Los Angeles Soccer: Adam Cristman

GALAXY: No Beckham, but maybe Gonzalez

July, 3, 2012

Galaxy ScoreVictor Decolongon/Getty ImagesDavid Beckham, second from right, won't play for the Galaxy on Wednesday, but Omar Gonzalez, middle left, might.

CARSON -- It's time for the Galaxy's annual Fourth of July festivities, but David Beckham is a no-show after some fireworks last weekend. Might Omar Gonzalez's return make up for his absence?

L.A.'s biggest name will miss Wednesday night's match against the Philadelphia Union at Home Depot Center after picking up a stoppage-time yellow card in last weekend's loss at San Jose, but Gonzalez has been activated from MLS's Disabled List and will be available for the game.

Beckham's caution was his sixth of the season and triggered an automatic one-game suspension for accumulation, and more games on the sideline could be coming later this week.

As the Galaxy starts to awaken from their slumber -- they took a three-game winning streak, marked by diversely strong performances, into Saturday night's defeat -- the last thing they need is the man who runs their attack sitting games out.

“Any time you lose your best player, it's going to hurt,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said as L.A. prepared for Philly. “It's part of the game, but we obviously wish we had him. We've got guys who will step in and do a good job.”

It was inevitable that Beckham would serve a yellow-card suspension -- he did so twice last year -- after picking up four yellow cards in a six-game span during April and May. The fifth means a one-game ban, and Beckham had erased one of his with three clean games before picking up cards in each of the last two games.

“Actually, David started the season with a lot of cards right in the beginning, and I think he's done fairly well since then,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “Certainly, when you start off with four yellow cards in the first four games, or close to it, you're going to be dealing with suspension at some point.”

Arena is mistaken on the specifics: Beckham didn't pick up his first caution until L.A.'s seventh game and has been carded six times in his last 10 league appearances. Saturday's card was totally unnecessary.

Beckham, frustrated as Sam Cronin sat prone in front of the Earthquakes' goal during a stoppage, seemingly trying to waste away the game's final seconds, twice booted balls from the left wing toward the San Jose midfielder. The second ball struck Cronin and ricocheted off referee Hilario Grajeda, who pulled the yellow.

In the pushing and shoving that ensued, Beckham got to face-to-face with a couple of Quakes, at one point lowering his head into that of Quakes midfielder Rafael Baca, the former Loyola Marymount All-American from Lawndale. When the final whistle blew moments later, Beckham had to be prevented from going after San Jose midfielder Khari Stephenson.

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Hector Jimenez was given an additional one-game suspension and assessed an undisclosed fine Friday for his studs-up tackle on Steven Beitashour in the Galaxy's 3-2 loss Wednesday night to San Jose and Home Depot Center.

The second-year winger from Bell Gardens, who was making just his second Major League Soccer start, was red-carded for the 59th-minute offense. That carries an automatic one-game suspension, for Saturday night's game at Houston, and Jimenez also will miss the June 17 match against Portland.

The Galaxy also announced that forward Adam Cristman has been placed on the MLS Disabled List with a concussion. He had missed the first six games this season with a concussion suffered during a preseason match. He'll be eligible to return for the July 8 game at Chicago but can play in U.S. Open Cup, MLS Reserve League and friendly matches before then.

GALAXY: A history vs. Real Madrid

May, 7, 2012

Galaxy vs Real MadridKevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesA.J. DeLaGarza of the Galaxy reacts as the ball bounces in the net after a goal by Jose Callejon of Real Madrid during the Herbalife World Challenge at the L.A. Coliseum on July 16, 2011.

The Galaxy's Aug. 2 friendly against Real Madrid at Home Depot Center, which was announced Monday, will be the fourth meeting between the teams as Jose Mourinho brings the Merengues back to Southern California for the third straight preseason.

The last two were at far bigger venues -- 2010 at the Rose Bowl and last year at the Coliseum -- but this year's battle returns to cozy Home Depot Center, site of the first encounter, back in 2005.

Real Madrid is expected to play more games while in America, and soccer blog The Offside Rules reports that it will meet AC Milan in an Aug. 5 friendly in Las Vegas.

