Los Angeles Soccer: Caleb Porter
Peter Vagenas, a 2000 Olympian, made sure to give the 22-year-old defender an earful.
During a break in a short-sided drill Wednesday morning at Home Depot Center, the veteran midfielder needled Villafaña about the United States' failure to advance from group play in CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament. The Americans, with Villafaña at left back, surrendered a late, late goal in a 3-3 draw with El Salvador that ended their run toward this summer's London Games.
Vagenas brought up El Salvador, and he also mentioned Canada, which beat the U.S., 2-0, on Saturday, exposing the underbelly of a side that, all assumed, was a sure thing to make it to the Olympics.
“I asked him,” Vagenas said afterward, “if they were going to just replay the 2000 Olympic Games [men's soccer matches] during the time slots that were scheduled for them this summer.”
That 2000 team, Vagenas remembers well, was among the most memorable in American Olympic history, winning its group and making a stunning sprint to the semifinals before losses to Spain and Chile left them fourth.
Villafaña laughed when asked about the stick. “We knew that we were going to get this from everybody,” he said, “but there's not much we can do right now, just focus with Chivas.”
SHEDDING TEARS: Villafaña has been through a range of emotions the past few days. He was seconds from playing this weekend for a berth in London when Jaime Alas' long-range shot bounced off Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson and into the net, a catastrophic result that prompted heated criticism of the team, of coach Caleb Porter, and of U.S. Soccer -- a sign, at the very least, that American soccer fans and observers are nothing if not passionate.
“Everybody was shocked,” Villafaña said Wednesday. “We were winning, 3-2, and the last second you get scored, and you're out of the tournament. Everybody was on the ground crying. I don't even know what I was supposed -- it was bad. But soccer's like that, you know.”
Dramatic finishes first dangled and then jerked away from the U.S. a trip to the London Olympics on a devastating evening for American soccer.
The Americans' under-23 national team rallied from a second-half deficit against El Salvador in the Group A finale and stood just seconds from the victory required to advance to CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying semifinals when a long-range shot -- and another goalkeeping miscue -- forged a 3-3 draw that ended U.S. hopes.
Jaime Alas' 30-yard blast more than four minutes into stoppage bounced off prematurely diving Sean Johnson and into the net Monday night in Nashville, Tenn., giving El Salvador (1-0-2) the group title and a March 31 semifinal showdown with the No. 2 team from Group B -- Honduras is expected -- for one of the region's two berths at this summer's London Games.
Canada (1-0-2), which on Saturday beat the U.S., 2-0, claimed A's other final-four berth with a 1-1 draw against Cuba and likely will face Mexico for an Olympic berth.
Keeping tabs on the road to London:
- WHAT HAPPENED?
The U.S. (1-1-1), an overwhelming favorite to join Mexico in the 16-team London field, failed to qualify for the second time in three Olympics as a revived attack -- Philadelphia's Freddy Adu, FC Dallas' Brek Shea and German-born Terrence Boyd the instigators -- could not overcome subpar defending nor poor management by coach Caleb Porter.
The day had held so much promise. The Americans, expecting a winner-takes-all semifinal against Mexico should they win, were given a different path to London when Cuba's Maykel Reyes scored in the 91st minute to pull even with Canada. A victory would give the U.S. the top spot in Group A and prevent, almost certainly, the need to beat Mexico for an Olympic berth.
Then Boyd, a Borussia Dortmund forward, scored after 59 seconds. Things could be going no better.
CARSON -- Michael Stephens has been around the U.S. national teams programs long enough to know he can't be thinking about London just yet. The U.S. under-23 team must qualify for the men's soccer tournament at the London Olympics, and the fight for roster spots will be stiff.
The Galaxy's third-year midfielder says it's “a big honor” just to be part of Caleb Porter's roster for the March 22-April 2 CONCACAF qualifying tournament. Anything more, of course, would be terrific.
“[London] is too far,” the former UCLA star said following the Galaxy's training session Tuesday morning at Home Depot Center. “Obviously, we first have to qualify, then, obviously, a lot will go into picking those [roster] selections after that, so just take it one step at a time.”
