Los Angeles Soccer: Frank Yallop
The Galaxy have been home for the Fourth every year of their existence, winning a lot more than they lose. The league's most iconic Independence Day celebration takes place in Denver, where the Colorado Rapids also are home for the 17th time -- and looking to improve on their 11-2-3 record.
This also marks the midpoint, more or less, of the MLS season -- 10 of 19 clubs have played 17 or 18 of 34 matches -- so let's look at how things have gone.
BEST TEAM: The San Jose Earthquakes are atop the Supporters' Shield standings, and that's a decent barometer this time. Their knack for comebacks and late winners could take them far.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: See Best Team.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM: You thought I was going to say the Galaxy? No, it's Toronto FC. The Reds made such huge strides last year, did well to knock out L.A. in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, then collapsed. It cost Aron Winter his job, but they've looked better under Paul Mariner.
MVP: The best player in MLS has been Thierry Henry, but injuries have limited his time -- and New York's best run took place while he was sidelined. Dwayne De Rosario, last year's winner, is critical for D.C. United, the Eastern Conference leader. Marvin Chavez has been fantastic for San Jose. But our vote goes to Chris Wondolowski, whose importance for the Earthquakes goes beyond his league-best 14 goals.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Frank Yallop is a slam dunk for what San Jose has done.
Here are this week's power rankings:
1. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (11-4-3, 36 points), Last Week: 1
Week 17: Chris Wondolowski's 14th competes rally from two-goal deficit to beat the Galaxy, 4-3; Alan Gordon's strike too late in 2-1 loss at Portland.
Latest: Shea Salinas, back from a broken clavicle (thanks to Rafa Marquez), returns to the starting lineup.
American idol: Yorba Linda's gritty Steven Lenhart, the most hated forward (by opposing defenders) in the league.
Next: Saturday at FC Dallas, 6 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
2. D.C. UNITED (10-5-3, 33 points), LW: 5
Week 17: Chris Pontius scores his ninth just before halftime, and D.C. cruises to a 3-0 victory over Montreal.
Latest: Long Tan arrives from Vancouver, looking for playing time.
American idol: Has to be Pontius, Yorba Linda's other goal-getter.
Next: Sunday, July 15, at Houston, 6 p.m. (Galavision).
3. NEW YORK RED BULLS (9-4-4, 31 points), LW: 2
Week 17: Jan Gunnar Solli scores at the start, but Red Bulls settle for 1-1 draw at Toronto FC.
Latest: Bulls hopeful Teemu Tainio can return from knee injury. Seems surgery would help.
American idol: We're going with Kenny Cooper, a Texan only because his father -- an English goalkeeper -- was an NASL star way back when.
Next: Sunday at New England, 4 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
The best team in Major League Soccer at the moment that isn't Sporting Kansas City -- and maybe you can include it, too -- could be considered local, sort of, for neutrals at this end of the state.
The San Jose Earthquakes are off to a 6-1-1 start, are playing with fantastic verve and grit, pulling out tough games at the finish -- witness last week's triumph at Philadelphia, or the week before against Real Salt Lake, or two weeks before that against Vancouver -- and doing so with contributions from a few players we know well down here.
Their only loss: a 1-0 decision in week two against Houston, on a bitterly contested penalty kick. They're atop our Power Rankings for a second straight week.
Here's a quick guide to San Jose's So Cal boys:
F Steven Lenhart: Gnatty striker from Yorba Linda (Esperanza HS/Azusa Pacific University) who's not above taking a fall to win a free kick or penalty. He's hated by everyone except teammates and home fans, and is reigning MLS Player of the Week for a reason.
M Rafael Baca: Intelligent Mexican midfielder from Lawndale (Animo Leadership HS/Loyola Marymount) whose MLS career was delayed by immigration paperwork, but he's been a force since finding the field.
F Cesar Diaz Pizarro: Skilled Peruvian forward from Chino Hills (Ayala HS/UC Riverside) is a rookie with promise. Hasn't yet featured for the first team.
