Los Angeles Soccer: Ben Zemanski

Galaxy, Chivas on a roll heading into SuperClasico

July, 20, 2012
CARSON -- The Galaxy and Chivas USA meet up in the second SuperClasico of the season on something of a roll, and Saturday night's showdown at Home Depot Center is clearly the most important meeting in the rivalry since L. A. captured the 2009 playoff series.

The Galaxy (8-10-3) have won five of eight games since returning in mid-June from a three-week break, and they ought not to have lost the two games they've dropped in the span. Their resurgence, following a dreadful first 2 1/2 months, is all about the big names: David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.

Chivas (6-7-5) has lost only one of its last nine league games, posted three straight shutouts -- the Rojiblancos haven't surrendered a goal in 318 minutes -- and gone 6-2-5 since mid-May, including the run to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

The rivals sit fifth and sixth in the Western Conference, separated by four points on the boundary for playoff berths, and every conference encounter can be a six-point swing.

Here's a look at the 27th SuperClasico showdown, Saturday at 7 p.m. at Home Depot Center in Carson:

CURRENT FORM: There's been a lot of good and a bit of bad in both teams' recent performances. They're getting results, but Chivas USA's attack is toothless, and the Galaxy has taken to outscoring opponents, or at least trying to, which leads to some grossly entertaining encounters.

L.A. just picked up seven points in a three-game road swing, and they've come from behind for three wins and a tie in the past month. Two Beckham goals fueled last weekend's 5-3 romp over Portland, and 18-year-old rookie Jose Villarreal, from Inglewood, came off the bench to score a terrific 87th-minute goal to deliver a 2-2 draw Wednesday night at Portland.

Reigning MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez's absence because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament has been debilitating all season. He returned to action in the July 4 loss to Philadelphia but hasn't played since, complaining of pain in his surgically repaired right knee.

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CHIVAS USA: 0-0 draw is an apt result

July, 8, 2012

Chivas USAStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesDavide Chiumiento of Vancouver tries to get the ball through James Riley, right, and Rauwshan McKenzie of Chivas USA.

CARSON -- Chivas USA on Saturday night offered more of the same thing it's been offering all season long: solid defense, not enough chances -- not nearly enough goals.

None, in fact. The scoreless draw with Vancouver, a most reasonable result, was the sixth time the Goats have been shut out in 10 Major League Soccer home games this season, and coach Robin Fraser's dissection of the match had a familiar ring to it.

Chivas (5-7-5, 20 points) came close to scoring four times in the final 20 minutes after creating virtually nothing for the first 70 in another frustrating evening in a season full of them.

“I thought we were probably too passive at the beginning of the game,” Fraser said, echoing his comments from several games past. “We want to be able to push the tempo and push the pace, but in the first half things were too slow. ... The second half I felt the urgency was much better. Certainly the second half of the second half, I thought it was very good.

“We created a number of chances. Ultimately, we need to be able to finish one of those. ... More than anything, we came out of it as a group realizing the urgency we saw in the second half is something we need to see more of.”

The Goats were fine defensively, preventing Vancouver (8-4-6, 30 points) from creating anything particularly dangerous. The Whitecaps used a numerical advantage in midfield, made more pronounced by defensive midfielder Oswaldo Minda's absence because of his second yellow card-accumulation suspension of the season, to find their way to Chivas' box four times in the first 15 minutes, but they, too, lacked urgency.

“We did have decent looks from the edge of the box and didn't shoot, so that was the biggest thing we talked about in the locker room,” Vancouver coach Martin Rennie said. “If you have half a chance, you have to shoot. Even if it doesn't go in, it might deflect, it might come back off the goalkeeper. Who knows?”

Chivas matched up with Vancouver in the second half, switching from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-2-3-1, and that was more of less it for the Whitecaps' offense. With rookie speedster Darren Mattocks sidelined with his own yellow-cards suspension, the 'Caps lacked the pace to stretch the Goats' superb backline.

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CHIVAS: Angel delivers satisfying win

June, 20, 2012

CARSON -- Chivas USA has been stung four times this year by late goals that cost it a win or a draw, so there was great enjoyment derived Wednesday night from getting a a winner near the finish.