Stephens is a versatile midfielder with good touch and ideas, capable of playing on either flank or in the middle, qualities that have made him a valuable asset off the bench as Porter, coach of NCAA powerhouse Akron, has built toward the qualifiers with camps last year in Germany, at HDC in January and last month in Texas.
“I think that's great that [Stephens] is in the pool of players ...,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “He's a good player, brings a lot of energy to the team.”
The team began gathering Tuesday in Nashville, but Stephens won't travel until after the Galaxy's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg Wednesday night against Toronto FC at HDC. His time with the U-23s hasn't helped him with L.A.
“We missed him for a couple weeks in preseason, an important part of preseason, for these practice games that [the U-23s] played,” Arena noted. “We've missed him a little bit in preseason, and that's hurt his ability to get on the field with us.”
The start of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and the London Olympics dominate the calendar, but as important as results might be, more crucial is the steps forward the national team looks to take in Klinsmann's first full year in charge and the role the under-23 national team will play in developing talent for the top side.
The teams tangoed late Friday afternoon on Glenn “Mooch” Myernick Field, right outside HDC's main stadium, with the full nats -- starting the So Cal portion of their annual January camp -- scoring four times in 15 minutes late in the first half for a 4-0 victory over the U-23s.
They'll scrimmage one more time at HDC before Klinsmann's group returns to Phoenix for next weekend's friendly against Venezuela, with University of Akron coach Porter's younger group, which is preparing for the Olympic qualifiers in March, sticking around through Jan. 25.
The national team has the usual January collection of top MLS talent and secondary players from European leagues with winter breaks, with two midfielders from the 2010 World Cup side (New England's Benny Feilhaber and Eintracht Frankfurt's nearly forgotten Ricardo Clark) and two players from the preliminary World Cup squad (Chivas USA defender Heath Pearce and Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando).
They've been working the past 10 days in Phoenix, with a lot of fitness work, and will focus on technical and tactical work before the games Jan. 21 against Venezuela and Jan. 25 at Panama.
“This scrimmage gives us an idea of how they are comfortable on the field,” Klinsmann said afterward. “How they shift. How they take a couple of guidelines that we gave them and implement them. And now we can real the players a bit better. Because you never know when you get a fresh group coming in how their understand is of each other, how they read reach other. We know about their personal capabilities, but not in the context of a team, so that's why we need those games to see that.
“And then we can go ahead and modify training sessions and talks where we kind of want to guide them towards on the tactical side as an entire team together.”
There is some crossover between the national team and the U-23s. Freddy Adu, who has been called into only one full camp under Klinsmann after a stirring performance in the CONCACAF Gold Cup title-game loss last summer, is the most prominent name on the roster, but the most important players are with Klinsmann's bunch.
Juan Agudelo, the 19-year-old New York Red Bulls forward, is the most significant -- Klinsmann calls his abilities “special” -- and Sporting Kansas City forward Teal Bunbury are age-eligible for the Olympic team, and so is FC Dallas winger Brek Shea, who is drawing considerable interest from Europe. D.C. United's Bill Hamid and Chicago's Sean Johnson, both goalkeepers, also can make the U-23 roster.
Galaxy midfielder Michael Stephens, Chivas USA defender Jorge Villafaña and departing UCLA star Kelyn Rowe are headed to Home Depot Center for a U.S. under-23 national team camp that begins Sunday.
The U-23s, preparing for Olympic qualifying in March, will train at HDC until Jan. 25, then head to Costa Rica for two matches against club teams. While in Carson, they will scrimmage twice against the full national team, which will be training Jan. 13-20 at HDC.
Stephens, an attacking midfielder who has played primarily on the flank for the Galaxy, is one of three UCLA products on U.S. coach Caleb Porter's 22-man roster, joining Rowe and Philadelphia Union midfielder Amobi Okugo.
Villafaña (Anaheim/Anaheim HS), formerly Jorge Flores, is a fifth-year midfielder/defender, primarily on the left wing, for Chivas.
