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Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Nick LaBrocca has big goals for Chivas USA

By Scott French

The newest Goat arrives with great expectations, and not just for this year.

Nick LaBrocca, a midfielder Chivas USA acquired Friday in a trade with Toronto FC, says his new club is bound for something brilliant.

"We want to kind of make ourselves a powerhouse of the league," he said Wednesday, three days before Chivas opens its 2011 campaign against Sporting Club Kansas City at Home Depot Center. "It's probably not going to happen right away, but it's a matter of winning games and moving in the right direction and gaving it click all at the right time."




LaBrocca, 26, started 80 games the past three years, with Colorado in 2008-09 and Toronto FC last year, and he arrives to fill a need in the Goats' injury-challenged midfield. Four potential midfield starters are injured -- Blair Gavin (hamstring), Michael Lahoud (knee laceration), Paulo Nagamura (calf) and Simon Elliott (knee) -- and only Elliott appears to be a possibility for Saturday's Major League Soccer opener.

Gavin, Lahoud and Elliott are training, and Nagamura says he hopes to begin working with the ball again next week.

LaBrocca, who joined the team in suburban Dallas and played 90 minutes in Saturday night's loss to FC Dallas in the Goats' final preseason game, is a gutty central midfielder who can create.

"I can play outside [on the wing], but I feel like I do my best work in the middle, whether it be defense or offense or as a linking midfielder," LaBrocca said. Asked what he brings to a team, he replied: "A little bit of everything. I feel I can defend, win balls, keep the ball, and, at the same time, I can also be creative and spring into the attack."

LaBrocca had been watching Chivas from afar and says there's a lot of chatter about the team around MLS.

"Everybody talks," he said. "Everybody talks about everybody, so everybody sees and keeps [track of] what everybody's doing, and there's a nice, little buzz about Chivas and the direction they're moving in. ... By the sounds of it, they're doing it right, and the system and what they're trying to build and their philosophy all sound right on point."

IN THE MIDDLE: Rookie Zarek Valentin was paired again with Jimmy Conrad in central defense during a full-field intrasquad scrimmage Wednesday. He partnered Conrad during last weekend's loss at FC Dallas in the final preseason match, and said head coach Robin Fraser, when asked if they might be the tandem against Sporting Club: "Possibly."

"The whole beauty of Zarek is he gives us options," Fraser said. "He's still an option outside [at right back], he's still an option inside."

The plan heading into camp was to place Valentin, who helped Akron to the NCAA title in December, at right back, which figures to be his position long-term. But the Goats have outstanding depth at outside back, and Heath Pearce (on the right) and returning starter Ante Jazic (on the left) might be the preferred tandem. Pearce figures to start -- if not on the right, then on the left. He also can play in midfield.

Fraser said he wants Valentin "to be wherever we need him to be" and that "if you get someone that you're over the moon about in either of those positions, then maybe Zarek plays the other one."

Costa Rican defender Michael Umaņa, a first-choice center back for former coach Martin Vasquez, started more than half the preseason games in the middle. Ghanaian newcomer Seth Owusu, who hasn't yet been cleared by Major League Soccer, seems the likeliest bet to start next to Conrad, but he'll need time to acclimate to his new surroundings before he'll contribute.

ZAMORA GONE: Chivas USA has waived 19-year-old midfielder Cesar Zamora (Sylmar/Sylmar HS), who hasn't trained with the club for at least a month. The Goats were looking to place Zamora and 18-year-old midfielder Bryan de la Fuente (Bell/Bell HS) into loan deals and continue to seek an agreement for de la Fuente to play elsewhere.

Fraser called Zamora "a young player who wasn't going to play all that much for us" and said "it seems to make sense for him to find an opportunity to play" for someone else.

STILL AROUND: Chivas waived Jesus "Gringo" Padilla last week, but the San Jose-born, Guadalajara-bred forward/midfielder is still training with the club.

"Jesus is a great guy," Fraser said. "Just because he's not in our plans at the moment, if he doesn't have somewhere else to go, it's important that players have an opportunity to train, stay fit, stay sharp. He works hard at training, and it's something we wanted to do for him is provide an opportunity for him until an opportunity [elsewhere] comes along."

RESERVE LEAGUE: MLS this year is bringing back the Reserve League, which ran in 2007-08. Or so it says.

The first game apparently will be played Sunday, according to the Columbus Dispatch, which reports that the Columbus Crew will play at D.C. United, according to Crew technical director Brian Bliss.

League communications staff has repeatedly said during preseason they have no information on the league, and requests Wednesday for detail -- schedules, format, etc. -- received no response. Chivas USA and Galaxy officials say they've received no instruction on how to proceed.

We believe there will be a Reserve League, that there will be a schedule (supposedly, it's 10 games, not nearly enough to be truly useful, but it's a start), and that clubs will be permitted to use Academy and guest players. But until the league acknowledges that something really is going to happen, we can't be sure.

WORTH NOTING: New Zealand's March 29 friendly at Japan has been called off in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami and resulting nuclear crisis. The All Whites, with Elliott and defender Andrew Boyens on the roster, face China on March 26 and might look to schedule a second game against the Chinese. ... Trialists Guillermo "Memo" Torres and Omar Elmasri have been released, leaving two in camp: midfielder Artur Aghasyan and forward Chris Cortez.