Los Angeles Soccer: Danny Barrera
The game of the year for minor league soccer around these parts produced an unexpected result amid huge momentum swings and left one Southern California club joyous and another heartbroken.Tyler Coombes' 14th goal of the season lifted FC Santa Clarita, a first-year club born from the ruins of the Lancaster-based Rattlers, past the previously unbeaten San Diego Flash to claim the second Southern Conference berth for the National Premier Soccer League's Western Division playoffs.
Coombes (Palmdale/Palmdale HS and Cal State L.A.) scored twice as the Storm (8-3-3) posted a 4-3 victory Sunday at Canyon High School in Canyon Country, rallying for the winning goal in the 89th minute after the Flash (11-1-2) overcame a three-goal deficit. Sergio Valle Ortiz's second goal of the evening pulled San Diego just a minute before Coombes provided the victory.
The goal was a must -- a draw would have given the No. 2 spot to the Fullerton Rangers (8-4-2), whose 4-0 rout of San Diego Boca in Santa Ana, fueled on goals by brothers Andre and Diego Turoldo (both Torrance/North Torrance HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills), wrapped up about an hour before Coombes struck.
Martin Galvan scored the first goal and assisted two more for the Storm, who were up, 3-0, when Alex Harlley (Rosamond/Rosamond HS) tallied three minutes into the second half.
Santa Clarita will visit Hayward-based Bay Area Ambassadors (9-4-1), the Northern Conference champion for Saturday's Western semifinals. The Flash are home against Sonoma County Sol (7-3-4) in the other semi, and the winners will meet next week for a spot in the NPSL final four.
Fullerton looked likeliest to finish second after beating Santa Clarita, 3-0, on June 24, but it fell to third after a 5-1 loss to the Flash a week later.
It also was a big week for another So Cal side: Pali Blues claimed the W-League's Western Conference title. Another, Beach FC, failed in its bid for the Pacific-South crown in the Women's Premier Soccer League.
The Ventura County Fusion, who are headed to the Premier Development League playoffs for the fourth straight year, can claim the Southwest Division championship Wednesday.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
Wynalda, a Hall of Fame striker from Westlake Village, replaces head coach Alex Piñeda Chacon and director of soccer Rodrigo Rios, but it's not a permanent move. Wynalda last week told ESPN Los Angeles that he is merely a careholder coach -- he will lead the search for a full-time boss -- but he figures to serve the Silverbacks (1-5-8) as an adviser moving forward.
Wynalda guided Cal FC to the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup -- with a surprise victory over Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers included. He previously lobbied for head-coaching jobs with Chivas USA and Chicago.
“I’m absolutely thrilled for this opportunity with the Silverbacks. It was truly one that I didn’t want to pass up,” Wynalda, also an on-air analyst for Fox Soccer Channel's international coverage, said in a statement. “This is a case of an underperforming team, and I’m honored that the club chose me to take on the challenge of turning things around and helping the Silverbacks fulfill their potential on the field.”
Atlanta, which has played in whichever league served as America's second division all but two years since 1995, has made the playoffs only three times in 15 seasons. It went 4-20-4 last year and is winless at home (0-4-3) this season.
The Silverbacks play Tuesday against Carolina and Saturday at Minnesota. Wynalda will make his debut in a July 14 home game against the Puerto Rico Islanders.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
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 message out of Fullerton is simple: Don't overlook Dayton.
Ohio's Dutch Lions haven't won a USL Pro game this year, and they only won two of 24 last year, but the L.A. Blues are leery as they prepare for a two-game set this weekend.
“It's not going to be easy,” Blues head coach Charlie Naimo told ESPN Los Angeles in advance of Friday night's 7:30 meeting at Cal State Fullerton. “The USL Pro is pretty tight this year. There are no blowouts. We've seen enough now and know [Dayton] is as good as anybody.”
Dayton, it should be noted, is 0-5-5. That makes the second-year club 2-21-11 in almost a season and a half -- numbers that hardly seem frightening -- but the number combination that matters most, that demonstrates what the Lions can do, is 2-1: the score in their U.S. Open Cup upset at Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew.
The Dutch Lions are 3-0 in the Open Cup and set for a quarterfinal showdown June 26 at Sporting Kansas City. They're 3-1-2 in all competitions over the past 3½ weeks -- the lone loss by a goal to second-place Charleston -- after halting the Rochester Rhinos' string of shutout victories with a 1-1 draw nearly a month ago.