Rowe, the Pacific 12 Conference Player of the Year in 2011, is readying for Thursday's Major League Soccer draft. He signed a Generation adidas contract following his sophomore season with the Bruins and is expected to go early in the first round. He is at the MLS Player Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but is scheduled to fly to California on Monday.
Others with local ties in camp are defender Zarek Valentin, who went from Chivas to Montreal in November's MLS expansion draft, Los Angeles-born midfielder Joe Corona from Club Tijuana and Calexico's Isaac Acuña, a Club America midfielder on loan to second-tier Merida.
You know Jorge Flores, the industrious winger from Anaheim who came to Chivas USA 4½ years ago through the “Sueño MLS” reality television series and started 24 games for the club last season.
Now meet Jorge Villafaña.
Same guy, different surname.
The 22-year-old midfielder went to court last month in Long Beach to legally change his name, opting for his mother's last name over his father's.
“It was that I grew up with my mother my whole life,” Villafaña told ESPN Los Angeles. “I just wanted to have her last name, because she was the one who raised me.”
Villafaña's parents divorced when he was a toddler, and he's had minimal communication with his father.
News of the name change came with U.S. Soccer's announcement Thursday that Villafaña had been called up for the U.S. under-23 camp that begins next week in Florida. It led to the question: Who is this Villafaña from Chivas?
Villafaña (Anaheim HS), who had played in just 27 games over four seasons before Robin Fraser rewarded him with a starting role for much of last season, is excited about the chance to train with the U23s, who are preparing for next year's Olympic qualifiers.
“I know it's a big opportunity,” he said. “I wanted this to happen, and I've got the opportunity to prove myself next week, and, hopefully, I get called up to the qualifiers [in March].”
American preparations for Olympic qualifying in March continue next week in Florida, and the roster U.S. under-23 national team coach Caleb Porter has selected includes one player each from the Galaxy and Chivas USA.
The Galaxy player we know: Michael Stephens, a second-year midfielder from UCLA who plays a prominent role off the bench for the MLS Cup champs.
The Chivas player, not so much: Jorge Villafana, a name unknown in soccer circles. It's winger Jorge Flores, who has legally changed his last name, something the club expects to announce Thursday. Villafana is his mother's last name.
Former Chivas defender Zarek Valentin, now with the Montreal Impact, and UCLA product Amobi Okugo, a midfielder with the Philadelphia Union, also are on the list.
The camp, which runs Dec. 15-23 in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., is the second gathering of players under the new regime. Porter, head coach at the University of Akron, was hired in October to run the Olympic program.
The Americans meet Canada, Cuba and El Salvador in group play of CONCACAF's qualifiers for next year's London Games. The finalists in the eight-nation competition advance to the Olympics.
Joe Corona has played for an in-the-works version of Mexico's Olympic team. Now he has the chance to do so for an American version.
The Club Tijuana midfielder, born in Los Angeles and raised in San Diego's South Bay, is one of 31 players on new U.S. under-23 national team coach Caleb Porter's first roster, for a camp that opens Monday in Duisburg, Germany. The U-23 team will take part in qualifying next March for the 2012 London Olympics.
Corona took part in a weeklong camp with Mexico's U-22 side in early September after a planned call-up to the U.S. national team was scuttled by Bob Bradley's dismissal as manager.
Jurgen Klinsmann, the new U.S. coach, said he hoped to get good young players with U.S. eligibility involved in the “youth” national teams program, and Corona's call-up certainly accomplishes this.
The roster also features Chivas USA rookie Zarek Valentin, who played for Porter on last year's NCAA championship team at the University of Akron, Galaxy academy star Jose Villareal (Inglewood/Leuzinger HS) and 1860 Munich forward Bobby Wood (Irvine), one of 20 European-based players on the roster.
Seven of the 20 Europeans are real Europeans -- born and raised in Europe but with American roots. Six of those seven are from Germany, which has contributed five players to the full U.S. national team pool.
Former U.S. national team star Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer's youth technical director, will run the camp in Duisburg. Porter's Akron side is preparing to defend its title in the NCAA tournament, which begins later this month.
