Los Angeles Soccer: Eder Roldan
The Fullerton Rangers took a huge stride toward the National Premier Soccer League playoffs with Sunday's victory over FC Santa Clarita, a showdown for second place in the Western Division's Southern Conference.
Former Chivas USA/New York Red Bulls forward David Arvizu (Santa Ana/Foothill HS) scored two goals as the Rangers avenged a loss two months earlier in Santa Clarita with a 3-0 triumph at Santa Ana Stadium.
The Rangers (7-3-2) have a two-point advantage over the Storm (6-3-3) with two games to play. Both have matches remaining with the San Diego Flash (9-0-2), which has clinched the Southern Conference title.
The Rangers' NPSL team finished second to the Flash and went to the playoffs last year, when they were affiliated with the Santa Ana Winds.
Arvizu scored in the 17th and 60th minutes and Cuban forward Eder Roldan tallied in the 24th for Fullerton, which has won three in a row and scored at least three times in its past four games. Santa Clarita has won just twice in its past five games, over the division's two worst clubs (Phoenix and North Coast, with a combined 2-18-1 record), and could rue a 1-1 draw at home June 9 with San Diego Boca (4-5-3).
Santa Clarita is likely to vault back to second next weekend, when it faces fading Conejo Valley side FC Hasental (3-7-2), but getting a resullt against the Flash on July 7 is critical to the Storm' playoff hopes. Fullerton plays the Flash in San Diego this weekend, then closes July 8 at home against Boca.
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Now he's back with the Sounders, taking the next step in his journey to being a full-fledged professional.
Steres (Calabasas/Calabasas HS), who starred at San Diego State, was taken by Seattle in last week's college-waiver draft and headed over the weekend to Washington.
“We're getting the contract [sorted out], and then working my way up to get a starting role, obviously,” Steres told ESPN Los Angeles after the Fusion's 2-1 victory Friday evening over Orange County Blue Star. “Sounds like they're excited to have me come in. I'm excited to go in.”
Steres, probably a center back or right back in MLS, lost out in numbers games during preseason at Chivas and, after his release by the Goats, in Seattle. He's been superb for the Fusion, bolstering the backline next to Mickey Daly (Cal State L.A.) or Tim Pontius (Yorba Linda/Servite HS and UC Santa Barbara) or teaming with former Chivas USA/Portland Timbers midfielder Rodrigo Lopez (Santa Barbara/Santa Barbara HS) in central midfield.
The Fusion (6-1-1) are atop the Southwest Division after rallying for a 2-1 win against Blue Star at Concordia University. Travis Bowen (Van Nuys/Chatsworth HS), the older brother of Chivas USA forward Tristan Bowen, scored both goals -- his fourth and division-best fifth of the season -- with the winner coming in the 76th minute.
Ventura is one point ahead of FC Tucson, which visits the Fusion next weekend.
Pontius, the younger brother of D.C. United midfielder Chris Pontius, also is getting some MLS attention. The big center back, a Sounders draft pick, has been in camp the past week with the Galaxy. He says playing with the Fusion has helped prepare him.
“College is one thing,” he said. “College prepares you for the next step. This is kind of the in-between phase between college and pros. You've got a lot of players here who can make the next step.”
He said his time with Sounders in preseason was “spectacular.”
“Unfortunately, it didn't work out for me, but at the end, I gained a lot of experience out of that opportunity,” Pontius said. “Spots were tight there, so there's only so much you can do. You play your game, if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. You try the next one.”
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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.
Fullerton Rangers coach Raul Zico Ruiz expects a classic battle of opposing styles when his club takes on the Ventura County Fusion in Tuesday's opening round of the U.S. Open Cup.
Fusion coach Ole Mikkelsen doesn't know what to expect, and really doesn't care.
“At the end of the day, in the first round, you just want to play your game and get a few fortunate bounces of the ball,” he said. “I knew very little about the teams we've played in the first round the past few years, and I know very little about [Fullerton]. At the end of the day, we'll focus on the style of soccer we want play. Hopefully, it's enough to get you through.
“Last year it was. The year before it wasn't.”
The Rangers probably have the advantage at Santa Ana Stadium, owing to schedule and holdovers. They made the National Premier Soccer League playoffs last year as the Santa Ana Winds, and most of the players stuck around when the team changed sponsors -- so there's some continuity at work. They were playing Open Cup qualifiers in March and opened National Premier Soccer League play on April 7.
The Fusion, with a relatively new roster, played their first Premier Development League game last week. Many of the players who were with the team during preseason -- when they took on (and beat) Major League Soccer clubs -- are with bigger teams in more advanced leagues.
“It's a huge advantage for us,” said Ruiz, who scouted the Fusion's 1-0 PDL loss Sunday against L.A. Misioneros and says Ventura County's direct approach will contrast with the Rangers' possession-first game. “We had a couple of losses in league, but they brought the team together. We've been together now two years, and they know how each other plays and moves off the ball.”