Here is a quick rundown of the first three Galaxy-Real Madrid games:

July 18, 2005, at Home Depot Center
Real Madrid 2, Galaxy 0
David Beckham
makes his L.A. debut, in Real colors, but it's Zinedine Zidane's presence that makes this one of the most special occasions in Southern California soccer history. Zidane was mesmerizing in an hour's performance, and he set up Michael Owen's goal six minutes in. The dominance was greater than the margin of victory -- Roberto Soldado's second-half header doubled the advantage -- but L.A. clearly missed Landon Donovan, in his first year with the club, who was away on national team duty.
Att.: 27,000.

Aug. 7, 2010, at the Rose Bowl
Real Madrid 3, Galaxy 2
L.A. was on its way to an upset after Todd Dunivant and Donovan provided a two-goal lead by halftime, but then Real Madrid put in some of its bigger stars -- Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain, Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas included -- and tore apart the Galaxy. Higuain, coming off a superb World Cup performance for Argentina, scored twice, and Xabi Alonso netted the winner in the 71st minute.
Att.: 89,134.

July 16, 2011, at the Coliseum
Real Madrid 4, Galaxy 1
Real's quality overwhelmed the Galaxy, with Jose Callejon and Joselu scoring in the 15 minutes before halftime and Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in the 15 minutes after the break to roll up a 4-0 lead. Fabio Coentrão, newly arrived from Benfica, was the star among stars, repeatedly probing the L.A. defense and combining to create chances -- if not for Josh Saunders' and Brian Perk's play in the nets, Real might have scored seven or eight. Adam Cristman tallied in the 67th for the Galaxy.
Att.: 56,211.

GALAXY: B team beaten in Seattle

May, 2, 2012

No David Beckham. No Robbie Keane. No Todd Dunivant. No Josh Saunders. Two more starters on the bench. Only two first-team players in their favored spots.

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena sure did rotate his lineup for Wednesday night's Major League Soccer showdown in Seattle, and it showed. L.A. never really challenged the Sounders in a 2-0 defeat, struggling to get a grip on CenturyLink Field's artificial surface and paying a heavy price for some rather passive defending.

Eddie Johnson scored on a header just before halftime and Fredy Montero sent a 35-yard riser into the upper-left corner at the start of the second half as Seattle (5-1-1) beat the Galaxy for the first time at home in MLS play before a full house of 39,002, second-best in the league this year.

“Give Seattle credit. In a span of about eight minutes, we lost the game,” Arena told media in Seattle after the game. “We would have liked to go into halftime even and put a little pressure on them after the half, but we weren’t able to do it. ... We technically weren't good. Our guys struggled on the turf to get any kind of crosses in front of the goal. We weren't able to get any shots on the fame. It results in us not really being able to test their goalkeeper.”

The Galaxy (3-4-1), who didn't drop their fourth game last year until October, were playing the second of a three-games-in-eight-days set, and Arena -- mindful of the hated turf -- left home over-30s Beckham, Keane and Dunivant in advance of Saturday's game at Home Depot Center against New York. Saunders is missing for “personal reasons,” reportedly a stint in MLS's substance abuse treatment program.

Mike Magee and Edson Buddle started on the bench, Sean Franklin moved into midfield, Marcelo Sarvas took Beckham's spot, and Arena gave rookie Bryan Gaul his MLS debut at left back, with right back Bryan Jordan and striker Adam Cristman making their first starts of the year. Bill Gaudette was back in the nets with another superb showing.

“I think it's a difficult week with the travel and playing on this surface,” Arena said. “We wanted to keep some players fresh for the game on Saturday. That’s the decision I made. We didn’t think we were going to be able to play eleven players in three games, and we had to rotate some players. It made sense to me to have those players available on Saturday.”

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GALAXY: On the spot before big finish

April, 28, 2012

CARSON -- The Galaxy are living and dying from the penalty spot these days, and after the turn of events early in the second half Saturday night, it didn't look as if there was a whole lot of life in them.

