Los Angeles Soccer: Carlos Borja
Portland Timbers loaner Bright Dike scored his second goal in three games, Amir Abedzadeh was superb in the nets, and the Blues (3-2-2) played with energy and style to hold reigning champion/first-place Orlando City SC (6-0-2) to a 1-1 draw at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
L.A. was looking to attack all night and was the better team at the end, creating several chances and hitting a post as it sought a late winner. That was the Blues' plan from the start, and because Tuesday's loss to the Ventura County Fusion eliminated a game next week from their schedule, that also will be the approach Saturday night against the Charleston (S.C.) Battery (4-2-0).
Orlando City went ahead in the 22nd minute, with Wes Allen powerfully heading home an Anthony Pulis corner kick, but the Blues were even within three minutes.
Dike, who played 33 minutes Wednesday night in the Timbers' friendly with Spanish club Valencia in Portland, Ore., headed home a cross from Allan Russell to tie the score in the 25th.
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.”
If you're looking for a local team to support in the USL Pro, the third-division league in American soccer's pyramid, the L.A. Blues aren't your only option.
There's also the Wilmington Hammerheads.
The North Carolina club, which will visit the Blues for a couple of games next month at Cal State Fullerton, have the largest collection of Southern California talent in the league: seven players from the area, another who played college ball here, and one more -- not sure he really counts -- who was with the Blues for a short spell last year.
They're among 32 players from Greater Los Angeles in USL Pro, which heads into its third weekend of games with Friday night's Blues-Rochester match at Fullerton.
The Blues, who featured a heavily local roster in their first season, have three players from the area (Anaheim's Carlos Borja, Newport Beach's Bryan Burke and Long Beach's Luis Gonzalez), four more from local colleges (UC Irvine's Irving Garcia, Cal State Fullerton's Shay Spitz and Bethesda Christian's Sun-Hyung Cho and Cheun-Yong Park), plus a former Galaxy winger who has called SoCal home since signing with MLS at 16 nearly five years ago (Israel Sesay).
The Rochester Rhinos, who won a league opener over the Blues last weekend, also have a decent contingent led by former UCLA star Mike Zaher and UC Santa Barbara products Conor Chinn and Tyler Rosenlund. All three, plus former Galaxy defenders Quavas Kirk and Troy Roberts, have MLS experience.
Orlando City has Palmdale's Maxwell Griffin, a UCLA alum whose performance for the champs last year led to a late-season loan deal to the San Jose Earthquakes. Pittsburgh has Long Beach's Tino Nuñez, from UC Santa Barbara, who spent a couple seasons with Real Salt Lake. Three goalkeepers are in the group: L.A.'s Kevin Klasila at Charlotte, Huntington Beach's Kyle Polak with Wilmington, and Laguna Hills' Eric Reed at Charlotte.
Wilmington's So Cal group includes former Chivas USA forward Chukwudi Chijindu, a Fontana product who spent last season with the Blues on loan from the Goats, plus Hollywood's Jack Avesyan and Hagop Chirishian, Laguna Hills' Trey Cole, Lakewood's Manny Guzman and Thousand Oaks' Dylan Riley.
Here's a full list of players with local ties in the USL Pro (with hometown and local high school/college in parenthesis, with local adult club following):
FULLERTON -- The Los Angeles Blues embark Saturday night on their second go-round in the USL Pro, looking to right what went wrong in the inaugural season, when their championship-caliber side unraveled after its big-name star abandoned ship.
Head coach/general manager Charlie Naimo and his staff gutted the team, keeping just four players and bringing in a mix of veterans and youngsters with perhaps not quite the flair of last year's group but with far more grit and resilience, and the Blues are thinking title as they kick off against the Rochester Rhinos at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium.
The Blues want desperately to improve on last year's 8-7-9 campaign, followed by a first-round exit in the third-division professional league's playoffs, and challenge defending champion Orlando City SC and several prime contenders, including the Rhinos, who won the National Division last year, seven points ahead of third-place L.A.