Juan Pablo Angel's looping, off-balance header from Jorge Villafaña's cross in the 82nd minute delivered to the Goats a 2-1 victory over expansion Montreal, prodding them to within one point of fifth place following a performance that did much to alleviate the disappointment of last weekend's loss to Real Salt Lake.

Alejandro Moreno also scored, after Juan Agudelo connected with Cesar Romero's corner kick in the 14th minute, and Chivas (5-7-3) grabbed points for the fifth time in their last six Major League Soccer encounters.

“Now that feels a little better, doesn't it,” said goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who had to deal with a few scrambles in his box -- one immediately after Angel's goal in heavy smoke from a supporters group's celebrations behind his net -- but not a whole lot else. “That was good. Really, that game was there for the taking, and we've talked all week just about winning, and we found a way to win tonight.

“Just a class finish by Juan. That's what he is who he is: goals like that.”

The Goats were more aggressive in the final third -- their primary focus as the season nears its midpoint -- and got more from its wide play, even with lead wingers Ryan Smith out because of a concussion and Laurent Courtois on the bench.

“We've been trying to emphasize with the wide players that we need to get the ball in the box more, because at the end of the day that's where you score goals,” said Angel, who netted just his third goal of the season and his 71st in 5 1/2 MLS seasons. “And today we have a great cross by Cesar out of a corner kick and we score, and then another cross, another goal.

“I think today was a game where we probably crossed the ball more than we ever have. At the end of that day, that's what we have to do, and we have to do it consistently.”

Montreal (4-8-3) was just as good as the Goats, for the most part. Not as dangerous, perhaps, but deserving of a point after Felipe Martins beat an otherwise excellent Ben Zemanski to finish Davy Arnaud's serve just before halftime.

That answered Chivas' goal, which went to Moreno after Agudelo raced past Zarek Valentin to volley Romero's corner kick off the Goats' captain, who was squared up with a defender in the goalmouth.

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CHIVAS: Respect for RailHawks? You bet

June, 4, 2012

James RileyThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesJames Riley was with Seattle for its Open Cup triumphs the past three years.

Chivas USA approaches everything with a seriousness of purpose and respect for the details, so there isn't a chance they're heading into Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup showdown with the Carolina RailHawks figuring that showing up will be enough.

These knockout tournaments are a minefield, which was made plain with last week's third-round results, in which half of the 16 Major League Soccer clubs failed to advance against lower-level competition. Chivas was one of those that did; the RailHawks, from the second-division North American Soccer League, rallied late to oust the Galaxy.

It makes for an intriguing matchup in Cary, N.C., with a quarterfinal berth -- June 26 against a lower-than-MLS foe -- awaiting the victor. The RailHawks, with nine players who have been on MLS rosters (including Ty Shipalane, impetus in last week's win), won't be intimidated. Not after stunning the Galaxy last Tuesday, then following up with a weekend league victory over first-place Puerto Rico Islanders, Carolina's first NASL victory this season.

“They've had a great week, and I think they're on a run of confidence ...,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles on the eve of the match. “I think over the course of a season, there's probably a difference [between MLS and the NASL], but on any given day -- we've seen these guys are good players. They were in MLS for a reason and they're successful players for a reason. On any given day, they have enough quality.”

Chivas grinded out a 1-0 win in its tournament opener last week against the fourth-tier Ventura County Fusion and are aiming to surpass their 2010 run to the semifinals. A victory would send the Goats either to Texas to face first-year NASL club San Antonio Scorpions or back home for a meeting with third-tier Charlotte Eagles from the USL Pro.

Right back James Riley knows Open Cup success. He was part of the Seattle Sounders teams that captured the last three titles. The key to success? Taking it one game at a time, he says.

“I think on any given day, anyone can beat anyone. That's definitely the case in MLS, and it's more the case here,” said Riley, who played college soccer at Wake Forest. “You saw all the upsets in the Open Cup already. We're going into the game with full respect for [Carolina]. They're professionals, they like to play, they like to win. We're not going to fear them, but we have respect.”

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OPEN CUP: Fusion want to impress Goats

May, 28, 2012

As much as the Ventura County Fusion want to beat Chivas USA in their U.S. Open Cup clash, impressing their guest might be more important.

