Los Angeles Soccer: Beto Navarro
CARSON -- Robbie Keane returned to training Friday with the Galaxy, just four days after wrapping up his involvement at the European Championship, and although he wishes he were in Ukraine preparing for a quarterfinal Saturday or Sunday, he says he's happy to be back.
And ready to go, should he be called upon for Saturday night's Major League Soccer clash with Vancouver at Home Depot Center.
“It's nice to be back amongst the lads and look forward to being involved tomorrow,” the Irish striker said following Friday's training session at HDC's Track and Field Stadium. “[I'm ready to] play as long as I can. I'd be happy to play 90 minutes.”
He's hoping to “get minutes under my belt tomorrow to sort of get all the stiffness out” as he looks to move on from a very disappointing Euro 2012 campaign. Ireland lost all three of its Group C matches, to Croatia, Italy and Spain, and finished last in the 16-nation tournament.
Asked what he takes from the Euros, Keane replied: “Nothing, really. It was a good experience. It was obviously great to play in the European Championship, but if you don't win ... sometimes you just have to hold your hand up and say the team you played were superior than you were. Simple as that, really.”
It was a frightful group for the Irish, who are capable battlers without the depth or talent of the continent's powers, a roster that includes the Spaniards -- defending European and World Cup champs -- and the Italians and, on occasion, the Croats, too.
The gap might be growing between decent teams, such as Ireland, and “people like Spain, who's probably on a different planet at the moment [from] anyone else I've ever played against,” Keane said. “You're just basically chasing shadows for 90 minutes.”
The only positive for Ireland was the Green Army supporters, a jovial lot who charmed everybody and won great plaudits for serenading their team with the Irish folk song “Fields of Athenry” as Spain rolled to a 4-0 victory Monday.
“That's normal for Irish fans,” Keane said. “They've been fantastic over the years, and especially in Poland I think they've been a credit to the country in the way they behaved and the way they supported the team. That's how every team should be supported.”
The Argentine midfielder obliged them Friday morning, putting on a clinic to steer the Goats to a 3-1 MLS Reserve League victory over San Jose on one of the training fields west of Home Depot Center's stadium.
He scored two goals, drew the penalty kick for the third, and played with a joie de vivre that ought to have everyone in red and white stripes smiling broadly. Might Cardozo, who arrived from the Galaxy two months ago, be ready to join Chivas' attacking revolution?
“I think today he's put in his best effort since he's been here,” assistant coach Greg Vanney said. “He was dangerous -- he was goal-dangerous. ... For him, it's getting him to think about the goal and think about the final product and not just about possessing around the field.”
Possession-wise, few can match Cardozo, a 22-year-old Uruguayan born magician who came to the Galaxy last year on loan from Quilmes and was sent down the hall when L.A., in dire need of backline help, came calling for David Junior Lopes -- who, by the way, dropped by to watch some of Friday's action.
Cardozo had the best foot skills on the Galaxy, but a pretty good margin, and to watch him weave through foes in tight spaces is something truly to behold. If the chief aim in the game were to weave through players in limited space, he'd be Lionel Messi.
That skill has never translated into production, one reason the Galaxy found him expendable -- and why Chivas, as it has added dynamic young attacking talent (with, especially, Jose Erik Correa and Juan Agudelo), has used him in only three of 10 first-team games since his arrival.
“We challenged him over the last few days,” Vanney said. “He's crafty in possession and can speed around, but at the end of the day, as an attacking midfielder you have to have final product. ... Today he definitely had some good looks.”
Cal FC's stirring run through the U.S. Open Cup hadn't been all that unexpected -- this is a team filled with pros, remember, even if they're amateurs here, or at least close to it.
But what the Thousand Oaks club pulled off Wednesday night defied belief.
Artur Aghasyan finished a breakaway five minutes into overtime, and Cal FC fended off wave after wave of attacks by the Portland Timbers to stun the Major League Soccer side, 1-0, in a third-round clash at Jeld-Wen Field, a result that shook the foundations of American soccer.
