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Tuesday, March 22, 2011
CHIVAS USA: Look who's in the middle!

By Scott French

Chivas USA unveiled a new partnership in central defense Tuesday, and it's unlikely they'll find a better pairing this season -- if ever. They'll have to: This probably was a one-off.

With three central defenders away on international duty -- Zarek Valentin, Michael Umaña and Andy Boyens -- head coach Robin Fraser and top assistant coach Greg Vanney stepped onto the field for the Goats in a 5-0 thrashing of Loyola Marymount University at Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium.

Vanney went the full 90, and Fraser came on in the 67th minute, joining Vanney in the middle for the final 25 minutes or so.




"We were a little thin on numbers ...," said Vanney, who was cool as can be, directing the players around him and showing off his cultured left foot. "Ben Zemanski was going to play a little bit in center back, and just he had some tightness in his hamstring, so I went in. And the other thought was that some of our young guys, we just wanted to give them a feel for how to run a backline and the communication it takes to run a backline, so we thought we'd get a little time with them and try to coach them, in the middle of the game a little bit."

Vanney, 36, a two-time MLS Best XI selection who retired following the 2008 season with the Galaxy, said he had last played 90 minutes last year, in preseason games against MLS teams visiting Arizona, where he was based. Fraser, 44, a five-time Best XI pick and two-time MLS Defender of the Year, retired in 2005.

Any chance they'll follow in the footsteps of goalkeeper Pat Onstad, who retired after last season, became an assistant coach with D.C. United, then came out of retirement when D.C. needed help in the nets?

Uh ... no.

Fraser said being on the field again was "like the other 5,000 games I've played in my life" and that he had "no desire whatsoever" to play competitively again. Said Vanney: "No returning for me."

"The important thing for us today certainly was not us playing," Fraser said. "It was getting guys some experience and being able to move guys in certain positions, and that was really the reason we played, to look at players in different positions. Given how thin we are at the moment, looking around, it was either me or Carlos [Llamosa, an assistant coach and former national team defender], and I think Carlos had full warmups on, so I figured it was me."

26 TO GO: Victor Estupiñan scored a hat trick for the Goats, who used a reserve lineup, leaving out everybody who played significant minutes in Saturday's 3-2 loss to Sporting Club Kansas City. The Ecuadoran striker netted goals in the 14th, 42nd and 55th minutes, all of them pure poachers' strikes.

He also scored in Chivas' preseason opener, back on Feb. 1, so that's four in -- and 26 to go -- for Estupiñan, who said when camp opened that he was good for 30 goals this season.

The hope is a few of those 26 will come during first-team action.

"When he has a little time and space, he's a good finisher," Fraser said. "The key is can he find that kind of time and space in an MLS game. ... I think he has the same issue a lot of the young players have, which is they have to realize the pace and intensity and which you have to play, and to get open in the league, it's going to require a lot of physical work in terms of body contact and sprinting and that soprt of thing.

"For a lot of the young players, it's just realizing what the demands are going to be in an MLS game."

Tristan Bowen assisted two of Estupiñan's goals and added one of his own, and Mariano Trujillo added a goal and an assist. The nicest goal was Bowen's, in the 37th minute, strictly for the quality of Blair Gavin's run and cross to set up the shot.

TRADING PLACES: The scrimmage gave Fraser and his staff an opportunity to see Ghanaian defender Seth Owusu in the middle and at left back, Michael Lahoud at right back and Trujillo in the holding midfield slot.

Owusu partnered Vanney in the middle until Fraser came on, then moved to the left flank, where he made an impression.

"He did pretty well with the ball," Fraser said. "He's a very forward-thinking defender, so when he gets it, he looks to play a lot of entry passes, so we were pretty pleased with that."

Lahoud and Trujillo swapped spots after about 20 minutes; Lahoud figures to play as the holding midfielder, and Trujillo started at right back last season for Chivas.

Fraser said right back "is a position that's fairly interesting" for Lahoud. "His physical traits are that of a right back, and I think he could do a good job there."

CHIJINDU LOAN: Fraser said the biggest plus of forward Chukwudi Chijindu's loan to USL Pro side L.A. Blues was "he plays 90 minutes every week." The Blues, a third-tier pro club, begin their season in mid-April.

"Chuck is one one of these guys who has some physical ability, for sure," Fraser said. "I would say he's a player that needs to neaten up his game, and I think the ability to play week in, week out, get used to how to find space and time in real competition, where it's tight, and be able to make yourself dangerous and effective -- I think this affords him the opportunity to do that."

WORTH NOTING: Jesus Padilla, who was released by Chivas earlier this month but continues to train with the team, played into the second half. He said he's open to any possibility but figures he might have to wait into late spring for an MLS offer or summer for an opportunity in Mexico. ... Interim general manager Jose Domene says he continues to look for a loan deal for 18-year-old midfielder Bryan de la Fuente (Bell/Bell HS). The L.A. Blues, Domene said, said they weren't interested when Chivas contacted them, but they might have interest later. ... Domene said nobody was interested in Cesar Zamora (Sylmar/Sylmar HS), so Chivas stopped searching for a loan deal and released the 19-year-old midfielder. ... Kovi Konowiecki (Long Beach/Wilson HS) played 24 minutes for the Goats after accepting an invitation from technical director Nick Theslof to train with the team. The 18-year-old midfielder, who has played for Theslof with Irvine Strikers and PDL club Orange County Blue Star, is transferring from St. John's University to Wake Forest, Lahoud's alma mater.

CHIVAS' LINEUP: Dan Kennedy (Sergio Arias, 60); Michael Lahoud, Greg Vanney, Seth Owusu, Jorge Flores; Mariano Trujillo; Tristan Bowen, Gerson Mayen, Blair Gavin (Artur Aghasyan, 46), Jesus Padilla (Kovi Konowiecki, 67); Victor Estupiñan (Robin Fraser, 67).