A berth in the fourth round of America's oldest soccer competition, possibly against the Galaxy, awaits the winner of Tuesday night's showdown at Ventura College, but the Fusion's stars are looking for something more.

A strong showing against Major League Soccer competition could mean opportunities to play in the top league, perhaps for Chivas, and the Fusion's top players -- many of them with pro experience -- are looking to show what they can do.

“Not just for me, but for all the guys playing PDL,” Rodrigo Lopez, the former Chivas/Portland Timbers midfielder who runs the Fusion's attack, told ESPN Los Angeles after Ventura's second-round upset last week over the L.A. Blues. “I think in our situation, it's a good opportunity to show something and to get looked at. Not just to win and keep going -- that's our main goal -- but a lot of guys, that's the way to the main teams, to the MLS teams.”

Lopez (Santa Barbara/Santa Barbara HS) has the most extensive MLS experience among the Fusion -- he spent two seasons with the Goats, was with Portland last year and in March played for Chivas in a reserve friendly-- but it's a roster filled with prospects.

Holding midfielder Daniel Steres (Calabasas/Calabasas HS), a supplemental draft pick, and winger Kennedy Chongo (Biola University) spent preseason with the Goats. Center back Tim Pontius (Yorba Linda/Servite HS and UC Santa Barbara) was a Seattle Sounders draft pick; his older brother, Chris, is a D.C. United star.

Travis Bowen (Van Nuys/Chatsworth HS), Chivas forward Tristan Bowen's older brother, has been pursuing the pro game around the world. He's coming off a hat trick in the Fusion's Premier Development League victory Saturday over La Mirada's Southern California Seahorses.

“He deserves it more than anybody ...,” said Tristan Bowen, who can't play in the game -- his loan deal to Belgium doesn't officially end until the summer transfer window opens June 27 -- but will be there to watch. “The only reason I started playing was because of him. He wandered off after school one day into a playground, and he was playing soccer, and it just kind of stuck. I wasn't very good. He was always better than me, but sometime around 12 or 13 I started scoring a lot of goals.”

Travis, 22, is “talking a little bit already” about the game, but Tristan, 21, has so far declined to respond. “I don't want him to do bad,” Tristan said, “but I'm in a weird position, you know? ... That would be nice if it's like a 4-3 game where Chivas wins and Travis scores another hat trick. That's an ideal world.”

The Fusion went unbeaten against MLS clubs during preseason, with a 1-0 win over Chivas and scoreless draws with Houston and Chicago.

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CHIVAS: Goats in form, Sounders aren't

May, 26, 2012

CARSON -- Juan Agudelo is back, Osvaldo Alonso is out. If that's not enough to push Chivas USA into the favorite's role for Saturday night's Major League Soccer clash with the Seattle Sounders at Home Depot Center, consider current form.

The Goats (4-6-2, 14 points) are quickly solidifying into a real contender, with the draw at San Jose two weeks ago followed by last weekend's victory over the Galaxy and a tie Wednesday at Eastern Conference leader New York -- plus the burgeoning partnership up front between Agudelo and Jose Erik Correa -- and Juan Pablo Angel, too -- promising big things down the road.

They're in better shape for once than Seattle (7-3-2, 23 points), which started so well -- six shutouts and just three goals allowed in its first nine games -- but has struggled in its last three, sandwiching home losses to Real Salt Lake and on Wednesday to Columbus around a draw at Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver.

There's a goalkeeping crisis, troubles at the back -- the Sounders have allowed four goals in their last two matches -- and now Alonso, perhaps the best holding midfielder in the league, is gone, suspended two games Friday by MLS's disciplinary committee for a two-footed tackle in the Columbus loss that wasn't caught by the referee.

How big is that?

Alonso is the foundation for nearly everything the Sounders do.

Danny Califf, a few hours before word was out about the Cuban star, said trying to “move Alonso around” was critical.

“[We can't] just let him sit in the middle, because he does such a great job of breaking up plays and really covering so much ground,” said Califf, Chivas' backline leader after just two games since arriving from Philadelphia. “I think also when they have the ball [we need to try] to really have someone on him. A lot of their game goes through him, and he likes to lift his head up and look for cheeky runs from [top scorer Fredy] Montero.”