Ah, appearances can be deceiving.

Pat Noonan netted a huge first goal with L.A., finishing a stoppage-time scramble in FC Dallas' box to deliver a 1-1 draw in an often invigorating clash that was otherwise defined by Bill Gaudette's fine play in the nets and a pair of penalty kicks that looked certain to doom the Galaxy to another home defeat.

They instead pulled out a point with an ending that, if not enough to nail down a third successive victory, could be as galvanizing as Josh Saunders' penalty-kick stop to beat Colorado a week ago.

“We getting a goal in extra time, can't be complaining about the point,” said head coach Bruce Arena, who might have had reason to complain anyway. “It's that simple. We missed a penalty. We had some good chances during the game. There weren't a whole lot of chances in the game for either team, but we had enough to get ourselves two or three goals and didn't. ... The team plays that hard and gets a point at the end like that, I think that's a positive.”

Robbie Keane missed the penalty kick, with a chance to take the lead in the 49th minute, and Brek Shea converted from the spot 12 minutes later to provide Dallas an advantage that lasted almost to the finish. But Arena made smart substitutions -- Adam Cristman, Chad Barrett and Noonan, all of them second-half submissions, combined on the winning goal -- and L.A. (3-3-1) got more than they might have on a night in which they weren't quite crisp enough.

Gaudette, making his first-team debut for L.A., was outstanding in place of Saunders, who bowed out to deal with what the team called “personal matters.” The veteran keeper has a history at HDC -- he made his first MLS appearance here in 2005 for Columbus and two years ago helped the Puerto Rico Islanders to a 4-1 win over the Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round -- so when he saw his name on the board when he walked into the locker room Saturday afternoon, he was ready.

He made three huge saves -- diving to stop George John's quick deflection of a Daniel Hernandez free kick in the 18th minute, parrying Shea in the 21st and leaping to tip away a looping, off-balance Blas Perez header moments after Keane's miss -- but committed the foul that gave Shea the ball at the spot.

Most of the blame on that play goes to David Junior Lopes, making his third start since arriving in a trade from Chivas nearly three weeks ago. Lopes struggled with the ball at his feet the entire match and made several mistakes, none as debilitating as his poor attempt to chest the ball from a Jair Benitez cross back to Gaudette.

Perez raced past him to take possession, and Gaudette took him down. Shea's shot left Gaudette no chance.

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GALAXY: Leonardo back, briefly, vs. Blues

April, 24, 2012

LeonardoVictor Decolongon/Getty ImagesLeonardo, right, has been out of action for more than a year because of a knee injury.

CARSON -- Leonardo hadn't made a game appearance in more than a year, and if he's not quite ready to jump back into battle, he deserves some reward for the work he has put in rehabbing a nasty knee injury.

So the Galaxy's Brazilian center back was given a little more than 10 minutes in a closed-door friendly Tuesday against the L.A. Blues, his first action in an actual match since shredding all of his ligaments in his right knee -- anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments, the two worst to tear, included -- a year and a week earlier.

“Psychologically, it's great for him,” reserve-team coach Curt Onalfo said after his side held on for a 3-2 victory over the Blues on the Galaxy's training field at Home Depot Center. “He had trained earlier [with the first team], and we wanted to get him in just so, psychologically, [we] can help him progress. It's been a long road, and he's really made progress, so it was good to see him out there for 10 minutes.”

Leonardo, who came on for Tommy Meyer in the 35th minute and played until halftime, is eligible to come off the disabled list for Saturday night's Major League Soccer match against FC Dallas at HDC, but he's still several weeks away, so the club is not ready to make that move.

“We're going to see how he progresses,” Onalfo said. “He's made significant progress, and now the next step is for him to train consistently and start getting more minutes and just more 11-v-11 type stuff. He's doing a good job. ... We want to get him back as quickly as possible. So hopefully in the next month we can incorporate him more and more in the stuff we do as a reserve team so he gets himself prepared to be with the first team.”

