Wednesday, August 17, 2011
CHIVAS USA: Angel passes character test
By Scott French
Juan Pablo Angel's stint with the Galaxy didn't go as planned. Now, he will try to turn it around with Chivas USA.
CARSON -- The common thread running through virtually every move Chivas USA has made since Robin Fraser was appointed head coach last January has concerned character.
Fraser, once among the finest and most regal center backs in American soccer, and chief assistant coach Greg Vanney, also a dignified defender, are firm believers that doing things the right way, refusing to cut corners, is the only path to true success.
That philosophy has been central in their rebuild of the Goats' roster, with so many of the most important additions -- defenders Heath Pearce and Jimmy Conrad, midfielder Simon Elliott, forward Alejandro Moreno -- players with experience, strong leadership characteristics and uncommon character.
The 35-year-old striker might be the most stately figure in Major League Soccer, a standard-bearer in training and preparation, in his duties to his teammates and his club, is his dealings with opponents and officials.
That, alone, makes him the perfect fit for the Goats.
That he can score goals -- and that Chivas needs a primary goal scorer -- makes it all that much better.
“I heard about [his character] coming into this, and we were able to spend a little time together throughout this process,” Fraser said. “And as impressed as I've been with him as a player for many, many years, I'm even more impressed with the person he is. ... He epitomizes what we want to do here. He's about hard work, he's about the team.”
His training regimen, experience and precision in the box will be a boon for Justin Braun, Chris Cortez and Victor Estupiñan. Rarely do young forwards in this country get to learn from so accomplished a master.
“First and foremost, look at his professionalism,” Fraser said. “You look at where he's played and what he's done, his age, and you watch him in training, and his movement is so sharp -- because he's someone who understands [what it takes] to be a good player. It's about being switched-on. It's about being engaged. It's about training at game speed.
“Just watching him for a couple of days, it's very apparent that he understands this, and that's how he trains, and that's how he intends to go about his business. And I think that, first and foremost, as young forwards watch him, especially at his age, he's about being professional, he's about doing things right, and he's about doing things at the right pace. And I think that's the first lesson any young player needs to see.”
PRESSURE TO SCORE: Angel's primary duty through his career has been to put the ball in the net, and he's done so impressively everywhere he's played -- except with the Galaxy.
He'll be expected to resume the pace now that he's with the Goats, right?
Alejandro Moreno, his likely first-choice strike partner, thinks so.
“The expectations are high from us,” Moreno said, “and I think they're high from him as well.”
Hold on, says midfielder Simon Elliott, like Moreno among several Goats who have worn the captain's armband. “We're certainly hopeful of that,” he said. “I mean, you don't want to put too much on his shoulders straight away.”
Load on the pressure. Angel doesn't mind.
“Throughout my career, I always had the pressure to score goals. That's what strikers are for,” Angel said. “I had pressure when I was in Colombia [with Atletico Nacional], Argentina [with River Plate], England [with Aston Villa], in New York [with the Red Bulls], with the Galaxy, everywhere. That's what people expect from strikers.”
Fraser thinks he'll add more than just goals.
“He's a good player in the buildup process,” the coach said. “We're a fair, decent possession team, and when we possess, we tend to get ourselves into opportunities or positions on the field where we have opportunities to provide service. So he'll help with the buildup, and no question he's a guy who knows how to move in the box.”
NO ILL WILL: Angel was asked about how his Galaxy departure might provide added motivation, and he made it clear he bears no ill feelings toward his former club.
“What happened with the Galaxy is just the way the league operates,” he said. “There's nothing else to say. I only have good comments about the organization. There's nothing else to say about it.”
STAYS IN SO CAL: Angel spent his first four years in MLS in New Jersey, and most believed he favored a move to the East Coast -- perhaps to Philadelphia, where his compatriot Faryd Mondragon is goalkeeper. Not so.
“There was a lot of talk [about Philadelphia], but then I had a good conversation with Robin, and it was also convenient that I didn't have to move again,” he said. “My family just got here about three months ago -- I spent [the start] of the season without my family, and I didn't enjoy it.
“Part of being able to perform well is being mentally right, and family is a very important part of my life. I just wanted to have them close. I didn't want to move again.”
ALLOCATION DUTY: Chivas has already passed twice on allocations this season -- Irvine's Benny Feilhaber went to New England in April, and Freddy Adu ended up in Philly last week -- but they won't get a chance to make 2006 U.S. World Cup reserve forward Eddie Johnson No. 3.
The Goats hold the top spot on MLS's allocation list (used to distribute a certain class of talent through the league), and Johnson -- a former FC Dallas and Kansas City forward who has been with London-based Fulham since 2008 (but has spent most of that time away on loan) -- was expected to sign with the league this week.
A story was even posted on the league's website Tuesday night, then quickly taken down, and the league said Wednesday the big Floridian has backed away from a verbal agreement and ended negotiations -- and reports say it was about money.
With Angel's arrival, our guess is Chivas would have passed on Johnson.
WORTH NOTING: Fraser said the Goats likely would use Angel in their 4-4-2, diamond-midfield configuration, that it has enabled them to create chances -- and that the wing play will fit into what the striker does best. Chivas also has used, more sparingly, a 4-1-4-1 formation. ... Forward Marcos Mondaini's eyesight has been a little blurry since a ball was kicked into his right eye from close range last weekend at Seattle. He trained Wednesday wearing a baseball cap to shield the sun from his eyes. ... Talks with a South American forward broke down before close of the transfer window because, general manager Jose Domene said, “the team [he's with] got a little greedy.” The Goats will keep the player, whom they have not identified, on their radar. ... Former MLS midfielder/defender Teddy Chronopoulos (Rialto/Eisenhower HS and Cal State San Bernardino) has been appointed director of Chivas' youth academy. Former director Sacha van der Most was dismissed last weekend. The moves are part of a restructuring with last week's merger of Cosmos Academy West, which Chronopoulos directed, and Chivas' youth system.