The United States has an Olympic soccer coach. An under-20 national team coach, too, and both are big names.
U.S. Soccer on Thursday announced that University of Akron head coach Caleb Porter, one of the finest minds in the American game, will serve as U-23 coach, taking the Americans through Olympic qualifying and, the hope is, to next year's London Games.
Former U.S. national team star Tab Ramos is the new U-20 coach.
The hires are among the most significant in the young Jurgen Klinsmann era, and they make a statement by bringing new blood into U.S. Soccer's top tier of coaches.
Porter, 36, a former Indiana University standout who played in four league games in three Major League Soccer seasons with San Jose and Tampa Bay, has built Akron into the nation's premier men's soccer program. The Zips are 100-15-12 mark in five-plus seasons under Porter, including a 10-2-2 record this year, and won the NCAA title last year after falling to underdog Virginia on penalty kicks in the 2009 final.
NORTHRIDGE -- Cal State Northridge, like Cal State Fullerton before it, took a physical approach against defending NCAA champion Akron on Saturday night. For the first 18 minutes, at least.
By then, the Matadors had racked up four yellow cards, with one defender sent off with two of them. Their showdown with the second-ranked Zips should have been over.
Instead, CSUN combined a dangerous counterattack with a superb backline performance led by Joe Franco (Monrovia/St. Francis HS) and several outstanding saves by goalkeeper Michael Abalos (San Juan Capistrano/Santa Margarita Catholic HS), taking Akron deep into overtime before finally succumbing, 2-1, in a thrilling, at times frantic finale of its Labor Day Classic.
There was a little star power in the crowd. Galaxy defender Sean Franklin (Palmdale/Highland HS), a Northridge alum, was honored before the game, and Chivas USA teammates (and Akron products) Zarek Valentin and Ben Zemanski sat a few rows below former U.S. national-teamer Brian Quinn, whose son Aodhan plays for the Zips.
Akron (2-0-1), in a little bit of rebuild mode after sending seven players to Major League Soccer this year, prevailed on Scott Caldwell's 106th-minute goal after Israeli freshman Yarden Azulay pulled the Matadors (1-2-0) even to force overtime, turning a midfield steal in the 82nd minute into a quick 1-on-1 opportunity, then chipping brilliantly into the upper-left corner.
“It's hard enough to play with 11 players against Akron, let alone 10,” Northridge coach Terry Davila said. “[Akron isn't] as mature as they were last year. We do that to them last year, you know, it would be a different story. ... We felt like we could play with them. Its just the attitude with our team. Good things are about to come for this team. Hopefully, this can be a turning point in our season.”
Northridge, which dropped their tournament opener in overtime to UNLV, went behind seven minutes after Nicholas Hamilton picked up his second yellow card, with star forward Darren Mattocks finishing from midfield leader Caldwell's feed.
The Zips rolled up huge advantages in shots (24-8) and shots on goal (14-1) and held a good deal of possession, but they couldn't put Northridge away -- and by the end, they were down to 10 men, too, with freshman defender Bryan Gallego dismissed with his second yellow card in the 83rd.
“Credit to Northridge,” said Akron coach Caleb Porter, whose team struggled against tournament winner Fullerton's physical approach in a scoreless draw in Thursday's classic opener. “They came and they fought hard and they didn't die. I think that says a lot about their group. ... I think our guys dug deep as well.
The Titans (1-0-1) took a physical approach to the Labor Day Classic encounter at Cal State Northridge, keeping 11 men behind the ball and committing 28 fouls -- to only seven by Akron -- benefiting from a masterful performance by goalkeeper Trevor Whiddon, who made nine saves.
“We're not going to make excuses. We didn't play our best game today,” Akron coach Caleb Porter told his school's athletics website. “But, clearly, Fullerton's game plan was to chop the game up with fouls and be physical and not allow us to get into a rhythm.
“We could be disappointed with the way the game was officiated, but bottom line is we didn't handle [the physical play] very well. To me, we looked like a young team that wasn't ready to deal with a physical team that came to play. Fullerton wanted to rattle us, and in some ways it worked. We have to do better next time.”