Leonardo, who was acquired on loan from Sao Paulo in 2010 and purchased outright before this season began, started the first seven games in central defense for the Galaxy last year. He tore up his knee while challenging Dominic Oduro in the closing minutes of a victory April 17 at Chicago, underwent surgery a week later and required an additional procedure last November after his rehab in Brazil hit a snag.

He returned to training with the first team last month and has several steps to take before he can begin battling A.J. DeLaGarza, David Junior Lopes, Meyer and Andrew Boyens for time in central defense. This appearance was a significant step.

“I think it was a very important 10 minutes,” Leonardo, whose target to return to the first team is “maybe next month,” said in Spanish through an interpreter. “I need more playing time. I need more time on the field to get back. ... It's very different when you're out there 11 on 11 on the full field as opposed to the small-sided games I've been doing.”

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GALAXY: No 'charisma,' Barrett admits

April, 3, 2012

BarrettBob Levey/Getty ImagesChad Barrett missed last season's MLS Cup after suffering a gruesome foot injury leading up to the game.

CARSON -- Chad Barrett's sharpness in front of the net was the biggest plus for the Galaxy in their loss to Chivas USA in Monday's MLS Reserve League opener, and it opens the door to changes that might ignite L.A.'s attack in the real games.

Barrett, who started 27 first-team games last year but missed the MLS Cup final after a gruesome foot dislocation, tallied twice from Adam Cristman feeds in the 4-2 defeat and came close to a hat trick in the closing minutes.

“Just feels good to hit the back of the net in the run of play again,” Barrett said following the game on the Galaxy's Home Depot Center training field. “Haven't done a lot of that since I got back. Just getting the confidence and striking it. … Little disappointed didn't [get the third] at the end, but it wouldn't have changed the outcome.”

Barrett, who scored eight goals in competitive matches last season, returned to training in February and played in the final two preseason matches. He has started once and come off the bench in the other four Major League Soccer and CONCACAF Champions League matches this year. These were his first goals against opposition.

He might be the answer for a disconnected Galaxy attack. Despite Robbie Keane's public protests to the contrary, Edson Buddle has not built much chemistry with the Galaxy's Irish star, who had a nice on-field relationship with Barrett last year.

Buddle, who returned at the end of January after a year in Germany, delivered a superb through ball for Keane's goal in Saturday's loss to New England, but that kind of connection has not been evident often. One of the defining images of the 3-1 defeat was Keane angrily responding when Buddle, on a breakaway, fired wide from the top of the box with Keane open for a simple finish just to his right.

The problems up top are secondary to the troubles at the back, which were further illuminated by four Chivas goals -- three by Cesar Romero, who teamed with Miller Bolaños to dominate rookie center backs Tommy Meyer and Bryan Gaul -- after L.A. gave up 11 in their first five first-team matches.

“I wish I had a remedy for it. Unfortunately, I'm on the other -- attacking -- side ...,” said Barrett, who noted the Galaxy's defensive approach involves all 11 players on the field. “Right now it seems we've got a little but of lack of communication, lack of a sense of pride, both in the reserve game and the other games. We just don't have that same mentality, that same charisma we had last year, and that's something we need to find quick or we'll find ourselves at the bottom of the table, like we are now.”

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GALAXY: Olympic loss a 'black mark'

March, 27, 2012

USA, El SalvadorFrederick Breedon/Getty ImagesThe Galaxy's Michael Stephens, right, came on as a late sub in Monday's U.S. game vs. El Salvador

CARSON -- Michael Stephens is expected to be back on the training field Thursday with the Galaxy, and his teammates know it's not where he wants to be.

Stephens was a late substitute in the United States' devastating defeat in an Olympic qualifier Monday night, sent on to help kill off the game. Instead, the Americans surrendered a goal more than four minutes into stoppage, and a 3-3 draw with El Salvador eliminated them from contention for this summer's London Games.

“It's disappointing for everyone,” defender Todd Dunivant said following the Galaxy's practice Tuesday morning at Home Depot Center. “Shows you can't take those things for granted.”

Stephens, a former UCLA star, had not played in the U.S. under-23 national team's first two group games in Nashville. He came on for Joe Corona in the 88th minute of the Group A finale in CONCACAF's qualifying tournament.