Others: Head coach Frank Yallop was the Galaxy's head coach in 2006-07. Assistant coach Ian Russell played for the Galaxy in 2007. Forward Alan Gordon played many years for the Galaxy and a short span with Chivas USA. Defender Jason Hernandez played for Chivas. Rookie midfielder Sam Garza, a Texan, was a first-round draft pick out of UC Santa Barbara. Defender Josh Suggs, who has been loaned to the NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies, played last year for the L.A. Blues.
Here are this week's power rankings:
1. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (6-1-1, 19 points), Last Week: 1
Week 8: Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart is MLS Player of the Week after scoring twice, including a gutty stoppage-time winner, for a 2-1 decision at Philadelphia.
Latest: Chris Wondolowski is MLS's Player of the Month for April after scoring four goals with two assists (for season totals of eight and two) in four games as the Quakes took the top spot in the West.
Trophy case: MLS Cup 2001, 2003, Supporters' Shield 2005, Western Conference 2003.
Next: Wednesday vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Saturday at Vancouver, 4 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
2. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (7-1-0, 21 points), LW: 2
Week 8: Idle.
Latest: Seth Sinovic undergoes hand surgery, Michael Harrington ready to return to starting XI.
Trophy case: MLS Cup 2000, Supporters' Shield 2000, Western Conference 2004, U.S. Open Cup 2004.
Next: Saturday vs. Montreal, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick)
3. REAL SALT LAKE (6-3-1, 19 points), LW: 3
Week 8: Rookie Emiliano Bonfigli answers iffy penalty in 1-1 draw at FC Dallas; Jonny Steele's stoppage-time strike beats Toronto FC, 3-2.
Latest: Steele, supersub? That's two late goals (one to tie, one to win) off the bench.
Trophy case: MLS Cup 2009, Eastern Conference 2009.
Next: Saturday vs. New England, 5 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, May 9, at Chicago, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
CARSON -- Chandler Hoffman had heard the buzz, how his superb performance at Major League Soccer's pre-draft combine in Florida -- on top of his 18-goal, All-America showing for NCAA semifinalist UCLA -- had vaulted him into the top five, maybe the top three in the MLS SuperDraft.
So when Commissioner Don Garber began announcing the New England Revolution's selection with the third pick Thursday morning at the Kansas City Convention Center -- first noting the player was a Generation adidas signing from UCLA -- Hoffman got excited.
For a second or two.
It was Bruins teammate Kelyn Rowe the Revolution grabbed at No. 3, and Chandler sat down to wait. And wait. And wait.
By the time the striker from Birmingham, Ala., finally heard his name, he first round was two-thirds through and the Philadelphia Union, choosing 13th, was giddy.
“Pretty surprising. But good for us, right?” Union assistant coach John Hackworth told the league's website. “We get one of the best young attacking players in he country, someone that's proven to put the ball into the back of the net. There's nothing more valuable in all of soccer.”
Hoffman's slide down he draft table was one of the big stories out of the headlining festivities at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's annual convention, but not the only one involving local players.
There was Rowe, an attacking midfielder from Federal Way, Wash., whom New England coach Jay Heaps described during ESPN2's draft coverage as “a really critical player to our team.”
And there were UC Santa Barbara standouts Luis Silva (Los Angeles/Salesian HS), who went to Toronto FC with the fourth overall selection, and Texan Sam Garza, taken by San Jose at No. 6.
Plus UC Irvine's Miguel Ibarra, a quartet of UCLA players, English midfielder Andy Rose most prominent among them, and several other hopefuls from local schools who now turn their attention to Tuesday's four-round supplemental draft.
CARSON -- The first instinct was to flee.
That's how bad the Galaxy were when Bruce Arena arrived in Los Angeles back in August 2008 to discuss a rebuild of a rusting giant, a once-proud champion that had descended into circus fare during a woeful nine months under Dutch icon Ruud Gullit's stewardship.
“When I came in and looked at the team,” Arena says now, gleam in his eye, “I thought about maybe going back home again. Going back to the East Coast.”