The Titans, who survived a first-half onslaught and outshot Akron, 12-10, after halftime, nearly scored three times: Roberto Vernaschi hit the left post from distance at the start of the second half, and Zips goalkeeper David Meves was required to make two big saves. Fullerton cleared a Scott Caldwell shot off the goal line in the 29th minute.
UNLV beat Cal State Northridge, 2-1, in the second game on Jonny Espinoza's overtime goal. Edwin Rivas (Los Angeles/Santee Education Complex) had pulled the Matadors (1-1-0) even in the 79th minute.
CSUN (1-1-0) meets Akron (1-0-1) in Saturday's tournament finale at 7 p.m.
Chivas USA defender Zarek Valentin has made his calls, set up his meetings, even gone to the online maps to chart the best path to Cal State Northridge.
Mighty Akron is in town, and the former Zips star -- he won the NCAA Division I title with them last December in Goleta -- is, to say the least, pumped.
The defending champs take on Cal State Fullerton on Thursday afternoon at 4:30 and Cal State Northridge on Saturday night at 7 in the Matadors' annual tournament, and it's a treat for Southern California soccer fans.
Akron, 91-13-10 in five years (plus last week's season-opening win over Cleveland State) since Caleb Porter took charge, plays the game the right way: on the floor, with style, verve and attacking know-how. It should have brought the Zips successive NCAA crowns, but Virginia toppled them on penalties following a 0-0 draw in the 2009 final.
Valentin was one of seven Akron players taken in January's Major League Soccer draft, one of five selected among the first eight picks, one of three taken with the first four selections. He's hoping to offer his perspective this week to his former teammates and the program's large, talented freshman class.
“Hopefully, I can take some of the guys who are in my class out to maybe Santa Monica or something like that for a nice dinner,” he said Wednesday. “Just kind of show them a little bit of, I guess, my lifestyle. Because I think we have a bunch of potential pros in the [Akron] team, because it's a good group. Hopefully, they start out following the right foot.
“Hopefully, I can talk to the team and just give them a little bit of insight, you know, my experience and how they need to live it up in college and enjoy it and play with a smile on your face.”
Valentin, 20, left Akron after his sophomore year, and Chivas made him the fourth overall selection. He's started 21 games in an up-and-down rookie campaign, most at right back but several in the center earlier this year. Give him a couple of years -- his potential is immense.
His Chivas teammates Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski, who left Akron a year before Valentin, also plan to stop by Matador Soccer Field. Valentin notes that they “want to get out and see who the Blair Gavin [and Ben Zemanski are] of this cycle.”
Does he want to see this year's version of Zarek Valentin?
GOLETA -- Akron should have won the NCAA men's soccer title a year ago. The Zips made amends Sunday, dominating top-ranked Louisville in the College Cup final at UC Santa Barbara and holding on for a 1-0 triumph.
Louisville (20-1-3), massively outplayed, especially in the second half, was unfortunate not to win. The Cardinals were denied a clear penalty kick midway through the first half and nearly netted a late winner, halted only by two desperation saves.
Akron (22-1-2), which fell on penalties to Virginia in last year's final, dictated nearly every phase of play in the second half, using a weaving passing game to trigger waves of attacks and spend most of half in or in front of Louisville's box.
It led to eight corner kicks in the half, and Scott Caldwell finished off one of them in the 79th minute.
Bests, worsts and so forth:
BEST PLAYER: Darlington Nagbe's finishing touch was off, but he was at the heart of Akron's attack all day, opening space for teammates and teaming with playmaker Anthony Ampaipitakwong to connect the dots through Louisville's defense. He set up chances by Michael Nanchoff and Darren Mattocks and fired just wide of the post, but our favorite moment: Nagbe, surrounded at midfield, twirls out of trouble and streaks forward, feeding Kofi Sarkodie on the right flank. The sequence ended with a foul, and the Zips did nothing with the free kick.