“I would have loved for Mikey to play in the Olympics,” said midfielder Mike Magee, who watched the game on television. “That was no way to leave the tournament. It was definitely frustrating when that last goal went in.”

The defeat's larger meaning -- and who deserves blame for the Americans' unexpected failure -- was debated Tuesday across the American soccer landscape. Dunivant and Magee noted that missing the Olympics is not the same as missing a World Cup, for which the U.S. last failed to qualify in 1986.

“I don't think anyone feels devastated,” Magee said. “Obviously, it's not what you want, but the main thing for soccer is definitely the World Cup. We want our young players to do better, and we want to go through [to the finals] at every level, but at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter in terms of the sport in our country.”

Dunivant saw another side.

“Ask any of those guys who were on that field whether this was a big deal or not,” he said. “Those guys had a chance to be in the Olympics, and how many athletes have said they've done that. Any of us would want that. Is it the end of the world? No. But it's certainly a black mark on U.S. soccer right now.”

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GALAXY: Tottenham makes for tight fit

March, 22, 2012

CARSON -- The Galaxy announced Thursday they will take on Tottenham Hotspur in a July friendly at Home Depot Center. What they didn't announce is how difficult a fit the game is in their schedule.

The July 24 date makes for five matches in 15 days in the middle of one of the toughest stretches in L.A.'s schedule: Seven of eight league clashes on the road, with the home game (and one of the away games) a SuperClasico match against Chivas USA.

The Galaxy plays at Portland on July 14, at Vancouver on July 18, and at home July 21 against Chivas. L.A. is off to play FC Dallas in Frisco, Texas, four days after the Tottenham match.

Summer friendlies are increasingly a highlight of the American soccer schedule, and the Galaxy is expected to play two top clubs this summer. Tottenham, with which L.A. has a longstanding relationship, had long been rumored. Manchester United's name has been bounced around a bit, too.

What about Real Madrid? The Galaxy played friendlies with the Merengues the past two seasons, at the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum, and manager Jose Mourinho has annually brought his team -- first Chelsea, then Inter Milan, the Real -- to UCLA for preseason. There has been speculation Mourinho will depart Real in May, and former president of business operations Tom Payne last summer told ESPN Los Angeles that he had told the Spanish giant that their presence in Southern California prevented other clubs, which the Galaxy hoped to play in friendlies, from visiting the area.

The Galaxy has been more aggressive about scheduling friendlies since Bruce Arena took charge in August 2008. AC Milan and Barcelona visited in 2009, Real Madrid and Argentina's Boca Juniors in 2010, and Manchester City -- currently second in the EPL -- played at Home Depot Center eight days after last year's Real Madrid tilt. Chelsea visited HDC in 2007.

The Galaxy also played a July 2009 friendly against Crystal Palace in Richmond, Va., but it was abandoned at halftime because of heavy rains.

Tottenham, which features American goalkeeper Brad Friedel and has spent most of this season sitting third in the English Premier League standings, has a business relationship with the Galaxy, and David Beckham and Robbie Keane are close to Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, who could become England's national team coach in May. Beckham trained before the 2011 season with Tottenham, and Keane, a former Spurs striker, spent a few days in January working out with the club before joining Aston Villa on loan.

BECKHAM IS WEALTHY: Beckham is the soccer world's second-best earner, France Football magazine reports, making $41.5 million last year through salary, endorsements and other earnings. He was MLS's only player in the top 20, no surprise except that New York's Thierry Henry was a regular presence on the annual list until arriving in the league two years ago.

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GALAXY: Garcia sticks with L.A.

March, 6, 2012

Rafael Garcia.Major League SoccerCal State Northridge's Rafael Garcia, left, has made the Galaxy's 30-player roster.

TORONTO -- Rafael Garcia, whose San Fernando Valley exploits revealed him as one of Southern California's most promising young players, will get his shot at the big time.

The central midfielder from Canoga Park and Cal State Northridge survived preseason with the Galaxy, winning one of the final three roster spots. The Galaxy has not yet announced the deals but are expected to later Tuesday or Wednesday.