The Blues (3-3-2), who are returning to action after a three-week break, won the season's first meeting May 11, a 1-0 decision in Ohio, and Dayton had the better of play for good stretches of the action. It's a possession team with some dynamism, as the name might suggest -- rather like the Blues.
“Thinking of Dayton, the first thing that comes to mind is the Dutch philosophy of keeping possession and knocking the ball around, which is somewhat similar to ours,” Blues winger George Davis IV, who played last year for Dayton, told his club's website. “That seems to have worked really well for them lately, given the run they're on with those Open Cup wins and having been so tough to beat in the league.
“When you add in the fact that they haven't won a league game, that makes them very dangerous. They have every reason to believe in themselves and at the same time are dying to get their first three points, which is a powerful combination.”
Former Chivas forward Maykel Galindo will play his first match at full strength after using the break to recover from a foot injury, and Naimo is looking forward to seeing him teamed up front with Bright Dike, who has tallied twice in four games since joining the Blues on loan from MLS's Portland Timbers.
Cal FC caught the fancy of fans across the country -- across the globe -- with its unfathomable run through the U.S. Open Cup, and the Thousand Oaks-based amateur club did its best to give the mighty Seattle Sounders a battle Tuesday night.
It managed to do so for a little more than a half, but a penalty kick opened the gates, and the Major League Soccer powerhouse poured in five goals over roughly 20 minutes to cruise to a 5-0 fourth-round triumph in Tukwila, Wash.
Osvaldo Alonso and Fredy Montero scored two goals apiece and the Sounders, winners of the last three trophies in the 99-year-old tournament, outshot Cal FC, 28-4, to romp into a quarterfinal showdown June 26 against the San Jose Earthquakes in San Francisco.
“I think we bit off more than we could chew, and, obviously, Seattle is a fantastic team,” Cal FC manager Eric Wynalda said afterward on Fox Soccer Channel's coverage of the match. “We were talking about it at halftime: Would we be able to stay with them? We got a little unfortunate with the penalty kick -- that certainly didn't help -- but [the Sounders are a] classy team, and I expect Seattle to be a contender to win this whole thing again.”
It was scoreless until the 50th minute, when a Montero blast struck Beto Navarro's arm, and Alonso barely beat Cal goalkeeper Derby Castillo to the left post.
The Sounders already were in charge by that point, but Cal FC -- a veteran group of undervalued players, most of them pros, that Wynalda put together in February -- gave an admirable performance, holding off repeated Seattle attacks and moving the ball around nicely without penetrating Seattle's defense. Castillo, midfielder Pablo Cruz and defender Jesus Gonzalez were solid all night.
“We weren't happy with some of the things we did [in the first half], but [Cal FC] played well,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid told FSC, which employs Wynalda as an on-air analyst and served as jersey sponsor for his team Tuesday night. “We weren't worried about a lot in front of our goal, but they did a good job of keeping possession, spreading the ball around. They're quick, they're technical, they're a good team.”
Cal FC managed just one shot on goal -- a 17th-minute Danny Barrera drive off of a corner kick sent straight at Seattle goalkeeper Bryan Meredith -- and never looked particularly dangerous.
Since last week's stunning overtime upset of the Portland Timbers, Thousand Oaks' Cal FC has become a cause célèbre, drawing worldwide attention and comparisons to “Hoosiers” and “Rocky” while opening doors to professional careers for its best players, the whole point all along.
That was this ragtag band of amateurs' third successive U.S. Open Cup victory over professional opposition, and Tuesday night they'll look for No. 4 against a true powerhouse: three-time defending tournament champion Seattle Sounders.
Eric Wynalda, the Hall of Fame striker who put the side together, can't wait. And he won't be surprised if his team again does the unthinkable.
“We match up much better against Seattle than Portland,” Wynalda told ESPN Los Angeles. “A lot of people are saying we have no chance in hell, but from a practical standpoint -- from a game, a matchup -- I'd play Seattle 10 times before I'd play Portland again.”
That's about approach. The Timbers are a direct, battling team. The Sounders prefer a flowing brand of soccer, with possession and passing -- the pretty stuff, which is Cal FC's aim, too.
“The game will have an ebb and flow to it,” Wynalda said. “Two very technically sound teams. It's not going to be a case of just sitting back and trying to hold them off.”
That's what was required in last week's third-round clash. Portland took 43 shots and created more than a dozen good scoring opportunities, but Artur Aghasyan's counterattack goal five minutes into the extra period made Cal FC the biggest upset victor in the 99-year-old competition since MLS clubs arrived on the scene in the mid-'90s.