Three more we liked: Austin Berry, the backbone of Louisville's backline; Ampaipitakwong, the faux-hawked maestro who makes the Zips zip; and Nanchoff, the left-footer next to “Ampai” whose crosses cause havoc.
GOLETA -- It's No. 1 against No. 2.
Top-ranked Louisville and second-ranked Akron offered scintillating displays in Friday's NCAA College Cup semifinals at UC Santa Barbara's Holder Stadium, but both needed a bit of fortune -- and a late goal -- to claim berths in Sunday afternoon's final.
Louisville (20-0-3) was most impressive against North Carolina, creating far more opportunities but waiting until the end to pull out a 2-1 decision. Akron (21-1-2) was far more dominant against upstart Michigan, spending huge swaths of time in and in front of the Wolverines' box, but it took a defensive miscue to pull out a 2-1 victory and gain a repeat trip to the title game.
Bests, worsts and so forth:
BEST PLAYER: Lot of candidates -- Louisville's Chris Rolfe and Ryan Smith, Michigan's Justin Meram, a whole host of guys from Akron: midfielders Michael Nanchoff, Anthony Ampaipitakwong and Perry Kitchen, forward Darlington Nagbe and defender Zarek Valentin, etc. -- but Kofi Sarkodie was sensational from start to finish.
He set the tone for nearly everything Akron did: His forays up the right flank and into Michigan's box (he spent more time there than anyone, perhaps, aside from Wolverines goalkeeper Chris Blais) drove the attack; his physical play -- not always clean, to be sure -- kept Michigan honest; and he capped the performance with the winning goal, a fine header from Nanchoff's cross in the 74th minute.
BEST GOAL: After scoring with 52 seconds to play to beat UCLA in the quarterfinals, could it get any better for Aaron Horton? Oh, yeah. Three minutes after coming on for All-American Rolfe, the Louisville freshman took a defense-splitting pass from Smith and chipped Scott Goodwin -- lifting the top-ranked Cardinals into the final … with just 51 seconds to go.
College soccer's top team? It's Akron, regardless of what the rankings say. (And the rankings say the mighty Zips are No. 2, so close enough.) And college soccer's best team is seeking a return to the the NCAA Division I College Cup final -- and its first championship -- at this weekend's final four at UC Santa Barbara.
Chivas USA midfielders Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski are the resident experts on the Zips (20-1-2), and they're doing all they can to be in Goleta for Friday night's semifinal against Michigan (17-4-3) -- or at least, they hope, a title-game clash Sunday against No. 1 Louisville (19-0-3) or North Carolina (16-3-4).
Gavin (who arrived in Akron from Phoenix via the U.S. U-17 residency in Bradenton, Fla.) and Zemanski (a hometown boy) wrapped up their college careers in last year's title game, in which Akron -- No. 1 and unbeaten -- was toppled by Virginia on penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw.
The Zips have soccer pedigree. They went to the 1986 final and have been in the NCAA Tournament 10 of the past 13 seasons. But they've been something else since Caleb Porter (an Indiana University product who played in four MLS games in three seasons with San Jose and Tampa Bay in the late '90s) took charge in 2006, going 88-12-11 the past five seasons -- and they're 43-1-2 the past two years and 60-3-8 the past three.
Our view: It's a combination of talent -- MLSers Steve Zakuani (Seattle) and Sinisa Ubiparipovic (New York) are Akron products, too, and watch for Anthony Ampaipitakwong, junior Kofi Sarkodie and freshman Darren Mattocks soon -- and Porter's superb guidance that has made Akron into a powerhouse. But we went to Chivas' rookie stars for the real scoop.
1. WHAT MAKES AKRON SOCCER SO SPECIAL?
ZEMANSKI: "I think Caleb has everyone believing that they are the best team in the country and that at the end of the day, they'll find a way to win and achieve their goals. ... It means a lot to the community. The whole community is behind Akron soccer, doing everything they can to support Caleb and bring Akron it's first team national championship. We're not a BCS school. We're a small school that's not recognized a lot for their sports, but Akron has earned the tight to be recognized as a powerhouse in soccer. We're not just a small school when it comes to soccer."