He followed his second instinct instead, found nice digs near the ocean, then dug in, meticulously transforming the Galaxy from punchline to powerhouse. That path has led here, to Sunday's MLS Cup final against the Houston Dynamo at Home Depot Center -- and a potential coronation, whatever it's worth, as “greatest Major League Soccer team of them all.”
That designation means nothing to Arena, 60, but winning the championship is everything. It was in the blueprint the moment he decided not to turn and run.
“The goal was to bring the Galaxy back where we could compete for championships, so I guess the blueprint has been partially successful,” he said this week. “To get it right requires a win on Sunday. If we win on Sunday, I think we have the blueprint right.”
Arena's accomplishments are legend in American soccer. He won five NCAA championships at Virginia, guided D.C. United to the first two MLS Cup crowns (plus a CONCACAF Champions' Cup title), then directed the U.S. national team through its most successful eight-year span, highlighted by a quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup. He was inducted last year into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
What he's done in L.A. perhaps tops everything else. He took a franchise at its lowest point and in 15 months had it playing for a title. The next two seasons -- last and this -- were rewarded with Supporters' Shields, for winning regular-season titles. Now the club's third MLS Cup championship sits 90 minutes away.
“Everybody knows I'm a big believer in Bruce,” says Galaxy assistant coach Curt Onalfo, who played for Arena at Virginia and with D.C. and was one of his assistants with the national team. “It's not the first time I've said he's the best in the business. And he just is. He's proven it time and time again in a league that's extremely difficult, where there's enormous parity. The fact that his teams have been in first place basically for two years running, it's just a remarkable accomplishment.”
Arena this season guided the Galaxy to that second Shield (with 19 victories and modern-era record 67 points), into CONCACAF's Champions League (as the only non-Mexican group winner) and through three tight playoff games, all victories, against teams every bit as talented as his. He's done this while refashioning the attack; enduring dozens of injuries, to nearly every important player on the roster; and herding the team through an exhausting series of games, two a week for most of two months, during the season's final stretch.
It's been, says associate head coach Dave Sarachan, who has worked alongside Arena for many of the past 27 years, “by far his best work.”
The achievement was more impressive than it sounds. The Reggae Boyz stomped the competition in Group B and headed to the knockout stage as one of two perfect sides, along with Mexico. But there they had to go against the U.S., and the big goalkeeper was the difference between the Americans' 2-0 victory and an eight- or nine-goal blowout.
“He's important for us,” forward Juan Pablo Angel said this week. “He's the best goalkeeper in the league, and it's good to have him back.”
Whether David Beckham will be available is another matter. The English midfielder missed last week's game at Colorado because of back spasms -- the Galaxy was fined $5,000 Friday for not including him on their injury report -- and he's listed as questionable this week.
The Galaxy don't announce their travel roster until just before game time, but coach Bruce Arena said Thursday it was likely Beckham was “going to be out this weekend.”
Chivas USA hasn't been a bust on defense, with back-to-back shutouts despite an injury-shuffled backline, and one reason has been the play of goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.
The former UC Santa Barbara star from Yorba Linda snared the starting job at the end of March, using a solid performance in the U.S. Open Cup qualifying loss in Portland to overtake longtime No. 1 Zach Thornton, MLS's Goalkeeper of the Year in 2009.
Kennedy (El Dorado HS), who has overcome major injuries that ended the past two seasons prematurely, takes a 234-minute shutout streak into Saturday afternoon's Major League Soccer clash at San Jose, where the Goats (0-2-3) will look for their first victory under Robin Fraser.
“Dan's been good. I feel like he's maturing,” Fraser said. “For a 28-year-old goalkeeper, he's still relatively young 'cause he's not logged a ton of minutes, and I think what we're seeing is Dan going through a learning curve where he's doing some things very well and some things he's continuing to improve at. It's certainly been positive for us.”