Tickets are cheap, certainly in comparison with the Galaxy (and, less so, Chivas USA), parking is free and the soccer is better than decent. That's what Donner -- a sports marketing executive with extensive experience in hockey, minor-league soccer and lacrosse -- and his staff are trying to sell.
“A very convenient, very entertaining sports option in the Orange County and the L.A. Metro market: That's the niche we hope to create,” said Donner, who was chief executive officer last year at Orlando City, which led the USL Pro in attendance. “It's going to take some time in order for people to understand what we really are.”
That's because word didn't get out last year. A short lead-time to the club's debut -- the Tampa, Fla.-based United Soccer Leagues accepted the Blues for its top division in December 2010, and play began five months later -- had the organization scrambling from the start just to put on a season. Marketing was nearly nonexistent, sponsorship was sparse, and little more than 4,500 showed up for the entire 12-game home schedule, with just four crowds above 600.
A BAD START: “It couldn't have been worse last year,” Naimo acknowledged. “It's really no one's fault. We started so late. Geographically, we were a constellation, and bottom line: You can't market to people you're not around.”
“It did not work, as far as sponsorship, ticket sales,” Ali Mansouri, who owns the club with his wife, Maryam, said at the close of last season. “We had a budget, what this thing is going to cost us. And we were very close to it. We were about 10 percent [above] what we estimated the cost is going to be. Very happy about that. But we also had an estimate of how much money we're going to bring in. We [made] 20 percent of that. That wasn't good.”
The Blues absorbed nearly everything thrown at them by an El Tri side that featured up-and-comers from several of Mexico's biggest clubs -- Guadalajara, America, Tigres, Monterrey and Santos Laguna among them -- and might have achieved a better result if not for red cards three minutes apart to Mexican trialist Mike Lopez and Israel Sesay.
Lopez's 70th-minute red card, after a hip-check on Monterrey's Oscar Garcia, might have been warranted. Sesay, a former Galaxy player who inadvertently kicked Santos' Jesus Escoboza, could have gotten off with a yellow card, perhaps. No matter.
“I'm most proud of the way they fought and battled for each other, even two men down. They never quit,” Naimo said following the match, which drew 2,864 to Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium. “You can really look at the heart and discipline this team will have this year, and we're still missing a bunch of guys. We haven't started preseason yet. I'm pleased.
“To play a fit group of soccer players like that, that pressed us for the whole game -- they're active, they're busy, they're technical. That's a great soccer team. The way that game went, I hate losing as much as anybody, but I felt our guys played with a winner's mentality tonight. We need to get better in our attack, but we'll figure it out.”
The Blues have a mix of signed players -- the latest, not yet announced: former UC Irvine star (and New York Red Bulls midfielder) Irving Garcia, who played up front -- and those looking for jobs, and quite a few won't be in camp until preparations for the club's second season in America's third-division league begin, officially, on Thursday.
Naimo, whose club has been training all winter, likes the foundation, which ought to serve the Blues well after last season unraveled amid indiscipline and problems with chemistry.
“I saw some things tonight,” he noted, “that said, 'OK, we've got this figured out, that figured out. We've just got to figure this out and then figure that out.' ”
Hugo Casillas and Tomislav Colic combined for seven goals and Adriano de Lima contributed seven assists as the Anaheim Bolts won their opener Saturday night in the U.S. Open Arena Cup, a competition for indoor soccer clubs.
The Bolts turned a tight game with Docemas, an amateur side (featuring a few pros) from Chino Hills, into a 15-7 romp by scoring the final six goals at the Anaheim Convention Center's arena.
Casillas scored four goals and Colic added three for Anaheim, which sprinted to a 5-0 lead, then, as has been its custom in three PASL Pro league games, let Docemas back in the game.
Tyler Reinhart, who played at Cal Poly Pomona, scored four for the amateurs, who were missing former Galaxy defender Mike Randolph (hamstring injury), a teammate of Colic's and Bolts defender Carlos Borja's with the L.A. Blues last summer.