Defender Bryan Gaul and midfielder Kenney Walker also signed with the club, giving L.A. 31 players, although only 30 -- the MLS cap -- will count against the roster maximum until Omar Gonzalez, expected to be out until at least September because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, comes off the disabled list. They'll then have to make a roster move.

Garcia, 23, part of the great Canoga Park High School team that won a mythical national championship in 2007, starred at Northridge, participated in Major League Soccer's pre-draft combine in Florida and was selected by the Galaxy in the second round of January's supplemental draft. He impressed in just three preseason match appearances, providing one of the highlights of L.A.'s preparations with a dynamic run to set up a Dan Keat goal in a 3-2 victory Feb. 16 against Chivas USA.

“I'm at a loss for words,” Garcia said following the Galaxy's training session Tuesday afternoon at Rogers Centre, where they'll face Toronto FC in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg Wednesday night. “I'm really excited to be on the team, and to make it official is just a great feeling.

“I tried my hardest [during preseason]. I worked very hard. I like to think my hard work paid off. I looked at the rest of the midfielders, saw what they were doing, and I learned a lot. I think that was to my benefit, and thank God it all worked out for me.”

Gaul, 22, a 6-foot-5 forward-turned-center back from Bradley University, also was selected in the supplemental draft. He made eight preseason appearances, with three full 90s, primarily partnering Andrew Boyens as a second-choice tandem in the middle.

Walker, 23, a central midfielder from the University of Louisville, was taken in the second round of the SuperDraft after an impressive performance at the combine. He played in seven preseason matches.

Supplemental draft pick Justin Davies, an outside back from San Diego State, and trialist J.T. Murray, an outside back from Louisville who was drafted last year by Sporting Kansas City but did not make the Wizards' roster, were released from camp.

Center back Tommy Meyer, the Galaxy's first-round SuperDraft selection, signed an MLS contract before the draft.

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GALAXY: Another trophy for L.A.

March, 4, 2012
The goal, Bruce Arena was saying earlier in preseason preparations, is to win every trophy the Galaxy competes for in 2012: MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield, CONCACAF Champions Cup, U.S. Open Cup.

They claimed a different one Saturday night in Tucson, winning the four-team Desert Diamond Cup exhibition event by beating the New England Revolution on penalties.

Brian Perk, playing for the first time this preseason, made two stops in the shootout and Marcelo Sarvas made the decisive kick to give L.A. a 4-2 triumph after 90 scoreless minutes.

Arena used a mixture of first-choice players and reserves, with Best XI left back Todd Dunivant, central midfielders Sarvas and Juninho, and forward Chad Barrett -- making his first start and second appearance since returning from a dislocated foot -- representing experience. New England countered with a starting side that was unable to find the net, just the second shutout the Galaxy has posted in nine preseason matches.

Perk, who missed most of preseason because of an injury suffered while with the U.S. under-23 national team in January, stopped Ryan Guy on New England's first penalty and Benny Feilhaber with the last. Paolo Cardozo, Hector Jimenez and rookie Kenney Walker -- still unsigned -- converted before Sarvas' winner.

The Galaxy end preseason with a 3-5-1 record (2-5-1 against Major League Soccer opposition). They were outscored, 17-16, but seven of their goals came in their opener, a rout of third-tier USL Pro club L.A. Blues. Adam Cristman, who did not play Saturday, led the team with three goals and three assists.

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MLS wraps preps in L.A., Oxnard

February, 18, 2012

The Chicago Fire split a pair of games Saturday morning at Oxnard College, bringing to an end a series of 20 preseason matches involving Major League Soccer clubs in Carson and Oxnard.

Three more games were played in San Luis Obispo, and Chivas USA has a ticketed game Wednesday night in San Diego against Mexico's Club Tijuana.

Eight clubs, including Chivas and the Galaxy, trained this month at Home Depot Center or Oxnard College, several of them at both sites.

