Los Angeles Soccer: Alex Zotinca
Chivas USA opened camp Thursday with physicals and initial meetings, and the Goats begin on-field preparations Friday morning at the Home Depot Center with a new coach and, in many ways, a new club.
Robin Fraser takes charge as the club takes stock, and he brings with him a coaching philosophy that could provide a foundation for Chivas to return to, and surpass, the glories of 2006-09.
The club was perhaps Major League Soccer's most stylish at the time, and a title run in 2007 -- with Maykel Galindo's breakthrough and Ante Razov's cerebral play up top -- would have been appropriate. Chivas has never won a playoff series.
Fraser is looking to quickly turn last year's losers into contenders. Chivas went 8-18-4 and finished last in the Western Conference after losing its veteran core of players to departures and retirement.
Here's what you need to know heading into preseason camp:
The new face of the organization is Fraser's. The first-time head coach -- a former Galaxy star lauded for his work as an assistant coach at Real Salt Lake -- and his staff (including former Galaxy and UCLA star Greg Vanney) say they have a plan in mind, a sort of total-football approach to team harmony, that will supplant the foundation that crashed last year.
The arrival of two veterans -- central defender Jimmy Conrad (Temple City/Temple City HS and UCLA), acquired in the re-entry draft, and forward Alejandro Moreno, a former Galaxy striker picked up in a trade -- will play well into Fraser's team building, bringing veteran savvy and, especially Conrad, leadership qualities that the club lacked last year.
The Goats were masterful at the draft, pulling in five genuine prospects. Defender Zarek Valentin, the No. 4 overall pick (a central defender at Akron who will move to the right for Chivas), is considered can't-miss, and fellow first-rounder Victor Estupiñan, from Ecuador, is a most enticing forward. Their ability to contribute immediately will be crucial, but both are long-range selections.
Tristan Bowen (Van Nuys), who will be 20 on Jan. 30, arrives after a promising second season with the Galaxy. Three more draftees -- midfielders Jon Okafor (Brown) and Ernesto Carranza (Sacramento State) and defender Curtis Ushedo (Alabama-Birmingham) -- will battle for roster spots. So will former Chivas USA winger Francisco “Panchito” Mendoza, who will join training as a non-roster guest.
The Galaxy made a big splash in the second phase of Major League Soccer's re-entry draft Wednesday, taking New York Red Bulls striker Juan Pablo Angel -- arguably the finest target forward ever to play in the league -- after making a trade with Houston to move up to fourth in the draft.
The 35-year-old Colombian, who joined the Red Bulls when Galaxy coach Bruce Arena was in charge in New York, has scored 61 goals in four seasons for New York.
His contract, for $1.62 million (with $1.918 million guaranteed compensation), was not renewed, and the Galaxy will be able to negotiate a new pact with the tall striker.
“In the re-entry draft, all teams are doing is acquiring rights to players,” Arena said on a teleconference Wednesday afternoon. “There's still a negotiating period to see if we can reach an agreement. … We think he's a very fine forward, and we're hopeful we can reach an agreement. …
“The reason we took him in the re-entry draft is we think we can make it work. I think Juan wants to make it work, but we have to get in some discussions this week and see if we can reach an agreement.”
The Galaxy also selected Red Bulls midfielder Luke Sassano, and Chivas USA took Kansas City central defender Jimmy Conrad (Temple City/Temple City HS and UCLA).
Galaxy midfielder Dema Kovalenko and Chivas USA midfielder Marcelo Saragosa and defender Alex Zotinca weren't drafted and become free agents. So do Colorado midfielder Peter Vagenas (Pasadena/St. Francis HS and UCLA) and Columbus midfielder Duncan Oughton (Cal State Fullerton).
Arena said he has spoken twice with Angel in recent weeks and believes a deal can be made despite the forward's stated desire to remain on the East Coast. If signed, Angel likely would be a Designated Player, which would all but end any chance of L.A. acquiring Brazilian forward Ronaldinho.
The veteran forward wasn't taken in last first stage of the draft -- only two players were selected -- after the Galaxy declined the option on his contract.
Galaxy midfielder Dema Kovalenko and Chivas USA midfielder Marcelo Saragosa and defender Alex Zotinca remain on the list for the second stage.
Kirovski, 34, scored four goals in 21 appearances (with 11 starts) last season and 30 in seven MLS campaigns. The former U.S. national-teamer from Escondido, who emerged from Manchester United's youth academy and played for Germany's Borussia Dortmund and Fortuna Cologne, Portugal's Sporting Lisbon, and England's Crystal Palace and Birmingham City, joined the Galaxy in 2004 and returned to the club last year following four seasons in Colorado.
Also among 32 players available: Colorado midfielder Peter Vagenas (Pasadena/St. Francis HS and UCLA), Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad (Temple City/Temple City HS and UCLA), Philadelphia goalkeeper Chris Seitz (San Luis Obipso/Thousand Oaks HS), and Columbus defender Frankie Hejduk (UCLA) and midfielder Duncan Oughton (Cal State Fullerton).
The first stage of Major League Soccer's re-entry draft took all of four minutes, and only two players were selected. Neither of them have local ties, not really.
D.C. United took former Galaxy forward Joseph Ngwenya -- who has made six moves since leaving L.A. in 2006, from Houston with the top pick Wednesday -- and Columbus grabbed Sporting Kansas City defender Aaron Hohlbein after the eight teams following D.C. passed.
Everybody else passed, D.C. and Columbus made no second-round selections, and the draft, of veteran players either out of contract or with options that had been declined, was over.
What happens now?
The Galaxy are free to negotiate through Monday morning with defensive midfielder Dema Kovalenko and forward/midfielder Jovan Kirovski and Chivas USA with midfielder Marcelo Saragosa and defender Alex Zotinca. If no deal is made, they'll be available in next Wednesday's second stage of the draft. After that, unselected players become free agents.
Five players either from SoCal or who played college soccer here -- Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad (Temple City/Temple City HS and UCLA), Colorado midfielder Peter Vagenas (Pasadena/St. Francis HS and UCLA), Columbus defender Frankie Hejduk (UCLA) and midfielder Duncan Oughton (Cal State Fullerton) and Philadelphia goalkeeper Chris Seitz (San Luis Obipso/Thousand Oaks HS) -- were among 35 players on the list for Wednesday's draft. Only Conrad is out of contract.
Dema Kovalenko, whose fierce approach to defense was pivotal in the Galaxy's run to the Western Conference title game, could be parting ways with L.A.
The club declined the option on the 33-year-old Ukrainian midfielder and can bring him back at a lower salary only if he isn't taken in next week's first stage of Major League Soccer's re-entry draft.
The Galaxy also declined the option on 34-year-old forward/midfielder Jovan Kirovski, and Chivas declined options on midfielder Marcelo Saragosa and 33-year-old Romanian-born defender Alex Zotinca.
Five local-bred players -- Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad (Temple City/Temple City HS and UCLA), Colorado midfielder Peter Vagenas (Pasadena/St. Francis HS and UCLA), Columbus defender Frankie Hejduk (UCLA) and midfielder Duncan Oughton (Cal State Fullerton) and Philadelphia goalkeeper Chris Seitz (San Luis Obipso/Thousand Oaks HS) -- are among 35 players available in the re-entry draft. All but Seitz are older than 30.