Los Angeles Soccer: Gerson Mayen
The local clubs in the USL's Premier Development League take the league's name to heart. The objective is developing talent, far more so than winning trophies, although those are nice, too.
There are five L.A.-area teams in the PDL's Southwest Division, including 2009 national champion Ventura County Fusion, which figures to battle defending division titlist Fresno Fuego for the top spot this season, which kicks off in earnest this weekend after Fresno-L.A. Misioneros games the past two weekends.
Most of the clubs are loaded with college players, a few amateurs looking to showcase their talents for the next level and, in some circumstances, pros hoping to step up into one of the country's three fully professional leagues or to a club to the south or overseas. The Southwest Division, along with its conference partner in the Northwest, is a standard-bearer for the PDL, in terms of competition and development.
“First and foremost, [the priority] is to prepare players for the next level,” said Fusion coach Ole Mikkelsen, a 1978 UCLA All-American who played in the old North American Soccer League. “We select players primarily on whether or not we think they have the tools to play at the MLS level. We prepare the players first, and win second. It's hard to disconnect the two -- winning gives visibility to get you exposed.”
The Fusion and fellow PDL power Orange County Blue Star have sent scores of players on to Major League Soccer and other pro leagues. So has the La Mirada-based Southern California Seahorses, a Christian club that expects to battle the Fusion, Blue Star and Fuego for the division title and two postseason berths.
“All the guys who come to our team are interested in that development part of the league and the team,” Seahorses coach Todd Elkins said. “They know they get better. The level is consistently good. Just making the team -- making a team in our region -- you're going to be challenged. We take that very seriously. We want to maximize their time during the summer, making sure [a player] gets everything he can from us.
“We look at it as being a bit of a testing ground. If progressing the ranks is a goal for you, this is a good test to see if that's realistic or not.”
Tyler Coombes (Palmdale/Palmdale HS and Cal State L.A.) and Alex Harlley (Rosamond/Rosamond HS) scored early goals, and the Storm (2-0-1) -- revitalized by a new coach (Jose Meza) and lots of new talent -- pulled out a 2-0 victory over the weekend to vault over the Rangers (2-1-0) and to the top the Southern Conference standings in the National Premier Soccer League's Western Division.
Coombes, coming off a five-goal, NPSL player-of-the-week performance in a 9-1 rout of Phoenix a week earlier, tallied in the third minute, heading home Stephen Martines' corner kick. Harlley, a Togo-born forward who scored 45 goals as a senior this season at Rosamond High School, first-timed from 22 yards a Matt Shaxton cross in the 27th.
Santa Clarita leads the San Diego Flash (2-0-1) on goal difference.
Thousand Oaks' FC Hasental claimed its first victory, winning, 2-1, at San Diego Boca on goals by Robert Pate (Chatsworth/Chatsworth HS and Cal State Northridge) and Omar de la Piedra (L.A. Mission College). The Conejos' home opener, at Cal Lutheran's Rolland Stadium, is Saturday night against Santa Clarita.
The Bay Area Ambassadors play Sunday for a U.S. Open Cup berth against Stanislaus United Turlock Express, which beat Paso Robles' Naples FC, 5-2, in the U.S. Club Soccer qualifying final.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
PREMIER DEVELOPMENT LEAGUE: Paul Islas scored twice late in the first half as defending Southwest Division champ Fresno Fuego opened the PDL season with a 4-1 win over L.A. Misioneros.
Cesar Rivera, the L.A. Blues' top scorer last year, netted the lone goal for the L.A. side, which, a club official said, includes former Chivas USA midfielder Gerson Mayen and former Galaxy defender Mike Randolph, although neither featured in the Central Valley. The return game is Sunday at Carver Middle School in Los Angeles.
Ching's response: “Are you sure I don't need a helmet?”
That's about as emotional as it got for the Montreal Impact's veteran forward, who was forced in November to leave Houston for Major League Soccer's newest club against his (and the Dynamo's) will, and wasn't shy about saying so.