ANAHEIM -- Six times the Anaheim Bolts surged ahead Saturday night, and as pluses go, that was a pretty good one.
Southern California's new pro indoor team will need time to gel, of course, but there were positives in its Professional Arena Soccer League debut at the Anaheim Convention Center.
It didn't end so wonderfully, with two-time defending PASL champ San Diego scoring the final five goals for a 10-6 victory, but that didn't diminish the occasion.
“It was awesome. An awesome experience,” said Bernie Lilavois, the Bolts' head coach and managing partner. “And to have the boys come out so fired up and have the lead almost 3½ quarters of the game, you couldn't write the book better, you know?”
Kraig Chiles scored three goals and assisted two more for the Sockers, who rallied from every deficit and took their first lead midway through the fourth quarter on Dan Antoniuk's blast off the crossbar from about 35 feet. It was lopsided the rest of the way, with Chiles, Nate Hetherington and Brian Farber adding goals.
“They're loaded with talent,” Lilavois said. “When it counted, they stepped up. ... [Our] boys fell apart. It's the lack of experience, honestly. We've got, like, two guys who have played indoors, and the rest of the guys are all indoor rookies. We just couldn't hold on. If it were three quarters, we would have won the game.”
Enrique Tovar scored the club's first official goal, providing a lead 4 minutes, 7 seconds in, and Miguel Sanchez, Adriano de Lima, Carlos Borja and Hugo Casillas, with two, added goals for Anaheim.
Bernie Lilavois knows well the perils of the indoor game.
The former Cal State Northridge standout has spent most of a 20-year professional career in the arenas, from San Jose to Buffalo, Cleveland to Portland, and stops in between -- nine clubs in all, across five leagues.
“I've been around a long time, playing indoors,” Lilavois says. “I hate to say it, but every single team I used to play for doesn't exist anymore. I've seen a lot of mistakes made. But I've seen a lot of good things, too.”
It's with the good things in mind that he introduces the Anaheim Bolts, a professional indoor team that makes its league debut Saturday night at the Anaheim Convention Center. It's a culmination of a two-year project to return the beautiful game's fast-paced cousin to Southern California -- for the first time at the top level since the Anaheim Splash, one of Lilavois' former clubs, folded in 1997 after four seasons in the late Continental Indoor Soccer League.
“I just woke up one day and had a crazy idea of bringing professional indoor soccer back here,” said Lilavois, who attended La Salle High School in Pasadena and has played and coached for years in and around the L.A. basin. “Ever since the Splash finished up, I've traveled around, playing in all these cities, and in the back of my head it's been 'why not back in Southern California?' ”
So Lilavois, 41, stepped up -- he's the Bolts' managing partner, head coach and, if required, a presence on the field -- found partners and built a working relationship with the City of Anaheim, the Bolts' desired destination from Day One. Part of that is lineage from the Splash, which drew well, above 6,000 per game, played an effective, entertaining brand of the game and established itself among the CISL's better clubs.
The nature of the indoor game and its economics -- leagues and clubs fighting for survival, a battle usually lost -- doomed the Splash, just as they had Forum-based predecessors L.A. Lazers (1982-89) and L.A. United (1993).
Expenses are far less in the Professional Arena Soccer League, which kicked off its fourth season last week with 12 clubs. The salary cap is tight -- just $3,000 per game -- and every player works another job or attends school. There's no regular-season interplay between the Western and Eastern divisions, so the longest road trip is to Tacoma, Wash. The arenas are smaller (ACC seats about 7,000; capacity at the Honda Center, the Splash's home, was above 17,000). Costs are kept in check.
Now it's about attracting fans.
Magee's goal in the 81st minute delivered a 2-1 victory for the Galaxy and a quarterfinal date against two-time defending champion Seattle Sounders on July 12 up in Tukwila, Wash.
Omar Gonzalez headed home a Juninho free kick in the 75th minute, then nodded another free kick across the goalmouth for Magee to finish as the Major League Soccer side overcame a second-half deficit.