Agudelo is back early from the U.S. national team camp after not making Jurgen Klinsmann's 23-man roster for the “five-game tournament,” as U.S. Soccer is calling three friendlies (the first Saturday against Scotland) and the first two 2014 World Cup qualifiers. He and fellow Colombian Correa represent the future for Chivas, which has been desperate for something in the final third and is starting to find it.

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CHIVAS: Bowen's Belgian lessons in play

May, 16, 2012
CARSON -- Tristan Bowen was back on the field Wednesday, his first time in a full training session since returning a 2½ weeks ago from Belgium, where he spent eight months on loan to a second-division club.

Tristan Bowen
Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesAfter a stint in Europe, Tristan Bowen, above, hopes to prove he belongs with Chivas USA.

He's not eligible to return to active duty until the summer transfer window opens June 27, and there's no assurance Chivas will bring him back, but he's out to show head coach Robin Fraser and his staff over the next month that he belongs with the Goats.

Fraser's excited to see how Bowen's game has grown.

“For us,” he said, “it's an opportunity to get a look at a player who's gotten some different experience, some growth experience, and see how he does with us. So we're anxious to get him back on the field.”

Bowen (Van Nuys), 21, was acquired from the Galaxy in December 2010 and played five first-team games for Chivas before KSV Roeselare on a season-long loan last August. He endured the kinds of ups and downs that build players and finished the season with a flourish.

“It was very good for me personally,” he told ESPN Los Angeles after Wednesday's session at Home Depot Center. “I had the chance to get out of the country, experience European football, even though it was the second division. It's been a long eight months. I learned a lot of things, and I think going forward that's definitely going to aid in my progression as a player.”

Bowen made 24 first-team appearances for Roeselare, 13 of them starts, and scored three goals in a league he described as “not as technically sound as here in MLS, but the aggressiveness, I think it's a little bit more over there. There's more challenges, people flying into them. It's just more ... I guess for lack of a better word, more cutthroat. The guys are definitely better here technically. The pace is faster here.”

He was better after winter break, making eight starts in the club's final 16 games -- including four of the final five games -- and scoring three goals.

Off the field, there wasn't a lot to do, and Bowen battled homesickness and loneliness.

“My social life didn't exist,” he said. “I was in a small town an hour outside of Brussels. Everything was quiet. It was completely different from living in Los Angeles, near downtown, where everything's going 100 miles an hour, to go [to Roeselare] and things are slowed down to practically 5 miles an hour.

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CHIVAS: Correa's plan is to score goals

May, 1, 2012

Jose Erik CorreaJuan Paz/Chivas USAColombian forward Jose Erik Correa joined Chivas USA's camp this week.

CARSON -- Chivas USA hopes Jose Erik Correa possesses what it needs, and so does he.

“I want to score a lot of goals,” the young Colombian forward said through an interpreter after Tuesday's training session at Home Depot Center, his second with the Goats since arriving on an end-of-the-window transfer two weeks ago. “That's one of the characteristics of a forward, and [I want to] do things the best way I can so the coaches and staff are happy with me and the team continues to grow in the league.”

Chivas needs those goals to grow -- it's scored a league-worst four in eight games while otherwise playing rather decent soccer -- and Correa, a burgeoning Colombian national teamer who was tearing up his country's top league, provides an intriguing option up front, hopefully sooner than later.

He's only 19, or 21 -- his official papers say he's a teen, word within the club is he's not -- and needs to adjust to his first experience abroad.

“He's certainly an interesting player,” Chivas head coach Robin Fraser said. “He's got a good build and a good workrate and a good attitude so far. He's a hard-worker, he's got good pace, he can hold the ball up well. He's a good athlete.”

Correa, who scored six goals in his final seven games with Boyaca Chico and last month was called into Colombian national team coach Jose Pekerman's domestic-player camp, the first step toward World Cups and Copa Americas, has characteristics of a target striker but the speed and skill to play as a second forward, too. He could feature as early as Friday night's game against the Chicago Fire at Home Depot Center, Fraser said, depending on “how quickly he adapts to the team and his teammates ... and how he performs in practice.”

