Chivas brings veteran Kiwis into camp
February, 7, 2011
By Scott French | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Yes, that was Simon Elliott in midfield for Chivas USA on Monday afternoon, the holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation Goats coach Robin Fraser presented in a Home Depot Center scrimmage against the San Jose Earthquakes.
The New Zealander, whose Major League Soccer career started 12 years ago with the Galaxy, began a trial this past weekend with Chivas USA. He's 36, but his performance in South Africa during last summer's World Cup testifies he's capable of being influential in the right role.
“Simon has played hundreds of games and the Olympics and World Cup and that sort of thing,” Fraser said after Chivas' 1-0 victory. “You look at Simon, I thought he was New Zealand's best player in the World Cup last year. … I just think he's got a tremendous understanding of the game, and I think he can bring a lot to a team.”
Elliott's countryman Andrew Boyens, a 6-foot-4 defender who played sparingly he past three seasons for the New York Red Bulls (and previously was with Toronto FC), also is in camp. He saw time as a center back and left back against San Jose.
Elliott, a teammate of Fraser's for two seasons in L.A. and two more with the Columbus Crew, says he also contacted the Galaxy about potential opportunities.
“I live here -- my better half is in L.A. -- so it just makes sense, if I can, to try and play here,” Elliott said after Chivas' 1-0 victory. “I approached both of the teams here, and this one seemed to be a decent option.”
Elliott fared well in front of the backline Monday, playing the first of three 35-minute periods in the 105-minute scrimmage. He was behind Paulo Nagamura and Blair Gavin in an inspired midfield triangle that was pivotal to Chivas' control of the early action.
Elliott, who starred at Stanford University, played for the Galaxy in 1999-2003, then went to Columbus for two seasons and on to Fulham in the English Premier League for two seasons. He returned to MLS in 2009 with San Jose, which waived him before the start of last season.
He trained with the Galaxy before the World Cup, in which he played a key role for the All Whites, the only unbeaten team (with ties in all three games) in the tournament; and spent a short stint with his hometown Wellington Phoenix -- New Zealand's entry in Australia's A League -- last fall.
What impression does Elliott want to make on Fraser and his staff:
“You come in and try to perform to the best of your abilities and help the team. That's what you can do,” he said. “As far as I can tell, you don't have a lot of control over who stays and who goes. Those decisions are made by the coaches, and they have a whole host of thing that they're trying to decide.
“It's not just whether or not they think you're right [for the team], it's like: 'Does this fit in with this guy?' And 'how does this player fit in?' They're doing all sorts of algorithms in their heads, I'm sure, about who fits best with who and why. …
“You just come and give it a crack, and we'll see what happens.”
ANOTHER SHUTOUT: Alan Gordon scored the goal, his second in as many preseason scrimmages, from a Victor Estupiñan feed in the 57th minute. Nagamura, with a half-volley from 25 yards, and Tristan Bowen (Van Nuys), with a drive just over the crossbar, threatened, too.
San Jose didn't create many opportunities -- Zach Thornton went down to stop Bobby Convey, with the best, in the 24th minute -- which pleased Fraser, whose team hasn't conceded in two scrimmages.
“I was looking at what we've been working on: our defensive shape, our defensive unity, our defensive ideas, and I think for the most part we did pretty well,” Fraser said. “It was difficult, I think, today for San Jose to find chances against us, and it was really a testament as to how well they worked as a unit defensively.”
FIRST CHOICE: Did we see Chivas' starting XI when the season opens March 19? Maybe.
Elliott aside, Fraser's lineup was as close to first-choice as can be, depending on one's preference at right back and on both flanks. Top draft pick Zarek Valentin got the call over Mariano Trujillo at right back -- he is the future -- and Francisco “Panchito” Mendoza (right) and Bowen (left) were the wide midfielders, an intriguing (and reasonable) combination.
We like Nagamura and Gavin in central midfield -- especially with a true defensive midfielder (Elliott) behind them. Alejandro Moreno was alone up top, and he'd be better with a partner or more aggressive attacking play from the midfielders. The center backs (Jimmy Conrad and Michael Umaña), left back (Ante Jazic) and goalkeeper (Thornton) are clear No. 1s at their positions.
CELEBRITY CROWD: Lot of familiar faces among the crowd lining the sideline on HDC's Field 4, at least to sharp-eyed soccer watchers: U.S. national team head coach Bob Bradley and assistant coach (and former Chivas USA captain) Jesse Marsch, U.S. U-20 coach Thomas Rongen, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena and assistant coaches Curt Onalfo and Gregg Berhalter, Chivas USA managing partner Antonio Cué and his brother, Lorenzo, and longtime FIFA official Hugo Salcedo, UCLA men's coach Jorge Salcedo's father.
WORTH NOTING: Colombian central defender Yamith Cuesta, who played in 17 games in about a season and a half with Chivas, has been waived. … Forward Chris Cortez (Mission Viejo/Trabuco Hills HS), who has been in camp with the Goats before and spent some time in Mexico, joined training this week and played the final 20 minutes Monday. … MLS will announce the 2011 schedule Thursday. … Chivas leaves Friday for a weeklong stay in Casa Grande, Ariz., where it will play Seattle, Real Salt Lake and Vancouver. … The Goats' final tuneup will be March 12 at FC Dallas. … Assistant coach Nick Theslof has been promoted to technical director, with responsibility for youth development among the duties. ... Valentin's brother, Julian -- the former Galaxy defender who played last season for second-tier FC Tampa Bay -- has retired to take a job in the Colorado Rockies' media department.
Chivas USA: Zach Thornton (Sergio Arias, 54); Zarek Valentin (Mariano Trujillo, 54), Jimmy Conrad (Carlos Borja, 54), Michael Umaña (Andrew Boyens, 54), Ante Jazic (Jorge Flores, 36; Bryan de la Fuente, 71); Simon Elliott (Ben Zemanski, 36); Francisco Mendoza (Sal Zizzo, 54; Chris Cortez, 85), Paulo Nagamura (Gerson Mayen, 54), Blair Gavin (Michael Lahoud, 54), Tristan Bowen (Alan Gordon, 54); Alejandro Moreno (Victor Estupiñan, 36; Jesus Padilla, 71).
San Jose: Jon Busch (Andrew Weber, 36); Tim Ward (Steven Beitashour, 54), Bobby Burling, Brandon McDonald (Chris Leitch, 54), Ramiro Corrales (Justin Morrow, 54); Joey Gjertson (Omar Jasseh, 54), Chris Wondolowski (Tony Donatelli, 54), Brad Ring (Anthony Ampaipitakwong, 54), Bobby Convey (unidentified trialist, 54); Ryan Johnson (Ellis McLoughlin, 54), Steven Lenhart (unidentified trialist, 54).
CHIVAS USA 2011 PRESEASON
Feb. 1 vs. Fresno Fuego (PDL) at Templeton, Calif.: W 2-0 (goals by Gordon, Estupiñan)
Feb. 7 vs. San Jose Earthquakes at HDC: W 1-0 (Gordon)
Feb. 12 vs. Seattle Sounders at Casa Grande, Ariz.
Feb. 15 vs. Real Salt Lake at Casa Grande, Ariz.
Feb. 18 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps at Casa Grande, Ariz.
Feb. 25 vs. D.C. United at HDC
March 12 vs. FC Dallas at Frisco, Texas