On Wednesday, some 2½ months after Montreal plucked him in the expansion draft, he took on his former 'mates in a preseason friendly on one of the training fields outside Home Depot Center's main stadium. He played the first 45 minutes, battling Boswell and fellow center back Geoff Cameron with some success but few real opportunities, then watched the Dynamo score twice in the second half for a 2-0 victory.
How weird was it for him?
“Ah, playing against the old team,” he said after the Impact's first game as an MLS club against an MLS club. “I know all those guys. I've played against them every day. I guess you could say it's a little weird, but not really, at this point.”
He said he never mistook an orange-shirted player for a teammate, that there wasn't much conversation with Boswell and Cameron, and that he knows the emotions will be far stronger when the teams meet for real June 23 in Montreal and, especially, July 21 and Oct. 6 in Houston.
“It will definitely be weird,” he says. “This is just a preseason game.”
DYNAMO ICON: Perhaps not just any preseason game. Ching, 33, had been the iconic face of the Dynamo since the old San Jose Earthquakes, whom he'd played for since 2003, up and moved to South Texas following the 2005 season. He led them for six seasons, through two MLS Cup title-winning campaigns and toward another championship-game appearance last year -- and played a key promotional role in the campaign that led to the downtown stadium that opens in May.
CARSON -- Chivas USA's preparations for the 2012 season began with medical exams Sunday and moves onto good, old Field 6 at Home Depot Center on Monday morning, with head coach Robin Fraser welcoming a lot of new faces -- and not all of them, by any means, under contract.
The Goats have unloaded nearly half their 2011 roster and added a half-dozen or so new names, and if Fraser's second preseason in charge is anything like the first, plenty of trialists will get a look.
Chivas brass last year looked at more than 80 players, including academy kids, as Fraser and general manager Jose Domene presided over a rebuild that the coach said was more building “from scratch.”
Fraser's idea this year is to have a team in place as the preseason starts, but he's got roster spots to fill and areas of great need and not all negotiations are finished. Five players will be added in Tuesday's supplemental draft, and another overseas signing is possible.
Here's a quick look at the Goats as their campaign begins:
- LAST YEAR?
Nonetheless, Fraser and his staff built a strong foundation, several players -- especially goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, midfielder Nick LaBrocca and defender Heath Pearce -- enjoyed remarkable seasons and the addition of Juan Pablo Angel, in an August trade from the Galaxy, gave the Goats their first top-class MLS striker since Ante Razov.
Seems pretty wasteful to let the No. 4 overall pick in last January's draft, an outside back with the potential to become a star (and maybe for the national team, too), slip away for nothing.Zarek Valentin's departure from Chivas USA in Major League Soccer's expansion draft isn't so simple. And Chivas coach Robin Fraser isn't happy about it.
The Montreal Impact, which next season will debut as MLS's 19th club, on Wednesday listed Valentin No. 2 on its list of 10 players culled from the other 18 clubs after the Goats failed to include him among the 11 players they were permitted to protect.
The 20-year-old right back's fate is product of MLS's decision to “graduate” him from its Generation adidas developmental program, a decision Fraser, Chivas' head coach, called “baffling” and “extremely, extremely disappointing” -- and one that vastly changed Valentin's worth to the organization.
He's young, he's developing and in no way is he there yet -- just what the Generation adidas program is about -- and as a GA he counted nothing against Chivas' salary cap nor roster size. His change of designation means his salary, $80,000 annually (with $138,000 average guaranteed compensation), suddenly is applied against the cap.
MLS success often is about how well clubs maneuver within and around the salary cap, and the Goats also are getting a salary-cap hit from second-year midfielder Blair Gavin's GA “graduation.”
'MADE NO SENSE': “All the ramifications went into that decision” not to protect Valentin, Fraser said Thursday. “Here's a player who comes out early [following his sophomore season at the University of Akron] and is the No. 4 pick and as a GA player that has time to develop.
“It was baffling, to be quite honest. Extremely baffling. And I was extremely, extremely disappointed that he had 'graduated' from that. That's the sort of of program meant to allow players time to develop. For me, it just made no sense.”
Valentin and former Akron teammate Perry Kitchen, who had a solid rookie season on D.C. United's backline, were the only GA rookies who “graduated.” They also were the only GA rookies to exceed 2,000 regular-season minutes. Kitchen played in 31 games, 30 of them starts, and was on the field for 2,726 minutes. Valentin's numbers were 25 (with 24 starts) and 2,114.