Correa says he “thanks God” for the opportunity to come to Major League Soccer, that it's a “very important step for me” and “one of the best things to happen in my life and in soccer.”

“This is a great place to be able to take the first step toward trying to get to Europe or to stay here and make a name for yourself in MLS ...,” he said. “I believe I have grown a lot [in the past year]. If they wouldn't have seen that evolution in me, I wouldn't be here. That's one of the things I admire about myself, that every day I want to be a better player.”

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CHIVAS: Angel's aim is Philly game

April, 17, 2012

Juan Pablo Angel Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesJuan Pablo Angel, still recovering from a concussion, is hoping to play Saturday against Philadelphia.

CARSON -- Juan Pablo Angel is training fully again with Chivas USA -- heading the ball and everything -- and could complete Major League Soccer's post-concussion protocol on Thursday, which would make him eligible to play this weekend.

The 36-year-old Colombian striker, who has missed five matches while dealing with concussion symptoms following a preseason collision with Portland Timbers defender Eric Brunner, on Tuesday said the last week “was a very good week,” that “this is an important 2-3 days, the next 2-3 days,” and that “I'm excited and hopeful everything goes to plan.”

Chivas (3-3-0) faces the Philadelphia Union (1-3-1) on Saturday night at Home Depot Center.

The Goats' attack has struggled without Angel, who scored seven goals in nine appearances after arriving in a mid-August trade from the Galaxy, scoring just four goals and losing three times by shutout. Alejandro Moreno, Cesar Romero and rookie Casey Townsend have split time atop a 4-2-3-1 alignment, and Miller Bolaños has played up front in a two-forward formation.

Chivas bolstered its frontline with the acquisition this week of fellow Colombian forward Jose Erick Correa, but he won't be in camp until later this week, perhaps not until next week.

Angel, when game-fit and healthy, is No. 1 on the depth chart.

“He seems to be coming along well,” head coach Robin Fraser said. “I'm sure he kept up with [fitness] pretty well, but I'm sure his game fitness won't be the same. But as long as he's healthy, that's the important thing. And the game fitness will come.”

Angel was hurt after knocking heads with Brunner in a March 1 Timbers tournament match in Portland, Ore. He finished the game, played 63 minutes in the preseason finale three days later against San Jose, then went the distance in the March 11 league opener against Houston.

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CHIVAS USA: Smith serves up a win

April, 7, 2012

Chivas USA showed off the best and the worst it can be Saturday night, but it saved the good stuff for the end en route to a second win in as many road games.

English winger Ryan Smith fueled the comeback from an early deficit, whipping in pinpoint crosses from the left wing for Alejandro Moreno and Nick LaBrocca to finish, and the Goats (2-3-0) escaped the Western Conference cellar with a 2-1 triumph at Portland (1-3-1).

LaBrocca's header in the 82nd minute was the difference as Chivas, which has dropped three 1-0 decisions at home, followed its worst half of the year with its best.

“The attitude [at halftime] in the locker room was one of 'this game is here for us, this is an opportunity for us, can we get it, will we do the work required to get it' …,” said Moreno, who beat Eric Brunner to Smith's cross to tie the score just three minutes into the second half. “I think we showed ourselves that when we're aggressive and we have the right mindset and we can put a good effort on the field, we're going to give ourselves a chance to get the result.”

The Goats were on their heels all of the first half, unable to hold onto the ball but minimizing the damage through the usual backline heroics, although it was a defensive miscue that put them behind. Scottish striker Kris Boyd got Portland's goal in the 16th minute, finishing after goalkeeper Dan Kennedy collided with defender James Riley as he grabbed (and then dropped) a cross from Franck Songo'o on the right flank.

They were otherwise pretty good defensively -- fortunate, too, when Rauwshan McKenzie wasn't whistled for a penalty kick after shoving Brunner in the 25th minute, a gift returned when referee Chris Penso missed another PK, failing to call Portland defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste for a handball from a Moreno volley in the 58th.

Coach Robin Fraser switched from the 4-2-3-1 formation Chivas has been using to the old 4-4-2, with diamond midfield, that was the foundation for last year's group. The pluses -- “We get more bodies in the box, and that in iteself creates better chances for us to score,” Moreno said -- didn't add up until the second half, when Smith came on and immediately added a spark.