For Kennedy, too, especially after a knee injury wiped out his 2009 season and a torn biceps tendon halted last season in August. He came into a camp with three quality goalkeepers -- newcomer Sergio Arias, on loan from Guadalajara, is the No. 3 -- having played in just 16 league games in three seasons with Chivas after impressing in the second-tier USL First Division and with Chilean second-division side Municipal Iquique.
“Of course, it's rewarding to be back on the field,” said Kennedy, who has made several outstanding stops in successive draws with Toronto FC, Columbus and Vancouver, the last two of them scoreless. “It's what I expected. This is just kind of how I saw it working out, how I prepared for it to work out. Just trying now to maintain and help the team get some wins.”
He's had to direct a backline that's been plagued by injury, and he's worked with six different combinations in front of him in four matches, and none of those combinations included de facto captain Jimmy Conrad. Instead, he's worked with two first-time center backs (Heath Pearce and Ben Zemanski), a first-time right back (Michael Lahoud) and a rookie in the middle and, after Lahoud's concussion, at right back (Zarek Valentin). No problem.
The big striker from Yorba Linda underwent arthroscopic surgery Thursday to repair a slight tear in the meniscus in his right knee and is expected to be out as long as four weeks. The Quakes, who acquired him in draft-day trade from Columbus, open the Major League Soccer season March 19 at home against Real Salt Lake.
"It's not really, really bad, but it's one of those things where it was going to linger," San Jose coach Frank Yallop told the league's website. "He wanted to get it done. It's his knee, and he felt it wasn't right."
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward is slated to be the target man in the Quakes' new 4-3-3 alignment. Ryan Johnson was slated to play the position in San Jose's exhibition Friday night against MLS champion Colorado in San Luis Obispo.
"It is [disappointing], because he's played well and trained well in preseason, but that's the reason we have a squad of players,” Yallop said. "Hopefully, we won't miss him too much."
Baca, 21, on Tuesday hinted on his Facebook page and told the San Jose Mercury News that he has signed to play this season with the San Jose Earthquakes. The deal is pending league approval.
The creative midfielder, an NSCAA third-team All-American after leading LMU to a share of its first West Coast Conference men's soccer title, had joined the Earthquakes on trial after running into assistant coach Ian Russell at Lions teammate David Kucera's funeral in the Bay Area.
It was a devastating day -- Kucera, a sophomore forward, died unexpectedly Jan. 9 -- that turned golden for Baca.
“I went to the funeral. I don't know, sometimes things are meant to be, and Ian happened to be there, gave me the opportunity to try out …,” Baca said after San Jose played the Galaxy last week at Home Depot Center. “I told [head coach Frank Yallop] thank you for the opportunity and that I was going to make the most out of it.”
Baca, who was born near Morelia in Michoacan, Mexico, and raised in Lawndale -- he was the big star for Animo Leadership Charter High School's undefeated CIF Southern Section Division VI title-winners in 2007 -- drove home from Kucera's funeral, packed, drove back to the Bay Area the following day and was offered a trial after impressing in a brief combine.
His versatility -- he can play in nearly any attacking position, but especially in central midfield or on a flank -- and his skill and understanding of the game stood out.
“Sharp little player,” Yallop said after Baca displayed good feet and field sense in the 1-1 draw last Thursday with the Galaxy. “I just think he's great energy, clean on the ball, energetic. He's a good player. … I think he's got a chance. He's done well so far.”
The Quakes are not publicly identifying trialists, although coach Frank Yallop has confirmed several, including Loyola Marymount product Rafael Baca and former UCLA star Maxwell Griffin. San Jose primarily used trialists, draft choices and young players Friday.
Patrick Otte, a midfielder from Thousand Oaks who has played in English club Middlesbrough's academy, tallied in the 57th minute for the Fusion, the Premier Development League's reigning Southwest Division champion.
The Quakes went 1-1-1 during their trip, losing, 1-0, Monday to Chivas USA and tying the Galaxy, 1-1, on Thursday.
Earthquakes draft pick Spencer Thompson, from UC Irvine, played for the Fusion.