The San Jose Earthquakes beat the Fire, 2-0, in Oxnard's main stadium Saturday, with Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart and Brad Ring scoring first-half goals. The Fire rallied from a first-half deficit to beat the Ventura County Fusion, 2-1, on an adjacent field. Woodland Hills' Orr Barouch converted a penalty kick and set up Pari Pantazopoulos' strike to lift Chicago.

Thousand Oaks' Danny Barrera, who was in camp for the Fire, scored on a free kick, his second such goal in as many games. Barrera, a former UC Santa Barbara standout who is contracted to a Serbian club, scored a superb goal in the Fusion's loss Friday to the Montreal Impact at Home Depot Center.

BEST OF THE CAMPS: All in all, the soccer on display wasn't great. Everyone's in preseason form, which means lagging fitness, too many mistakes and too many connections still being made. Some matches were interesting only because you could hear everything said on the field, including a fair share of expletives. (Yes, you can swear in soccer, so long as you don't direct it at the ref.)

All that said, here were some of the good things we saw during the games in L.A. and Ventura counties:

BEST TEAM: The Portland Timbers clicked better than everyone else, with Cameroonian trialist Franck Songo'o leading one of the few attacks that appeared ready for the season to start. Portland went 3-0-1, scored four on the Galaxy and two against Houston and Chicago.

BEST PLAYER: It might be Songo'o. Or his teammate James Marcelin, a monster in midfield. We also liked what Sanna Nyassi brings to Montreal's attack, Michael Lahoud's and Ryan Smith's play on Chivas USA's flanks, and the effort Adam Cristman brings up front for the Galaxy. L.A. newcomer Marcelo Sarvas' vision and touch also impresses, and Oswaldo Minda is clearly going to be a solid midfield anchor for Chivas. If we have to pick one ... it's Songo'o.

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GALAXY: Garcia makes his mark

February, 16, 2012

Rafael Garcia.Major League SoccerCal State Northridge's Rafael Garcia, right, is battling for a midfield job with the Galaxy.

CARSON -- The odds Rafael Garcia makes the Galaxy's roster aren't necessarily great, not with the depth and talent already residing in midfield, but more of what he showed in a preseason victory Thursday over Chivas USA might push things in his favor.

The rookie from Canoga Park and Cal State Northridge made one fabulous run, creating a third first-half goal as L.A. romped to a big lead and then held on for a 3-2 triumph on its training field just southwest of Home Depot Center's main stadium.

The Galaxy played a reserve lineup against a Chivas side featuring eight to 10 likely first-teamers and dominated the first half, rolling up a 3-0 advantage as Adam Cristman and Jack McBean applied heavy pressure to the Goats' backline. There were mistakes galore -- and by some of Chivas' steadiest players, such as Dan Kennedy and Heath Pearce -- and L.A. took advantage.

Cristman did the bulk of the work, setting up Pat Noonan for the opener and turning a backpass miscue by Goats goalkeeper Kennedy into a 2-0 advantage. Garcia, getting a full, strong 90 minutes in just his second preseason appearance, made his move about 10 minutes later.

He took a pass and sprinted into the box, eluding Pearce to get to the byline. He spun around when John Alexander Valencia arrived, holding the ball for Dan Keat to get into a channel, then feeding his simple finish.

Garcia, 23, who captained that incredible 2006-07 Canoga Park High School team that went 24-0-1 and won the mythical state championship, has steadily grown since Galaxy camp began 3½ weeks ago.

“He had a good performance today,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “He's been getting better. He's started to pick it up over the last couple of weeks, so he's going to push hard to make our roster.”

Right now L.A. has 34 players. It needs to be down to 30 by March 1, and Omar Gonzalez will be on the disabled list, which opens a slot. Barring trades, one of the remaining cuts will be of a goalkeeper -- Nick Noble, who has been signed, and Bill Gaudette are fighting for a spot. Garcia, a supplemental draft choice, and second-round SuperDraft pick Kenney Walker are trying to win jobs in a midfield that might not have available space.

Garcia's plan is simple.

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GALAXY: Good start for Cristman

February, 5, 2012

CARSON -- Adam Cristman knows the first half of the first game in preseason is no arbiter of anything particularly important, but he had good reason to be pleased with his start in the battle for playing time up top.