Cal FC has the talent -- more than a half-dozen players have been in camp with MLS teams, several others have pro experience in lower divisions or foreign leagues -- but nearly everyone on the roster has fallen through cracks while pursuing their dreams. Wynalda, who has extensive coaching experience and covets a chance to run an MLS team, created the team merely to provide them opportunity.
“If these guys aren’t with professional teams in August, then I didn’t do my job,” he said in a conference call Monday. “The idea was to showcase them. First to find them, then give them a chance and let them play and let them show what we can do.”
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.”
Eric Wynalda put together a team with a simple, perhaps unachievable goal: win the U.S. Open Cup.
Thousand Oaks' Cal FC took another step toward that Tuesday night, routing USL Pro side Wilmington Hammerheads, 4-0, in North Carolina to advance to the third round of the nation's oldest soccer competition, in which it will face Major League opposition.
Danny Barrera scored twice from assists by his brother, Diego, and the U.S. Adult Soccer Association side earned a date next week with the Portland Timbers.
Wynalda, an American soccer legend and first-ballot National Soccer Hall of Famer from Westlake Village, was on hand to guide Cal FC after missing last week's first-round win over Premier Development League champion Kitsap Pumas while he was in Munich preparing for Fox's coverage of the UEFA Champions League final. Wynalda is a studio analyst on Fox soccer broadcasts.
“Tonight was a good demonstration of what the guys are capable of, at times good and bad,” Wynalda told the Wilmington (N.C.) StarNews. “All in all, I'm very happy with them. I think they've come together remarkably, in a very short span of time.”
The Barrera brothers hooked up in the 25th and 57th minutes, the first on a corner kick. Former Real Salt Lake forward Artur Aghasyan made it 2-0 in the 35th and Pedro Ferreira-Mendes added another on a 79th-minute free kick.
The game in Portland will be played next Wednesday.
In the other East Coast game involving a local team:
Carolina RailHawks 6, PSA Elite (Irvine) 0: The Galaxy is headed to North Carolina after the RailHawks, from the second-tier North American Soccer League, crushed the USASA Region IV champs in Cary, N.C. Carolina will be home for next Tuesday's third-round clash against the reigning MLS champion.
Brian Shriver scored a club-record six goals, with a first-half hat trick, to lead the Railhawks. Zack Schilawski and Amir Lowery also tallied for Carolina.
Proceeding in the U.S. Open Cup is a priority for the L.A. Blues, who enter the competition Tuesday against the Ventura County Fusion, and they'd love to take a shot next week at Chivas USA if they win.
Getting there won't be easy. The Blues (3-2-1), if they beat the Fusion in the in a second-round game at Fullerton College, face four games in eight days on two coasts. The USL Pro contests between the Open Cup dates are against two of the third-division league's best clubs, defending champion Orlando City SC (6-0-1) and Charleston Battery (4-2-0).
Something's got to give.
“I'd like a different schedule, let's leave it at that ...,” Blues head coach/general manager Charlie Naimo told ESPN Los Angeles on Monday. “Really, it is out of my control. Out of the organization's control. You can't worry about what you don't control, you just have to go out and do it. I have to decide based on what happens [Tuesday] how I want to play Thursday and Saturday. I have to choose.”
Orlando City's situation is the same as the Blues', with four games in eight days if it wins its Open Cup opener Tuesday, but the Lions would sit at home until next week's third-round game at Sporting Kansas City, provided they beat K.C. Athletics, a U.S. Adult Soccer Association side. Charleston also has an Open Cup game but plays just once on the weekend.
Naimo's approach will be fairly straightforward. Beating the Fusion is important, but it likely won't require a first-choice lineup -- Ventura, amateurs from the USL's Premier Development League is playing its fourth game in eight days -- and the goal is victory in Orlando.
“I'm thinking our guys will be up to play the defending champions,” Naimo said. “We're going after that game. We're not going in to try to steal a point. We want to win that game.”
Do so and, if the date with Chivas is on for May, the Blues “might not put in guys who won't be able to play against Charleston and Chivas. It's tough to do that. ... My goal is winning [Tuesday], have a good result against Orlando. Can't think much beyond that point.”
It was, at the finish, but getting there was anything but simple.
The Fusion scored four goals in overtime to dismiss the Fullerton Rangers, 6-2, at Santa Ana Stadium and advance to a second-round rematch with the L.A. Blues next week in Norco. The Galaxy and Chivas USA will enter the competition, in its 99th year, in the third round the following week.