Ventura County Fusion: Sam Hayden; Dylan Riley, Ivan Becerra, Jack Avesyan, Willie Rupert, Manny Guzman, Rodrigo Lopez, Danny Barrera, Diego Barrera, Artur Aghasyan, Spencer Thompson. Subs: Jordan King, Gabe Gonzalez, John Lopez, Patrick Otte, Ivan Mirkovich, Raul Yepez, Rosario Bras.
San Jose Earthquakes: David Bingham (Andrew Weber, 45); Steven Beitashour, Brad Ring, unidentified trialist, Justin Morrow; unidentified trialist, Tony Donatelli, unidentified trialist (Anthony Ampaipitakwong, 61), unidentified trialist (unidentified trialist, 51); Omar Jasseh, unidentified trialist.
The San Jose Earthquakes arrived Sunday for a week of training at Oxnard College, and they've got scrimmages planned against Chivas USA, the Galaxy and the Ventura County Fusion.
The Quakes meet Chivas on Monday afternoon at Home Depot Center Field 4, west of the main stadium. They'll face the Galaxy on Thursday at the HDC track and field stadium and take on the Premier Development League's Fusion on Friday at Oxnard College.
Here's a quick look at the Earthquakes:
WHO ARE THEY?
The Galaxy's former No. 1 rival, before Chivas USA arrived and MLS's original Clash/Quakes hightailed it to Houston after the 2005 season. This model returned to MLS in 2008, with Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff (encouraged by super soccer fan/A's GM Billy Beane) putting up the money, former star center back John Doyle as GM and the return of coach Frank Yallop, who guided the previous Quakes to MLS titles in 2001 and 2003. They reached the playoffs last year, knocking off Eastern Conference champ New York to make it to the MLS Cup semifinals.
THE MAN IN CHARGE
Yallop is no stranger to these parts. The English-born Canadian former defender was the Galaxy's head coach the last part of 2006 and during that wasted 2007 campaign, unfairly jettisoned afterward with the Quakes asking for his hand.
Yallop, who's one of the really good guys in MLS, spent 13 seasons with Ipswich Town, played in Tampa Bay in the first three MLS seasons, then worked for the Mutiny and then at D.C. United before taking over in San Jose in 2001. After three seasons and two MLS Cup titles, he became Canada's national team coach, a post he left for the Galaxy job after failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.
THE STAR PLAYER
The closest thing San Jose has to a star is forward/midfielder Chris Wondolowski, who burst into everyone's consciousness last year (his sixth in MLS) with 18 goals, 10 of them in the final eight games, to swipe the Golden Boot from L.A.'s Edson Buddle on the final day of the season.
Jimmy Conrad's first day on the field with his new team reminded him of 2001. That's a good thing.
The Chivas USA center back, among nearly three dozen players put through the paces as new coach Robin Fraser and his staff opened preseason training Friday with drills designed to gauge fitness, is the most prominent veteran addition to a Goats side that is reinventing itself following a last-place finish last year in the Western Conference.
Fraser has been part of such a rebuild before, on Jason Kreis' staff as Real Salt Lake transformed from Major League Soccer from doormat to champion in three years, and so has Conrad.
The defender from Temple City (Temple City HS/UCLA) was a third-year defender in San Jose a decade ago as the Earthquakes began a new era following a worst-in-the-league finish in 2000.
The Quakes had a new coach -- former pro defender Frank Yallop, who had done fine work as an assistant coach at D.C. United -- and three new veteran presences, from U.S. national team defender Jeff Agoos, winger Manny Lagos and Danish midfielder Ronnie Ekelund.
“I liken [Chivas USA today] to 2001,” said Conrad, who was acquired from Sporting Kansas City in last month's re-entry draft. “We had some older players mixed with some younger guys -- there were me, Joe Cannon, Wade Barrett, Richard Mulrooney, and we picked up Landon [Donovan] -- and then we had Agoos and [veteran defender] Troy Dayak and Ekelund and Manny Lagos.