CARSON -- Chivas USA played one of the bigger roles in Major League Soccer's expansion draft, surrendering three players and picking up a new right back.
First-year right back Zarek Valentin, the No. 4 overall selection in last January's MLS SuperDraft, was among 10 players the Montreal Impact claimed from rivals' rosters Wednesday, and MLS's 19th club also picked up forward/midfielder Justin Braun and midfielder Gerson Mayen in a trade.
James Riley, whom Montreal grabbed from Seattle, is coming to the Goats, along with allocation money.
The Galaxy did not lose a player in the draft.
Chivas failed to protect Valentin, 20, who “graduated” last week from the Generation adidas program, changing a designation that would have left him exempt in the expansion exercise. Clubs were permitted to protect 11 players, and Montreal -- led by manager Jesse Marsch, a former Chivas USA star -- could take no more than one player off any club's roster.
Valentin, who has enormous potential, started 24 games for Chivas as a rookie, playing in the center and on the right. He came to MLS after winning an NCAA title his sophomore year at Akron. He was listed as Montreal's second choice in the draft, following Houston Dynamo captain Brian Ching, but the order of selection is manufactured; Marsch and his staff made their choices over the two days of intense study and bargaining with clubs around the league.
That's how the Braun/Mayen-for-Riley deal was finalized. A source said Marsch wanted Braun, a former teammate, who was on Chivas' protected list, and Goats coach Robin Fraser agreed to make a deal if the Impact would draft and trade Riley, 29, one of the league's top right backs, to replace Valentin. The seven-year MLS veteran has been a consistent MLS starter sine 2006, his second season, for New England, San Jose and Seattle.
Braun, 24, played in 96 games, 72 as a starter, in four seasons with the Goats, scoring 24 goals, second on the club's all-time list. Mayen (Los Angeles/Manual Arts HS), 22, played in 20 MLS matches in four seasons for Chivas; he spent most of this season on loan to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the second-tier North American Soccer League.
Montreal also selected 6-foot-5 San Jose defender Bobby Burling, a former Loyola Marymount standout who was drafted by but did not play for the Galaxy and spent 2½ seasons with Chivas USA, and Columbus midfielder Josh Gardner, who was with the Galaxy in 2004-06.
The Impact later acquired defender Tyson Wahl (Newport Beach/Newport Harbor HS) from Seattle for allocation money.
CARSON -- Chivas USA wrapped up its season Friday with a 3-1 victory in a “closed-door” friendly against the L.A. Blues -- with a few dozen fans and some media watching, no problem, from the bluff above the Goats' practice field at Home Depot Center.Ben Zemanski, Juan Pablo Angel and Justin Braun tallied for Chivas, which continued training after the season ended Oct. 22 -- and will regroup in mid-January.
Chivas coach Robin Fraser looked at several players the past couple of weeks, and the Goats' burgeoning academy program has some outstanding talent, too.
“Our plan is the continue to improve the team,” he said. “We need to continue to look to add pieces. We're pretty far down the road in terms of some good ideas about players to get, but certainly this offseason for us is about trying to identify and secure players we feel can help us.”
Their supporters believe Nick LaBrocca and Heath Pearce, the chief on-field figures in Chivas USA's renaissance, belong on the team that will take on Manchester United in Major League Soccer's July 27 All-Star Game.
Both would like to be in Harrison, N.J., for the game, and we'll know if they're going by late Monday morning, when New York Red Bulls coach Hans Backe unveils the final six to nine names for the league's 20-man game-day roster.
There are plenty of deserving players for those few slots, so it's a long shot either of the Goats' standouts will receive an invitation, and if they don't, well, that's OK, too.
“If it happens, I'll be very honored,” said LaBrocca, 26, who plays atop Chivas' midfield diamond and has scored six goals after netting just five in four seasons with Colorado and Toronto FC. “But right now, it's all business. We have to pick up points, and that's really the only thing that's on my mind.”