It was tougher than it should have been, especially after Roman (Oxnard/Rio Mesa HS and UCLA), who stepped on the field without a practice after arriving from spring training at the University of Louisville, finished a feed from Biola University alum Kennedy Chongo in the 17th minute, and Lopez scored from Chris Tsonis' cutback five minutes later.
Fullerton, from the National Premier Soccer League, rallied to tie the score in the first 23 minutes of the second half -- netting the equalizer while down to 10 men -- but couldn't stay with the 2009 Premier Development League champion for the extra 30 minutes.
“Unfortunately, we make things harder on ourselves than they need to be,” Fusion coach Ole Mikkelsen said. “We had a comfortable 2-nil lead at halftime. If we get the next goal, for all intents and purposes, we can play the game out. But we made two silly mistakes, let them back in the game. ... Clearly, you could see in the overtime period we had the gas and they didn't have the gas.”
Fullerton dominated the start of the second half, even after Sean Toth (Fullerton College/Hope International) was dismissed with his second yellow card in the 63rd minute. By then it was 2-1 -- former Chivas USA/New York Red Bulls forward David Arvizu (Santa Ana/Foothill HS) scored in the 55th minute -- and Cuban striker Eder Roldan netted the equalizer five minutes later with a gorgeous chip into the far-post netting.
It was all Fusion the rest of the way, but they didn't get the winner until the third minute of overtime, a Lopez penalty kick after Leobardo Alvarez, who trialed with New York during MLS's preseason, fouled Chongo, who trialed with Chivas USA.
Cal FC, managed by Eric Wynalda and featuring former Galaxy defender Mike Randolph and UC Santa Barbara alum Danny Barrera, pulled out a 4-3 victory Friday over Manhattan Beach's Doxa Italia in the key Group A match at the seven-team USASA Region IV tournament at Ontario Soccer Park. They won the group Saturday with a 7-0 rout over The Internationalist, from Los Angeles.
The fourth team in the group, EP Elite, an El Paso, Texas, club representing New Mexico, was a no-show for the event and forfeited its three matches.
PSA Elite toppled Northern California's DV8 Defenders, its prime competition, in a Group B opener Friday, then crushed Pittsburg Galaxy, also from the Bay Area, and played fellow Irvine side OC Crew to a scoreless draw Saturday.
Defending Region IV champ Doxa Italia and DV8 Defenders were the region's Open Cup qualifiers last year. Both lost in the first round.
Cal FC and PSA Elite face first-round Open Cup trips to the Pacific Northwest. One will meet defending USL Premier Development League champion Kitsap Pumas in Bremerton, Wash., and the other will play at 2010 PDL titlist Portland Timbers U-23. U.S. Soccer will determine the matchups. The opening round in May 15.
Five other Southern California clubs are in the U.S. Open Cup field. Fullerton Rangers and Ventura County Fusion face off in a May 15 opener, with the winner taking on the L.A. Blues a week late in the second round. The Galaxy and Chivas USA enter the competition in the third round, on May 29.
Sunday morning's game at Ontario begins at 9 a.m.
The winners of both four-team groups will join the 64-team field, and the victor in the May 6 title game at Ontario Soccer Park will advance to the USASA National Cup final four in Chicago in mid-July.
Five of eight teams in the Region IV tournament are from Southern California, and they include Manhattan Beach's Doxa Italia, a Coast Soccer League power guided by former New England Revolution draft pick Derk Droze which won the Region IV title last year. The others are Thousand Oaks' Cal FC (La Gran Liga), Irvine's PSA Elite (Coast Soccer League) and OC Crew (United Premier Soccer League) and Los Angeles' The Internationalist (L.A. City Municipal Soccer League).
Cal FC's side is being put together by U.S. National Soccer Hall of Famer Eric Wynalda, who last weekend told ESPN Los Angeles it would include former UCLA star Eder Arreola (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS), a Houston Dynamo draft pick in January, and former UC Santa Barbara star Danny Barrera (Thousand Oaks/Westlake HS), who played last fall in Serbia, spent time in MLS's preseason with Chicago and recently trialed in England.
Two Bay Area teams -- Redwood City's DV8 Defenders, who qualified for last year's Open Cup, and Pittsburg Galaxy FC -- and EP Elite, an El Paso, Texas, team representing New Mexico, also are in the Region IV field.