Edson Buddle's arrival has narrowed opportunities for his fellow Galaxy forwards, but there are 41 games to be played -- and Irishman Robbie Keane, who will join Buddle in the first-choice pair, will miss a good chunk of the season leading to and during the European Championship in June.

Cristman, a big forward whose ability to hold the ball and play simply provide value, scored two goals and set up Paolo Cardozo for another while playing the first 45 minutes in Friday's 7-2 rout of the L.A. Blues at Home Depot Center.

“You look at our roster now, we've added Buddle and Pat [Noonan, acquired from Seattle during the re-entry phase],” Cristman said. “We truly have between Robbie, Edson, Chad [Barrett], Pat, myself and [Mike] Magee six really quality guys [at forward]. It's going to be tough [to get onto the field], so getting results and getting on the ends of those chances is important.”

Cristman forgot captain Landon Donovan, a top-level forward who for the past two seasons [and now on loan at Everton] has manned the right side of midfield, where he'll likely be stationed again this year. Magee, too, is primarily a midfielder these days -- he scored 15 goals across all games last year from, mostly, the left side of midfield -- but the point is made: There is an abundance of attacking talent.

Cristman, 27, who arrived a year ago in a trade from D.C. United, was limited by injury and opportunity to 11 league appearances in 2011, but he started five CONCACAF Champions League games and played in three playoff games, starting the final after a dislocated ankle forced Barrett out. He was the only Galaxy player to score in every competition -- Major League Soccer, Champions League, U.S. Open Cup and MLS Reserve League -- and in friendlies, eight in all.

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GALAXY: Galaxy wows in first outing

February, 3, 2012

CARSON -- The Galaxy are through only two weeks of preparations, they're missing their biggest names and haven't had much chance to build chemistry among the returning players and newcomers, so whatever their preseason opener produced doesn't mean a whole lot.

But as first impressions go, their victory Friday morning over the L.A. Blues had definite wow factor.

The Galaxy sent out a virtual starting lineup for the first 45 minutes -- everyone except he four missing stars and injured Omar Gonzalez's replacement -- and dominated the Blues, scoring five goals before halftime in a 7-2 romp on the club's practice field at Home Depot Center.

Marcelo Sarvas enjoyed a wonderful debut, teaming with Michael Stephens in central midfield to orchestrate an attack that moved easily, with interchange worthy of midseason, and passed the ball almost at will in a performance that suggests far more than it should.

The Blues, preparing for their second campaign in the third-tier USL Pro, also is in preseason form and did without a good number of their top players, but they're not an MLS club and couldn't keep up until L.A. coach Bruce Arena brought on a less-experienced cast for the second half.

Adam Cristman scored twice and assisted another, Sarvas converted a penalty kick and set up two goals with defense-splitting passes, and teen phenom Jack McBean scored as nice a goal as he might ever score to highlight a far more even second half.

Sarvas, the Brazilian playmaker brought in from Costa Rican power Alajuelense to replace departed Juninho, made the biggest impression. He's got quick feet, great ideas and vision that is going provide an additional dimension to an L.A. attack that seems to gain more each day.

The Galaxy made it look easy in the first half. Sarvas provided the lead from the penalty spot after a hand ball, Todd Dunivant finished from Sarvas' service about a half-hour in, Cristman tapped home a gift from Paolo Cardozo after a penetrating ball from Stephens, Cardozo scored from Cristman's feed, and Cristman added another after Sarvas played Sean Franklin into the box.

“It was certainly a concern losing Juninho -- he was a great player, and we're going to miss him -- but I think Marcelo is stepping in the role very nicely and is almost very similar in his ball-winning and distribution and chance creation,” Cristman said. “He played a great ball that led to [the last goal of the half], and he does a good job of switching the ball, and I think he combines well with the guys in the middle of the field. I think we had some good combinations in there.

“That was good to see, and good to see him in a real game situation. He's going to be a good fit for us.”

Sarvas said it wasn't quite as easy as it appeared.

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