What's next on his itinerary?
“Oh, man, you guys are expecting too much now,” he said after the third-round clash at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium. “I don't know -- hopefully, keep winning.”
Magee's been in a whirlwind since he pulled on Saunders jersey and a pair of gloves just before halftime Saturday and had his first experience as a goalkeeper. He did well enough, making four saves -- two of them quite good -- and was selected MLS Player of the Week.
“Luckily, I don't have a Twitter account, because I've heard it's been pretty intense on Twitter,” he said. “I've gotten a lot of texts and phone calls from family and friends. They're having a good time with it.
“I't been pretty nerve-racking. I'm still a little nervous from playing goalie. The butterflies haven't left yet.”
Magee didn't have to do any goalkeeping Tuesday. Brian Perk, the second-year, third-string goalkeeper who will take over when the Galaxy play Seattle in an MLS game Monday at Home Depot Center, got the start rather than Saunders -- just to get another game under his belt before his Fourth of July duty.
“I'm tremendously excited [for Monday],” he said. “I might not look it, but I've been waiting a year and a half now and haven't played many games, so it's good to make my MLS debut.”
Borja, 23, has been training with Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul after Chivas released him during preseason. The 6-foot center back made eight appearance for the Goats last year after returning to the club following a spell with Guadalajara's second team. He also was with Chivas USA in 2006 and 2007 but saw no league action.
Naimo indicated that Borja won't be available for the Blues' U.S. Open Cup second-round match Tuesday night at the Ventura County Fusion but is expected to play in next weekend's USL Pro games against the Harrisburg City Islanders on Friday at Centennial High School in Corona and Sunday at Cal State Fullerton.
Marcos Mondaini celebrated his new pact with Chivas USA by playing atop a diamond midfield Tuesday and showing off his playmaking skills. Not too shabby, either, even if it led to nothing concrete in a 2-0 loss to Canada's under-23 national team.
“Basically, we threw him in there without much instruction at all,” Goats head coach Robin Fraser said. “We just wanted to see what his instincts were.”
“I think that he was very calm on the ball, very calm first touch, has good ideas in the attacking end.”
A fine start for the 26-year-old Argentine midfielder, who was acquired in a loan deal announced Tuesday from Uruguayan club CA Fenix. The move have Chivas a full allotment of 30 players, at least until 23-year-old defender Carlos Borja (Anaheim/Loara HS) was waived a few hours later.
The two biggest names among trialists are gone, too. Colombian defender Jimmy Asprilla fell victim to numbers -- too many backliners on the roster, not enough international spots to use on another -- and Trinidadian striker Stern John, the former MLS star who spent the past decade or so in England, just wasn't ready to go after surgery last year to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“You could see he had some very good moments,” Fraser said. “You could see he's Stern John -- he's as comfortable in the box as any forward. But physically he wasn't quite ready yet, and so we left it open-ended, saying we'd love to see him get healthy and see what happens at that point.”
MORE ON MONDAINI: He has two friends with MLS experience: Real Salt Lake forward Fabian Espindola and former Columbus forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto, whom he knew while at Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors.
“I know it's a hard league, very competitive,” he said Tuesday, and of the league's physical nature: “That's what I was talking about when I was talking to Fabian. In 2007, with Boca, we made a tour and played against MLS teams, and I noticed that here is very physical, very strong.” And, yes, he said, he can deal with it.
“He's good. Obviously, he has a lot of tactical awareness: He knows where he should be,” said Chivas defender Jimmy Conrad, who went the full 90 against the Canadians. “Athletically, he might run into problems. You know, he's not the biggest guy, and our league is built on athleticism. He's going to have to really use his brain to find space and to make a difference.”
"You joking?" Fraser said when asked the identity of the club's newest trialist. "None of you [media] guys know? ... Uh, helluva goal scorer in this league 12 years ago."
John, who played last season for Crystal Palace and on loan for Ipswich Town, is coming off a knee injury and not yet ready for game action, but there was no questioning the power and accuracy of his shot.