It paid off right away, with Smith taking a long ball from Heath Pearce, dribbling one way and the next past Lovel Palmer, then sending in the cross for Moreno to powerfully nod home. It was the first shot on goal for Chivas since Casey Townsend's goal to beat Real Salt Lake two weeks ago, a span of 155 minutes.

The Goats, who benefited from a superb showing by energetic midfielder Ben Zemanski, were in command the rest of the way, finding passage into the box and putting a few shots on target but not really threatening until another fine sequence -- Pearce to Zemanski to Smith to LaBrocca -- made it 2-1.

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CHIVAS: 'Gutting' loss can't dim delight

March, 11, 2012

CARSON -- There's plenty for Chivas USA to improve upon following its Major League Soccer opener Sunday afternoon, but the finish against the Houston Dynamo, who pulled out a 1-0 victory with nearly the last boot of the game, dampened the Goats' spirits only a smidge.

Chivas was organized, spirited and battled evenly, more or less, all afternoon with the club that played in last year's MLS Cup final, and if everything didn't quite click -- especially on attack -- there was more than enough reason for optimism.

“I'll be honest,” said midfielder Peter Vagenas, who made his Chivas debut in central midfield. “Like a lot of people, I wasn't sure what we had. ... We have character, we have heart, we fight. The soccer wasn't ideal, but let's be realistic. This team hasn't played together very much. We're facing a team that's got, I mean, how many games have Brad [Davis] and Brian [Ching] played together at this point? Right?

“At some points it was disjointed, we didn't get the service in to Juan [Pablo Angel up top], and that was frustrating, but at the end of the day we were tough, we were organized, we fought, and I promise you it's only going to get better.”

Chivas looked sharper and stronger than at any point during preseason, created four clear scoring opportunities -- with Angel volleying off a post with one and three headers, two by Angel, off-target -- and benefited from another big game by goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who solved whatever problems surfaced until almost the end.

The Goats were seconds from a 0-0 draw and a share of the points, but defender Andre Hainault lifted Houston two minutes into stoppage after Davis' corner kick was cleared. It fell outside the box to Adam Moffat, who possesses a rocket shot, and his blast appeared to deflect to Hainault.

Chivas' backline was racing forward, as it should, so Hainault was left 1-on-1 with Kennedy. The finish was simple.

“It's a tough one,” said right back James Riley, one of seven players making their club debuts for the Rojiblancos. “In practice this week, our whole focus was set pieces, because we know that's what Houston lives and dies on. I thought we defended it well, guys jumped out to the second ball and tried to block it and prevent it, and it was just one of those things that are unlucky.

“That happens. For it to happen in the 90th minute was absolutely gutting. It's a cruel game sometimes. Very cruel game.”

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CHIVAS USA: Bolaños debuts in win

February, 15, 2012

CARSON -- Miller Bolaños made his Chivas USA debut, Ben Zemanski returned from concussion and top draft pick Casey Townsend celebrated his first start in red and white with a goal.

All in all, a good afternoon for the Goats. Oh, and they won.

Townsend's strike right at the start, from a Ryan Smith feed, lifted Chivas USA to a 1-0 triumph over the Montreal Impact in a 60-minute session Tuesday on one of the fields east of Home Depot Center's main stadium, the club's first win over Major League Soccer competition this preseason.

The result didn't matter nearly as much as did the opportunity to survey several players looking to make the roster, and head coach Robin Fraser gave several -- including rookie defenders R.J. Allen and Fabian Kling and trialists Cesar Romero and Mario Ledesma -- the full hour to show what they can do.

Romero is a good bet to win a job. One of the goalkeepers in action -- UCLA product Brian Rowe, a supplemental draft pick, in the first half and Cal Poly's Patrick McLain -- likely will claim the No. 3 slot, behind Dan Kennedy and Tim Melia.

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CHIVAS USA: Minda's choice? His heart

February, 6, 2012

CARSON -- Oswaldo Minda grew into a commanding central midfielder while with Deportivo Quito, where he won three Ecuadoran titles in four years before signing with Chivas USA in December.