The winner advances to a second-round game next week against the L.A. Blues, tentatively slated for Riverside Community College's Norco campus.
The Rangers are 4-2-0 in the NPSL, but both losses came when they were without midfielder leader Andre Turoldo (Torrance/North Torrance HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills) and backline anchor Leobardo Alvarez.
The Fusion (0-1-1 in the PDL) lost to the Arizona Sahuaros on penalties in the first round of the 2010 Open Cup -- they had qualified by winning the PDL title -- and last year beat Manhattan Beach's Doxa Italia in the first round and lost to the L.A. Blues in the second round.
Two more Southern California teams, both with pro talent, also play openers Tuesday. U.S. Adult Soccer Association Region IV champion PSA Elite, from Irvine, visits 2010 PDL champ Portland Timbers U-23, and Region IV runner-up Cal FC, from Thousand Oaks, plays at reigning PDL titlist Kitsap Pumas in Bremerton, Wash.
It involves star attacker Brent Whitfield, a former Chivas USA outside back from Long Beach (Poly HS/Cal State Fullerton) who has played for several top local clubs and was set to serve as a player-coach for L.A. Misioneros, a PDL team that's brought in some big talent in a bid to compete for a trophy.
Misioneros cut ties with Whitfield just before the season began -- it also cost them former Galaxy defender Mike Randolph, whom Whitfield had brought to the club -- and he has turned up with the Ventura County Fusion, a club he bolted two years ago to play for pay with Hollywood United.
The Fusion opened their season Saturday night at Ventura College against, wouldn't you know, the Misioneros, who took a lead midway through the first half through Edwin Miranda (Reseda/Reseda HS and Cal State Northridge), who played last year for the L.A. Blues.
Whitfield gave Ventura a share of the points, scoring just before halftime.
The other two games involving local teams also finished 1-1. Cal State Northridge's Christian Gonzalez Diaz (Mission Viejo/Mission Viejo HS) scored in stoppage Friday to lift Orange County Blue Star against visiting Pali Blues, which got a goal from UCLA's Evan Raynr (Calabasas/Viewpoint HS). Blue Star rallied against Misioneros in L.A. two nights later, with Loyola Marymount's David Ponce (Foothill Ranch/Trabuco Hills HS and UC Santa Barbara) scoring the equalizer.
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USL PRO: The L.A. Blues got a home win last week, and, true to form, it came away from Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium. The 2-1 triumph over Wilmington at Fullerton College was their first victory of the season and just their fourth in what now is 16 league home games.
The record at CSUF is far worse: no wins in nine games (0-6-3), including a “road” loss to the Galaxy in last year's U.S. Open Cup. That includes Sunday's 2-2 draw with Wilmington in the second meeting of the weekend.
The Blues (1-2-1) climbed out of the third-division league's cellar, from 11th to 10th, two points ahead of the Dayton Dutch Lions (0-2-2), the only USL Pro team without a victory, and that after winning just two of 24 league games last year. Midfielder Allan Russell, who converted a penalty kick and assisted Matt Fondy's opener in Friday's win, was selected to the USL Pro Team of the Week.
The next hour was an onslaught, with the Storm -- formerly Rattlers FC in the Antelope Valley -- scoring nine goals, five of them before halftime, en route to a simple triumph Saturday in the West Division's Southern Conference.
Tyler Coombes (Palmdale/Palmdale HS and Cal State L.A.) was chosen the NPSL's national player of the week after scoring five goals. He had a hat trick by the 43rd minute.
He netted one goal more than Jason Jones in Northern Conference leader Sacramento Gold's 9-0 destruction of the San Francisco Stompers the following day.
FCSC (1-0-1) is second in the NPSL West-Southern, two points behind the Fullerton Rangers (2-0-0), who notched their second shutout victory as Eder Roldan and David Arvizu scored second-half goals to beat visiting FC Hasental, 2-0, on Sunday. Hasental, from the Conejo Valley, has been shut out in each of its first two games.
A winning debut.
The Rangers, who last year made the NPSL playoffs as the Santa Ana Winds and already posted three wins in qualifying en route to a berth in the U.S. Open Cup, received late goals from Julio Madrigal (Inglewood/Inglewood HS and L.A. Harbor College/Cal State Dominguez Hills) and Carlos Godinez to pull away to a 3-0 victory at debutant Phoenix Monsoon.
Madrigal also assisted Cuban forward Eder Roldan's 15th-minute opener for Fullerton, which is second in the Southern Conference, behind San Diego Flash, which routed Thousand Oaks' FC Hasental, 4-0, as Brandon Zuniga scored a hat trick.
So Cal's other new NPSL team, FC Santa Clarita Storm -- formerly Antelope Valley-based Rattlers FC -- settled for a 2-2 draw at San Diego Boca in its first game. Steven Martines set up Alex Harlley (Rosamond/Rosamond HS) and then added one of his own to give FCSC a two-goal lead by the 32nd minute, but NPSL Player of the Week Juan Bernal conveted a 65th-minute penalty and netted an equalizer 15 minutes later.