“And we had Frank Yallop, who's very similar to Robin. For whatever reason, there just seems to be some of the same parallels.”
Reason for hope? Well, the Earthquakes won the MLS Cup title in 2001, beating the Galaxy in the final -- the first of four league championships in seven years by the Quakes/Houston Dynamo.
Dutch legend Ruud Gullit, whose spotty bench resume features short tenures in charge at Chelsea, Newcastle United, Feyenoord and, of course, the Galaxy, is returning to coaching. In Russia.
Terek Grozny has reached agreement on an 18-month contract with Gullit, the Chechen club announced Tuesday on its website. The team finished 12th last season in the Russian Premier League, and club president Ramzan Kadyrov -- also Chechnya's president -- has asked Gullit for a finish among the top eight next season.
Gullit, an iconic midfielder who starred for Holland's national team and several top clubs, most notably AC Milan, was center of one of the Galaxy's most misguided maneuvers. The club gave David Beckham's management team the reins to replace Frank Yallop, bypassing general manager Alexi Lalas to bring in Gullit as coach following the 2007 season for a league-record $2 million per.
Gullit seemed out of his depth from the start. He struggled with Major League Soccer's roster rules, clashed with players (who claimed he didn't respect them), showed no feel whatsoever for detail (nor defense) and too often seemed distracted. He resigned in August 2008, with a 6-8-5 record -- L.A. had surrendered multiple goals in 14 of the 19 games -- and Bruce Arena took charge soon after. We know how that's worked out.
Gullit was superb as an analyst (alongside Lalas, also outstanding) during ESPN/ABC's coverage of last summer's World Cup in South Africa, and he's been lauded for his TV work in England and Holland. That seems the better world for his talents. He's lasted more than a year in charge of just one club -- Chelsea, with which he won the English F.A. Cup in 1997 -- and has never come close to fulfilling a coaching contract.
Trevor James, the Galaxy's longest-tenured assistant coach and the club's director of player development, has left to become assistant coach of the expansion Portland Timbers.
The former English pro, whose coaching career began in Ipswich Town's academy, joined the Galaxy in June 2006 after Frank Yallop became head coach and served under Ruud Gullit and Bruce Arena, twice guiding the club in postseason friendlies as interim head coach.
James, one of the nicest guys in the American soccer coaching community, was the pivotal figure behind the creation three years ago of the Galaxy's youth academy.
He'll work under John Spencer, a former Scottish national-teamer who wrapped his playing career with the Colorado Rapids in 2004 and spent four-plus seasons as Dominic Kinnear's top assistant with the Houston Dynamo before taking the Timbers job last summer. Portland will make its MLS debut next season.
Chris Trotman/Getty Image
Bobby Convey's two goals helped lead San Jose to an upset of New York.
A look at Thursday's MLS postseason action:
IN BRIEF: Bobby Convey scores twice and sets up MVP finalist Chris Wondolowski's decisive header, and San Jose -- the lowest seeded team in the tournament -- pulls out a 3-2 aggregate stunner over Eastern Conference regular-season champion New York to reach the Eastern title game. The Earthquakes, just one win from their first MLS Cup final appearance since their 2008 restoration, score goals five minutes apart for the 3-1 second-leg victory, with Convey providing a would-be winner in the 76th minute and Wondolowski the actual winner in the 81st.
BEST PLAYER: Convey, a one-time teen phenom who was part of the 2006 U.S. World Cup team, was sensational on the left flank, in midfield for the first half and as left back after Ramiro Corrales departed just before halftime with a hamstring injury. Convey, allowed alone into the Red Bulls box by New York midfielder Rafa Marquez, side-footed San Jose to a sixth-minute lead after Ryan Johnson's cross wasn't adequately dealt with, turned Tim Ream at the top of the box to blast home Arturo Alvarez's feed for a 2-0 (and 2-1 aggregate) lead, then played a pefect cross for Wondolowski to nod home. His forays forward terrorized New York all night and enabled the Quakes, although outplayed much of the game, to maintain control from start to finish.