want to get your head around it so that when you come back, you're fresh, and you give at least what you're supposed to give and what people expect you to do. And so I'm happy to keep playing, happy to keep trying to help this organization.”
Only two other forwards, captain Alejandro Moreno and lightly tested Chris Cortez, return, and the Goats added Casey Townsend, a pure finisher, in last week's MLS SuperDraft. The team's makeup has changed drastically since it closed down Nov. 11.
“There's been a lot of effort and commitment throughout the organization to try to bring better players and also to have a better campaign this year ...,” Angel said. “We want to give ourselves a better chance in terms of having more quality on the field and also more depth. We're still in the early stages, but there's a lot of optimism, and we're very content with how things are changing from the end of last season to the beginning of this one.”
The goal, he said, is to “make this franchise more relevant around the league and the sport in this country. It's going to take a little bit of time, but I want to be part of it at least, to see how it goes.”
WORTH NOTING: Chivas has five picks in the first two rounds of Tuesday's supplemental draft, and there's some “decent players and some guys we have some interest in, for sure ...,” Fraser said. “We're looking for guys we think can come in and make the teram and contribute. It doesn't mean they're going to contribute right away. You have to be able to look beyond that and see where a guy might be able to contribute in time.”