"He was really looking for an opportunity to get in with a club," Fraser said. "As you can tell, he doesn't look like he's necessarily quite ready, but when a guy who's scored goals in places he has [comes along], you take a look at him."
John, who as a young MLS player impressed with his quickness, power and knack in front of the net, was just fantastic in 1998, scoring an MLS-best 26 goals. He then tied for the league lead with 18 in 1999.
"One of [MLS's best]. Absolutely one of them," said Fraser, who was a center back for the Galaxy when John was in the league. "I know I had my battles with him, and it was funny: Carlos [Llamosa, a Chivas USA assistant coach and former MLS defender] said the same thing, and then Jimmy [Conrad] afterwards said the same thing. We've all had to deal with him for sure."
Also new in camp is Argentine midfielder Marcos Mondaini, 26, who came out of Boca Juniors' academy and has played, on loan from the Buenos Aires giant, for Ecuadoran clubs Emelec and Barcelona, for Nacional in Uruguay and most recently for Colombia's Atletico Nacional. He played the final 29 minutes on the right flank in Friday's 0-0 draw with D.C. United at Home Depot Center.
"He's just a player I've kind of watched for a while," Fraser said. "Quick, crafty ... definitely an interesting player who's done pretty well in a couple different countries. We're just going to see where it goes and see how it is and see how he fits into the group and how he does."
A club official said Friday night that Mondaini likely will be signed in the next few days.
Serious defensive depth, in great contrast to last year, has left new coach Robin Fraser a lot of options, and when the Goats trot onto Home Depot Center's field March 19 against Sporting Kansas City, it could be new arrival Heath Pearce or trialist Jimmy Asprilla on the right flank. Or Valentin.
"I think Arizona was about solidifying some team concepts, and I think in a lot of ways they improved," Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles on Saturday, after the team's return to L.A. "Things they did well prior to Arizona, they did better. Now it's a matter of being consistent at it."
Fraser says he is beginning to get a feel for a starting XI, that he and his staff are "starting to narrow things down, but nothing is etched in stone." He isn't sure how Valentin or Trujillo (or Pearce and Asprilla) fit in, but he's not unhappy with what each brings to the team.
Valentin, taken with the fourth overall pick in last month's draft, has played on the right and at center back during camp. Pearce, acquired Tuesday in a trade from FC Dallas, can play at right back or left back -- or in midfield. Asprilla is a veteran right back, with more than a decade of experience in his native Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.
"Everything is up for grabs at the moment," Fraser said of Valentin. "He's a good young player who can play outside and inside, so [starting in the middle] is a possibility, sure."
No word yet on what Gavin hurt nor how serious it is, but the second-year midfielder missed the last two months of last season because of a hamstring injury that he twice re-tweaked.
Mariano Trujillo missed a penalty kick after Jeb Brovsky fouled Alan Gordon at the start of the second half, firing wide left.
Heath Pearce made his Chivas debut, seeing little of the ball in the game's first half-hour.
“I think every team comes out and has, like, five or six goals they have written on the board: 'This is what we want to accomplish today,' ” Chivas defender Jimmy Conrad said. “Today maybe we accomplished four of those six things.”
Starting goalkeeper Zach Thornton made a huge save against Vancouver trialist Russell Teibert in the 54th minute, and backup Sergio Arias knocked aside Brazilian trialist Camilo's first shot on a breakaway in the 76th; Camilo's rebound went wide.
MOVING AROUND: Gordon started in central midfield, next to Gavin and in front of Michael Lahoud, in the 4-1-4-1 formation head coach Robin Fraser likes. Trujillo, likely out at right back with Pearce and rookie Zarek Valentin on the scene, got another look in midfield, this time on the left flank. He might fit in better here than on the backline.
Valentin started in the middle, and, near as we can tell, moved to right back when Umaña came on for Pearce. Tristan Bowen returned to action, playing the final 23 minutes, and trialists Jimmy Asprilla and Guillermo Torres saw second-half action.
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.