Pearce, 26, a U.S. national team veteran at left back who started the campaign at right back and then moved into the middle after injuries sapped the Goats' backline depth, has been the pivotal defensive figure for Chivas, which has flustered foes with an organized defensive scheme that plays into its possession game.
“I'm hoping, but, you know, I don't [choose] the All-Star team,” Pearce said. “I'm just trying to focus right now on getting results for the team.”
Both players were picked up in preseason trades, with LaBrocca arriving from Toronto and Pearce from FC Dallas.
Fourteen players already are on the All-Star roster, including Galaxy midfielders David Beckham and Landon Donovan and defenders Sean Franklin and Omar Gonzalez, but Backe will have additional picks because not everyone from the fan-chosen First XI will be available.
CARSON -- Chivas USA used two gorgeous goals and its finest defensive performance of the season to score its first victory in more than a month, an impressive 2-0 decision Wednesday night over the San Jose Earthquakes before a sparse gathering at Home Depot Center.
Ben Zemanski came off the bench to score on a bending rocket of a shot from 30 yards in the 64th minute, and Nick LaBrocca's team-best fifth goal in the 84th, from substitute Francisco Mendoza's perfectly weighted pass, sealed the triumph as the Goats (5-7-6) completed a season sweep of the Quakes (5-6-6) and vaulted past them and into sixth place in the Western Conference.
It was a triumph built on defense, with, especially, the backline denying the Quakes even one decent look at the net.
“I thought our defense really answered the challenge and made great decisions tonight,” head coach Robin Fraser gushed afterward. “As a result we were able to really prevent too many dangerous opportunities, and we're really excited about the shutout.”
Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy was required to make only three saves -- just one of them, an 86th-minute header by Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart, was the least bit troublesome -- and the Goats took command as they found a rhythm and after Zemanski and then Mendoza came onto the field.
The victory, Fraser said, was “a big boost for us in terms of our concentration. We have to recognize when we are concentrating, defensively we're not giving up the types of things that we have been, and as a result, as long as we're in the game, we give ourselves a chance. ...
“I think for us it was important that we go through the exercise of really focusing on not giving up dangerous opportunities. Ad we didn't [give up dangerous opportunities] and kept ourselves firmly in the game, and as we started to play better, we found a goal.”
A quick look at Chivas' victory:
BEST PLAYER: Several candidates, including both goal scorers and central defender Michael Umaña, who was solid from start to finish in helping to minimize the Quakes' opportunities and as a conduit to move the ball through and out of the back.
But our vote goes to central midfielder Simon Elliott, at 37 the oldest man on the field (and the Goats' captain). He indefatigably outbattled San Jose's Brad Ring and Sam Cronin for command in midfield and contributed mightily to Chivas' attack as a point man in possession and in creating opportunities in the final third.
Truly a home-spun squad.
Only it's not so.
The message, he says, got lost in translation. That sounds reasonable.
The talk stemmed from two interviews, by new marketing director Rodrigo Morales with The Sporting News and co-owner Jorge Vergara with reporters at halftime of the Goats' 1-0 SuperClasico loss to the Galaxy on Saturday night at Home Depot Center.
Morales and Vergara are Mexican, and although both are bilingual -- Vergara more so than Morales -- English is neither's first language. Vergara is based in Guadalajara, where his holdings include Chivas de Guadalajara, and Morales moved to L.A. in December from a position with Guadalajara.
Morales last week told The Sporting News that the club “will play only with South California players,” that “sooner or later, 11 of our players [on the field] will be from Southern California.” That, he said, would distinguish the Goats from their cross-stadium rival and enable the club to “achieve the sense of belonging to the people of Southern California” where fans will “be supporting their neighbor.”
It picked up traction when Vergara, asked about the comments, confirmed the policy. Sort of.
Adam Cristman and Gregg Berhalter returned to action in Tuesday's SuperClasico in miniature, a huge step forward as the Galaxy gets healthier with the thickest part of their schedule just ahead.
Cristman, coming off start-of-the-season knee surgery, played the first half and set up L.A.'s goal in a 3-1 MLS Reserve League defeat to Chivas USA. Berhalter, sidelined two and a half months by a sprained knee, stepped onto the Galaxy backline for the final half-hour.
