As much as the Ventura County Fusion want to beat Chivas USA in their U.S. Open Cup clash, impressing their guest might be more important.
A berth in the fourth round of America's oldest soccer competition, possibly against the Galaxy, awaits the winner of Tuesday night's showdown at Ventura College, but the Fusion's stars are looking for something more.
A strong showing against Major League Soccer competition could mean opportunities to play in the top league, perhaps for Chivas, and the Fusion's top players -- many of them with pro experience -- are looking to show what they can do.
“Not just for me, but for all the guys playing PDL,” Rodrigo Lopez, the former Chivas/Portland Timbers midfielder who runs the Fusion's attack, told ESPN Los Angeles after Ventura's second-round upset last week over the L.A. Blues. “I think in our situation, it's a good opportunity to show something and to get looked at. Not just to win and keep going -- that's our main goal -- but a lot of guys, that's the way to the main teams, to the MLS teams.”
Lopez (Santa Barbara/Santa Barbara HS) has the most extensive MLS experience among the Fusion -- he spent two seasons with the Goats, was with Portland last year and in March played for Chivas in a reserve friendly-- but it's a roster filled with prospects.
Holding midfielder Daniel Steres (Calabasas/Calabasas HS), a supplemental draft pick, and winger Kennedy Chongo (Biola University) spent preseason with the Goats. Center back Tim Pontius (Yorba Linda/Servite HS and UC Santa Barbara) was a Seattle Sounders draft pick; his older brother, Chris, is a D.C. United star.
Travis Bowen (Van Nuys/Chatsworth HS), Chivas forward Tristan Bowen's older brother, has been pursuing the pro game around the world. He's coming off a hat trick in the Fusion's Premier Development League victory Saturday over La Mirada's Southern California Seahorses.
“He deserves it more than anybody ...,” said Tristan Bowen, who can't play in the game -- his loan deal to Belgium doesn't officially end until the summer transfer window opens June 27 -- but will be there to watch. “The only reason I started playing was because of him. He wandered off after school one day into a playground, and he was playing soccer, and it just kind of stuck. I wasn't very good. He was always better than me, but sometime around 12 or 13 I started scoring a lot of goals.”
Travis, 22, is “talking a little bit already” about the game, but Tristan, 21, has so far declined to respond. “I don't want him to do bad,” Tristan said, “but I'm in a weird position, you know? ... That would be nice if it's like a 4-3 game where Chivas wins and Travis scores another hat trick. That's an ideal world.”
The Fusion went unbeaten against MLS clubs during preseason, with a 1-0 win over Chivas and scoreless draws with Houston and Chicago.
“We're not going to be intimidated,” Fusion head coach Ole Mikkelsen said. “And I've always said [we] can't wait until we have a chance to play of the of the MLS teams in a meaningful game, and this is it. ... Hopefully, we can put another quality performance in, give them a run for their money.”
What does Chivas expect? Depends who's talking. Midfielder Peter Vagenas, addressing the congested Goats schedule -- this is their fourth game in 11 days -- last week said: “All due respect to who were playing in the Open Cup, we should be able to beat them with a couple days' rest.”
Bowen isn't so sure.
“Even thought they're a PDL team, I think it's dangerous to go out there as an MLS team with the mentality that these guys aren't at the level that we're at,” he said. “Especially in Europe, what I've noticed, as long as you have a desire to play, you can give anyone a game at any day.”
The Goats ought to know. They've failed to advance in their Open Cup opener in six of seven seasons, falling to sub-MLS competition four times.
“We'd like to change that,” said Chivas coach Robin Fraser, who called the tournament “extremely” important. “Anything we do, we're trying to win it. If we're in this, there's no sense being in unless you're really trying to win it.”
He might keep an eye out for talent, too.
“It's very big [for lower-division players],” he said. “If you have an opportunity to play against a first-division team, then, certainly, it's your ability to showcase yourself. You see that often where a lot of Open Cup games are very difficult because guys do see it as their opportunity, and rightfully so. ... [Opposing players] might catch your eye or they might not, it all depends on what's happening with your team.”
Lopez, who is looking for options in Mexico or in MLS, would love to make his case.
“I'm looking to get looked at again,” he said. “Maybe I could back to Chivas. Anything can happen. Maybe this is a great chance for me to show something again. I'm sure there will be other MLS teams watching.”
WORTH NOTING: The winner will play a week from Tuesday against the Galaxy at Home Depot Center or second-division Carolina RailHawks in Cary, N.C. ... Fraser is unsure how long midfielder Nick LaBrocca, who hurt his hamstring Wednesday at New York, will be unavailable. “Hamstrings are temperamental,” Fraser said. “Could be short, could be long.” ... Midfielder Ben Zemanski isn't quite ready to return from an MCL sprain, but he's close. Says Fraser: “These injuries, once you turn the corner, you're off and running, and he's right at the corner.” ... After dismissing all the trialists about a week and a half ago, the Goats have a new one in camp: Scottish left back Scott Morrison, who has played for Dumfermline, Aberdeen and this past season with Ross County, which has offered him a contract for next season. Morrison, 28, contacted technical director Simon Elliott and arranged a trial while sorting out his options. ... Two Academy players home for the summer from the U.S. under-17 national team's Florida residency are training with the first team: left back Adonis Amaya (Westminster/Westminster HS) and left winger Bradford Jamieson (Los Angeles/Santa Monica HS). ... Fraser is seeking to eliminate from conversation one of his (and the soccer world's) common phrases, makingn note of it Saturday's postgame news conference. And again on Monday: “It all depends on what's happening with your team, at the end of the day -- dammit. I've got to stop saying that, 'at the end of the day.' ”