Los Angeles Soccer: Chris Korb
Last week's visits to Southern California by D.C. United, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers provided occasion for a mini-reunion among Akron Zips. For Chivas USA defender Zarek Valentin, it was a chance to compare notes with a few other prized rookies produced by the college powerhouse.
Valentin, along with second-year Goats Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski, was able to hang out with Vancouver midfielder Michael Nanchoff, D.C. United defenders Perry Kitchen and Chris Korb, and Portland midfielder Darlington Nagbe.
"There were a good, like, 10 of us in the L.A. area. So it was pretty cool," said Valentin, whom Chivas made the fourth overall selection in January's MLS SuperDraft. "We were all in one hotel room, just kind of laughing about old times and stuff."
New times, too. Valentin has played three positions on Chivas' backline. Kitchen, taken with the No. 3 overall pick, has been a revelation for D.C. United whether in central defense or at right back. Nagbe, the No. 2 selection, is considered can't-miss, although his young pro career has primarily been about rehabbing injuries. Nanchoff, the No. 8 pick, and Korb are starting to find their way with their new clubs.
Two more players from the Akron side that won the NCAA title last December also are in the league -- Houston defender Kofi Sarkodie was taken with the No. 7 pick, and San Jose midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong joined Korb as a second-round pick -- joining a group spearheaded by Seattle winger Steve Zakuani and Sporting Kansas City forward Teal Bunbury.
"It's nice to see that, and it's great to see [the guys from] our program, especially the guys playing," Valentin said. "You love to see two Akron guys in the D.C. game [Friday against the Galaxy], and you see Michael Nanchoff got into his first game -- we watched his touches online."
There's an oddity in all that Akron elegance: Four rookies among the Zips alums -- Valentin, Kitchen, Korb and Sarkodie -- have played at right back in MLS.
Josh Saunders did well stepping into the nets for Donovan Ricketts, and the Galaxy extended its shutout streak to four games -- and 411 minutes -- and that covers all the positives, from L.A.'s standpoint, in Friday night's scoreless draw with D.C. United.
L.A. lacked clarity, focus and energy, never looked capable of scoring and was fortunate to keep their longtime rival out of the nets, especially at the end, when Charlie Davies, returning from injury, should have done better with an open net.
“We were poor tonight. No question about that …,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “There was no quality to our game tonight. Passing was poor. Effort was just OK. Just didn't get it done. There were no excuses there. That was a poor performance.”
The Galaxy clearly missed Landon Donovan, who like Ricketts is away for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and if Arena didn't think so -- “Has nothing to do with it,” he said -- others don't agree.
“He's an X factor, for sure, and we missed that spark tonight,” left back Todd Dunivant said. “We were pretty flat, and we didn't have any real explosive plays out there, and that's what he's known for, so we definitely missed that.”
Said D.C. United coach Ben Olsen, whose team missed Donovan in both meetings this year -- he was injured when the teams drew April 9 in Washington: “They're the best team in the league --with Landon, let's face it. Landon's having an unbelievable year, and he changes the way you can play this team.”
Arena pegged L.A.'s lack of spunk to a three-day break earlier in the week, noting that his team “never got it going during the week.” David Beckham predicted that “maybe Bruce won't be giving us three days off again.”
The Galaxy were without forward Juan Pablo Angel, a game-time scratch after tweaking his right calf during training Wednesday, and Juninho departed at halftime after struggling with an ankle injury he sustained in last week's win over New England.
The draw ended L.A.'s four-game winning streak but kept it unbeaten over seven games with arguably MLS's worst team, Toronto FC, heading to HDC next weekend.
The Galaxy had two decent chances early, with a Mike Magee long ball setting up Chris Birchall's cross to the near post that Chad Barrett couldn't handle in the eighth minute, and D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid diving to parry Birchall's knuckling, bouncing shot, possibly deflected, in the 13th.
That was more or less it for L.A., although Barrett and Magee should have done far more from Beckham crosses early in the second half. Barrett, especially: He got behind D.C.'s backline for a quick Beckham free kick but headed the ball well off target. Angel or Donovan, you'd believe, would have finished the chance.
A quick look at the Galaxy's victory:
BEST PLAYER: Saunders was the only L.A. player found worthy, making a big save on Andy Najar in the closing minutes. D.C. had several fine players, including the three rookies on its backline -- Akron products Perry Kitchen, 19, and Chris Korb, 23, and Ethan White, 20, from Maryland -- who were critical in D.C. denying L.A. space to operate.
Best of all was veteran forward Josh Wolff, who was crafty, setting up late chances by Najar and Davies, and just fired wide when a Kitchen throw-in bounced in the box and over Magee and Jovan Kirovski to him in the 64th.
The Galaxy doesn't pick until No. 16, when they'll have a choice of several prospects with potential, a few who might be ready to contribute quickly, one of two who might fill real needs.
The Galaxy's draft:
SELECTIONS: 3 (1st round, No. 16; 2nd, No. 34; 3rd, No. 50)
PRIMARY NEEDS: A two-way midfielder and a forward with real potential, but also depth in midfield -- especially on the wings -- and along the backline.
POTENTIAL TARGETS: Big (6-foot-4), versatile North Carolina midfielder Stephen McCarthy or two-way Duke midfielder Cole Grossman would be perfect, but they'll likely be gone by the 16th pick. ... If Cal center back A.J. Soares is still around, nab him. ... Stanford's Bobby Warshaw can play in midfield or in the back. ... Akron attacking midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong could develop into something special with the right mentoring -- and could still be available. ... Ecuadoran forward Victor Estupinan was a combine standout. ... Akron center back Chris Korb would be a good second-round pick, if he lasts to 34. ... Sacramento State midfielder Ernesto Carranza, Loyola Marymount winger Rafael Baca or UC Irvine forward Amani Walker could be there in the third round.
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.