His new club, of course, is strongly affiliated with the original Chivas -- Club Deportivo Guadalajara. The Goats are, more or less, under their big brother's umbrella.

So when Deportivo Quito plays Tuesday night at Guadalajara in a Copa Libertadores group opener, who is Minda cheering for?

“Oh, you're putting me on the spot here ...,” he said through a translator. “It's going to be a very dynamic game.

“Quito's bringing in a lot of young players. They're a team that's very dynamic, and this is a group that's been together for four or five seasons. I saw [Guadalajara] play against Morelia [on Saturday]. It's a team that unfortunately has a lot of problems -- they're very young, primarily. As time goes by, they'll bring it back. They'll be all right.”

Guadalajara is struggling -- winless in its first five matches in the Mexican Primera Division's second-half Clausura championship after posting the best regular-season record in the fall Apertura. Deportivo, with Minda, just won the Ecuadoran title, and it's making its fourth straight trip to South America's club championship (and seeking its first knockout-stage berth since 1989).

Minda says he'll be watching (Fox Deportes, 6 p.m.) with Ecuadoran friends, and that he hopes it's “a good show for everybody ... and that the best team wins.”

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Iraheta's debut ends in pain

January, 27, 2012

OXNARD -- Marvin Iraheta's first game experience with Chivas USA's first team was such a blast that even a knee injury, one that might be more serious than he believes, couldn't wipe the smile from his face.

The Goats' 19-year-old Salvadoran midfielder, signed out of the club's academy, offered a lot more good than ill in Friday morning's preseason opener, a 1-0 loss to the Ventura County Fusion in heavy winds at Oxnard College.

Iraheta was paired at the base of midfield with another Chivas debutant, 12-year MLS veteran Peter Vagenas, in a 4-2-3-1 alignment for the first of two 30-minute halves, and his incisive play and positive energy certainly made an impression.

“I like playing alongside him,” said Vagenas, a former Galaxy captain from UCLA whose signing has been completed but not announced. “I don't like driving him home all the time. I could do a few days here without Marvin, to be honest.”

He's kidding, of course. Iraheta, too, is from Pasadena, and Vagenas, who has 14 years on the youngster, is taking the kid under his wing.

“He's a good kid,” said Vagenas, who lives in Arcadia, close enough to carpool with Iraheta. “He seems to understand the game, he seems to want to get better, which is important, and he's all ears: He listens, which is good for a young player. ... Obviously, as he moves his career forward, he'll realize that the game is going to be a lot faster, and the things he did a year ago in three touches, he's got to do in one. I'm trying to encourage him not to get a false sense of security, especially in the middle of midfield, that he's just got to speed up his play.

“He's 19 years old. The sky's the limit, as they say, and as long as he continues to progress, he's going to be OK.”

Iraheta had a blast, calling it “a great experience to play next to someone the caliber of Peter” and saying he was “so happy I had the opportunity to play with the first team in my first game, and I feel like I'm important now, and I'm going to work hard and show [I can play].”

That's certainly the hope. Iraheta went down in the 20th minute, twisting his left knee in an unfortunate tackle. He reported he heard a pop -- never a good thing -- and tests will be required to assess how serious is the damage.

He wasn't the only casualty. Trialist Mario Ledesma, a former Chivas Academy player who has played in Guadalajara's system, hurt his right ankle midway through the second half.

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CHIVAS USA: Season ends with a win

November, 11, 2011

CARSON -- Chivas USA wrapped up its season Friday with a 3-1 victory in a “closed-door” friendly against the L.A. Blues -- with a few dozen fans and some media watching, no problem, from the bluff above the Goats' practice field at Home Depot Center.

Ben Zemanski, Juan Pablo Angel and Justin Braun tallied for Chivas, which continued training after the season ended Oct. 22 -- and will regroup in mid-January.

Chivas coach Robin Fraser looked at several players the past couple of weeks, and the Goats' burgeoning academy program has some outstanding talent, too.

“Our plan is the continue to improve the team,” he said. “We need to continue to look to add pieces. We're pretty far down the road in terms of some good ideas about players to get, but certainly this offseason for us is about trying to identify and secure players we feel can help us.”

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