It was L.A.'s best news out of the midday clash at Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium, a fairly even affair swayed by Chivas' superior inventiveness (especially Gerson Mayen) and finishing touch (especially Victor Estupiñan) in front of goal.
Estupiñan scored twice and Mayen set up the Ecuadoran forward's first goal and trialist Chris Cortez's second-half as Chivas improved to 1-1-1 in the reserve league's Western Division. The Galaxy is 0-2-0.
“It certainly was good to get [Adam and Gregg] out,” said Galaxy assistant coach Curt Onalfo, who is in charge of L.A.'s reserve side. “Obviously, that's part of what these games are for.”
The idea is to get both back with the first team as soon as possible, with a six-games-in-22-days span starting with Saturday's showdown at HDC against the New York Red Bulls.
"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."
Ah. Trinidadian striker Stern John, probably the finest forward to play in Major League Soccer's first half-decade, when he netted 44 goals over the 1998 and 1999 seasons for the Columbus Crew. John, now 34, took off for England after the '99 campaign and has suited up for nine clubs there, mostly below the Premier League, and scoring at a decent rate in stints with Nottingham Forest, Birmingham City, Coventry City and Southampton.
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.
Alan Gordon and Victor Estupiñan scored goals to lead Chivas USA to victory in its first preseason scrimmage, a 2-0 decision Tuesday morning over the Fresno Fuego in Templeton, north of San Luis Obispo.
Head coach Robin Fraser fielded different teams for each half. Starters were included on both teams, more of them in the first half. Mexican newcomer Sergio Arias was in the nets in the first half, and trialist Kevin Guppy (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS and Cal State Northridge) took over in the second half.
Gordon headed in a cross from fellow former Galaxy forward Tristan Bowen (Van Nuys) cross to give Chivas a 31st-minute lead. Estupiñan, who entered the game in the 63rd minute, headed home a cross from Carlos Borja (Anaheim/Loara HS) in the 80th.
The Fuego play in the fourth-tier USL Premier Development League, a semipro/amateur outfit that features six L.A.-area clubs.
Reports lauded midfielder Gerson Mayen (Los Angeles/Manual Arts HS), who played in the first half, and the connection Estupiñan, a first-round draft choice, and newcomer Alejandro Moreno established up top in the second half. The Goats dominated possession throughout.
Top draft pick Zarek Valentin, expected to battle for the starting job at right back, partnered Jimmy Conrad in central defense during the first half, with returning starting outside backs Mariano Trujillo to the right and Ante Jazic to the left.
The Chivas lineups:
First half: Sergio Arias, Mariano Trujillo, Zarek Valentin, Jimmy Conrad, Ante Jazic, Paulo Nagamura, Ben Zemanski, Gerson Mayen (Jesús Padilla 31), Francisco Mendoza, Alan Gordon, Tristan Bowen.
Second half: Kevin Guppy, Carlos Borja, Michael Umaña, Yamith Cuesta, Jorge Flores (Bryan de la Fuente 70), Sal Zizzo, Michael Lahoud, Ernesto Carranza, Cesar Zamora, Jesús Padilla (Victor Estupiñan 63), Alejandro Moreno.
The Mexico-born, Alhambra-raised former midfielder, who aside from a nine-month stint as Juergen Klinsmann’s assistant coach at Bayern Munich has been with the club since its 2005 debut, will be in charge for the next step of the Goats’ transition, says vice president of soccer operations Stephen Hamilton.
“He’s the guy,” Hamilton said Saturday night after Chivas’ 8-17-4 season wrapped with a 4-1 loss to the visiting Chicago Fire. “We hired him for a reason. We believe in him. This has obviously been a tough year for everyone -- it’s a transition. …
“The things we saw in him previously, we still see in him, and I think he’s going to benefit from a year of experience as a head coach. This is his first go as a head coach, so I think he’s learned a lot. And talking to him in private, the conversations we’ve had, I feel good about him, the things he wants to do going forward.”
The Goats have a steep climb after finishing last in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference and 15th of 16 teams overall, ahead of only D.C. United (6-20-4).