Five Southern California teams already are in the field for the 99th edition of America's oldest soccer tournament, which has been won by MLS clubs 15 of the past 16 years:
- MLS: Galaxy, Chivas USA
- USL Pro: L.A. Blues
- USL Premier Development League: Ventura County Fusion
- National Premier Soccer League: Fullerton Rangers
The Chicago Fire split a pair of games Saturday morning at Oxnard College, bringing to an end a series of 20 preseason matches involving Major League Soccer clubs in Carson and Oxnard.
Three more games were played in San Luis Obispo, and Chivas USA has a ticketed game Wednesday night in San Diego against Mexico's Club Tijuana.
Eight clubs, including Chivas and the Galaxy, trained this month at Home Depot Center or Oxnard College, several of them at both sites.
The San Jose Earthquakes beat the Fire, 2-0, in Oxnard's main stadium Saturday, with Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart and Brad Ring scoring first-half goals. The Fire rallied from a first-half deficit to beat the Ventura County Fusion, 2-1, on an adjacent field. Woodland Hills' Orr Barouch converted a penalty kick and set up Pari Pantazopoulos' strike to lift Chicago.
Thousand Oaks' Danny Barrera, who was in camp for the Fire, scored on a free kick, his second such goal in as many games. Barrera, a former UC Santa Barbara standout who is contracted to a Serbian club, scored a superb goal in the Fusion's loss Friday to the Montreal Impact at Home Depot Center.
BEST OF THE CAMPS: All in all, the soccer on display wasn't great. Everyone's in preseason form, which means lagging fitness, too many mistakes and too many connections still being made. Some matches were interesting only because you could hear everything said on the field, including a fair share of expletives. (Yes, you can swear in soccer, so long as you don't direct it at the ref.)
All that said, here were some of the good things we saw during the games in L.A. and Ventura counties:
BEST TEAM: The Portland Timbers clicked better than everyone else, with Cameroonian trialist Franck Songo'o leading one of the few attacks that appeared ready for the season to start. Portland went 3-0-1, scored four on the Galaxy and two against Houston and Chicago.
BEST PLAYER: It might be Songo'o. Or his teammate James Marcelin, a monster in midfield. We also liked what Sanna Nyassi brings to Montreal's attack, Michael Lahoud's and Ryan Smith's play on Chivas USA's flanks, and the effort Adam Cristman brings up front for the Galaxy. L.A. newcomer Marcelo Sarvas' vision and touch also impresses, and Oswaldo Minda is clearly going to be a solid midfield anchor for Chivas. If we have to pick one ... it's Songo'o.
CARSON -- The expansion Montreal Impact got a lot of work done in a nearly two-week stay at Home Depot Center, a good deal of it away from the field.
They finished this swing of their preseason camp Friday with 90-minute games against UCLA (a 0-0 draw) and Ventura County Fusion (a 3-1 victory), but what's been going on off the field has been far more interesting.
The Impact on Thursday traded veteran striker Brian Ching back to the Houston Impact for a conditional first-round selection in next year's SuperDraft. They topped that Friday, shortly after their games on one of Home Depot Center's training fields, by taking former U.S. national team forward Eddie Johnson through the league's allocation dispersal process, then trading him to Seattle for top young attackers Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle.
It wrapped a wild week that started with Montreal's announcement that Ching, who played last week at HDC against his former Houston teammates, had departed camp for “personal reasons.” Turned out he was in Houston negotiating a new deal, one that would significantly trim his salary -- he'll make $250,000 rather than $450,000, The Houston Chronicle reported -- but allow him an expected final season with the club he's identified with as they open a long-awaited stadium.
“This is where I want to be, where I want to retire ...,” Ching told The Chronicle. “I know how old I am, and I've been around the league long enough to know my value. I have no problem. I just want this team to be successful, and I'll do what it takes. If that means less money, that means less money. Me taking less money allows me to be here where I want to be, allows me to open up a stadium that I've always dreamed of doing. That's rewarding enough for me.”
Ching, 33, considered retirement after Montreal surprisingly took him in November's expansion draft. Trade talks between the Dynamo and Montreal began almost immediately, and the Hawaii-born forward reported to the Impact's camp last month and last week said the idea of playing for Canada's third Major League Soccer franchise was “definitely growing on me. Obviously, it was a very emotional time when it all happened. But I've been with the team for about a month now and enjoy playing with the guys, enjoy the project of trying to build a competitive team here.”
Impact coach Jesse Marsch was asked if the Impact had received enough in the trade with Houston.
“I don't think it went the way we all thought it was going to go, whether he was going to stay or go. But in the end, it was just so difficult,” the former Chivas USA captain told ESPN Los Angeles. “He committed himself wholly, professionally to being here, but you also could see that his mind was still in Houston.