Eric Wynalda's side was outshot, 43-11, conceded 11 corner kicks and dodged more than a dozen bullets to pull off what might be the greatest upset in this country's premier knockout tournament since MLS's formation 16 years ago.
The reward: a showdown next week in Tukwila, Wash., with three-time defending champion Seattle Sounders, which routed the second-tier Atlanta Silverbacks, 5-1, on Wednesday to advance to the round of 16.
"I think we are the ultimate Cinderella story -- that's for sure," Wynalda told reporters in Portland. "A bunch of misfit kids who did something unbelievable. This is what this Cup is about."
Cal FC is the first U.S. Adult Soccer Association team to defeat an MLS club in the Open Cup, although Texas' Roma FC toppled Chivas USA on penalties following a 0-0 third-round draw in 2006. The Galaxy took care of the amateurs in the following round.
Timbers Army, Portland's fanatical supporters group, serenaded Cal FC when it was over with chants of “You deserve it!” and “Beat Seattle!” The game drew 5,489 fans to the stadium a few blocks west of downtown Portland.
Wynalda, a veteran of three World Cups and a star striker in Germany and in MLS, had on his mind the UEFA Champions League final a week and a half ago in Munich, which he covered as a studio analyst for Fox Sports. Chelsea upset Bayern Munich on penalties in that one after being outshot, 43-9, and outcorner-kicked, 20-1.
Eric Wynalda, one of the finest strikers America ever produced, has built a team somewhat in his own image, and it's taking on America's soccer establishment with impressive results.
Thousand Oaks' Cal FC, a collection of misfit players with undeniable talent, have already conquered two better-fancied clubs in the 99th edition of the U.S. Open Cup, and Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, on Wednesday night, could be next.
Wynalda, a first-ballot National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee who played in three World Cups, starred in Germany and scored the first goal in MLS history, knows that it's possible.
“We didn't enter this competition because we thought this would be fun,” the former goal-getter from Westlake Village, known to a new generation of fans as an at-times acerbic commentator on Fox's soccer coverage, told ESPN Los Angeles. “We really have high hopes. We set goals, we achieve them and we re-set.”
Wynalda's got, as he puts it, “a bunch of guys that everybody knows who they are.” There's former UC Santa Barbara star Danny Barrera (Thousand Oaks/Westlake HS), who trialed with the Chicago Fire during MLS's preseason after a stint in Serbia. And there's Artur Aghasyan, who has played with Real Salt Lake and been on trial a couple of times with Chivas USA. And Richard Menjivar (Panorama City/Monroe HS), a Cal State Bakersfield standout who impressed with El Salvador's U-23s during CONCACAF's Olympic qualifiers.
UCLA alum Eder Arreola (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS), who was drafted in January by the Houston Dynamo and trained with Chivas USA, is with the club. So is former Galaxy/L.A. Blues defender Mike Randolph (Chino Hills/Ayala HS) and Cesar Rivera (Pomona/Garey HS and Mt. San Antonio College), who led the Blues in scoring last year. And goalkeeper Derby Carrillo (La Mirada/St. John Bosco HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills), whom El Salvador's national team has targeted.
And hopefuls such as Danny's brother, Diego (Thousand Oaks HS/Loyola Marymount), former U.S. youth national-teamer Pablo Cruz (Azusa), defenders Hector Espinoza (Garden Grove/Santiago HS and Santa Ana College) and Beto Navarro, and others.
They're all good players who have been overlooked or dismissed or something, and Wynalda's goal is to showcase their talents and help them find paths to the professional careers he thinks they deserve.
That's the whole point of Cal FC, which grew out of Wynalda's experiences the past couple of years working with Mexican third-tier club Murcielagos, which employed for a time current Chivas USA forward Cesar Romero.
“I think the one thing I could say,” Wynalda said, “is I have a very high opinion of some of these guys, but I'm the minority when it comes to that. People just aren't seeing what I see.”