Los Angeles Soccer: Giancarlo Maldonado
Club Tijuana deserved more than it got from its opening-game loss to Morelia, and the Xolos gave mighty Monterrey a scare in week two, opening a two-goal lead and holding onto a tie until two quick, late goals knocked them down.
Couldn't hope for much more at Santos Laguna, the best team to start the Mexican Primera Division season, after routs of Pachuca and Atlante, right? Hardly. Tijuana's first top-tier triumph was one to remember.
San Diego's Joe Corona, looking more and more like someone who should be in Philadelphia this week, played linkman as the Xoloitzcuintles (1-2-0) overcame a first-half deficit for a 3-1 victory. Jose Sand scored the 54th-minute winner and set up two more: Fernando Arce's fine equalizer just before halftime and Dayro Moreno's finale in the 64th.
The Dogs will be back home Sunday, taking on Puebla at Estadio Caliente.
- THE TOP 3
1. FIRST WINS: There were eight winless sides, out of 18, after the first two rounds of Primera play. All eight, Tijuana included, notched first victories during last week's “doble jornada,” so now there are 13 teams with one win. That's 13 teams with three or four points.
It has not been easy. The Los Angeles-born, Las Vegas-raised forward, who emerged as team MVP when the Galaxy won the 2005 MLS Cup title, has struggled to make an impact off Pachuca's bench after scoring 10 goals, most of them as a substitute, in last year's Clausura, or spring, tournament.
Gomez, whose exploits at Puebla led to a roster spot for the U.S. at last year's World Cup, scored just once during the fall Apertura and had been held without a goal this Clausura as the Tuzos slumped near the bottom of the standings. Until last weekend.
The 29-year-old forward came off the bench, naturally, to score twice and set up a third goal as Pachuca (4-5-4) routed last-place Jaguares, 3-0, to vault from 16th to 12th overall and within three points of the playoff zone.
Gomez came on in the 63rd minute for Edgar Benitez, gave Pachuca a 70th-minute lead on a near-post header, then struck a sensational free kick for a 2-0 advantage in the 78th. A minute later, he assisted Franco Arizala.
“Thanks for never loosing [sic] faith,” Gomez tweeted after the game. “I know this is just the beginning for us. Feels great to score but it feels even better to win at home.”
This does seem familiar. Pachuca, which has won five Primera Division titles since 1999 and last year claimed its third CONCACAF Champions League titles in four years and fourth since 2002, won its final three regular-season games to get into the Apertura playoffs, exiting after holding to-be-champion Monterrey to two draws.
The schedule is pliable. The Tuzos, still last in Group 2, have a real test Wednesday night at Group 1 leader UANL Tigres, but their final three foes (Atlas, Gallos Blancos and Necaxa) are minnows in unremarkable form.
A FEW ANSWERS: Gomez celebrated his big day by holding a Q&A with fans on his Facebook page. A few highlights:
Q: Do you have a pregame pump-up song?
A: Journey, “Don't Stop Believin'.”
Q: Which comes first, the U.S. national team or your club team?
A: My club pays me, but my country made me.
Chivas USA opened camp Thursday with physicals and initial meetings, and the Goats begin on-field preparations Friday morning at the Home Depot Center with a new coach and, in many ways, a new club.
Robin Fraser takes charge as the club takes stock, and he brings with him a coaching philosophy that could provide a foundation for Chivas to return to, and surpass, the glories of 2006-09.
The club was perhaps Major League Soccer's most stylish at the time, and a title run in 2007 -- with Maykel Galindo's breakthrough and Ante Razov's cerebral play up top -- would have been appropriate. Chivas has never won a playoff series.
Fraser is looking to quickly turn last year's losers into contenders. Chivas went 8-18-4 and finished last in the Western Conference after losing its veteran core of players to departures and retirement.
Here's what you need to know heading into preseason camp:
The new face of the organization is Fraser's. The first-time head coach -- a former Galaxy star lauded for his work as an assistant coach at Real Salt Lake -- and his staff (including former Galaxy and UCLA star Greg Vanney) say they have a plan in mind, a sort of total-football approach to team harmony, that will supplant the foundation that crashed last year.
The arrival of two veterans -- central defender Jimmy Conrad (Temple City/Temple City HS and UCLA), acquired in the re-entry draft, and forward Alejandro Moreno, a former Galaxy striker picked up in a trade -- will play well into Fraser's team building, bringing veteran savvy and, especially Conrad, leadership qualities that the club lacked last year.
The Goats were masterful at the draft, pulling in five genuine prospects. Defender Zarek Valentin, the No. 4 overall pick (a central defender at Akron who will move to the right for Chivas), is considered can't-miss, and fellow first-rounder Victor Estupiñan, from Ecuador, is a most enticing forward. Their ability to contribute immediately will be crucial, but both are long-range selections.
Tristan Bowen (Van Nuys), who will be 20 on Jan. 30, arrives after a promising second season with the Galaxy. Three more draftees -- midfielders Jon Okafor (Brown) and Ernesto Carranza (Sacramento State) and defender Curtis Ushedo (Alabama-Birmingham) -- will battle for roster spots. So will former Chivas USA winger Francisco “Panchito” Mendoza, who will join training as a non-roster guest.
It's taken just two weeks to turn things upside down in Mexico's Primera Division.
Atop the Clausura standings following wins lopsided (5-0 over Morelia) and tight (2-1 over Gallos Blancos) is Atlas, which won only three games en route to an 18th-place finish (among 18 clubs) in the fall Apertura.
At the bottom, in 18th: Apertura champion Monterrey.
Atlas is 2-0-0 after Alfredo Moreno, at the top of the box, redirected Edgar Pacheco's 82nd-minute blast Saturday to beat Gallos Blancos, 2-1.
"I think keeping our feet on the ground is something that has to work every day ...," Galindo told Mexican sports daily Esto. "These two games have been satisfying, but we must continue. There are many details to improve, and we can't rest."
Also 2-0-0 is San Luis, which routed Puebla, 3-0, behind two Wilmer Aguirre goals. Atlas plays at Necaxa on Friday, and San Luis is home Saturday against Guadalajara.
Monterrey, outclassed by San Luis in its opener (and missing manager Victor Manuel Vucetich, suspended three games after his ejection in that opener), was overrun by Estudiantes Tecos. Mauro Cejas scored twice and Ramon Morales set up two in Tecos' 3-2 victory. Sergio Santana scored both Monterrey goals, his first since Aug. 14.
Atlas, the worst team in the fall, opened the second half of the Mexican Primera Division season with a stunning romp that underscores coach Benjamin Galindo's savvy eye for talent.
The Guadalajara-based club, which made several major additions to its roster during the winter break, opened the spring Clausura on Saturday with a 5-0 domination of visiting Morelia.
Gerardo Espinoza matched his Apertura goals total, scoring twice, to lead the Zorros. Former Chicago Fire defender Wilman Conde scored in his Mexican League debut, and 19-year-old Christian Diaz (in his first top-tier game in more than a year) and Daniel Osorno (with his first of the season) also tallied.
“I congratulated the guys in the locker room because [there was] not a single player who did not have a good performance. It speaks well of the commitment that exists with the team,” Galindo told reporters afterward.
“It's a good win which gives us confidence, but that's all. What we have to do is keep working with the same commitment that we had during the preseason.”
Atlas went through three coaches in a 3-10-4 fall campaign, but Galindo, a former Mexican national-teamer, went shopping in four countries to strengthen the club. Conde, Brazilian midfielder Lucio Flavio (from Botafogo) and midfielder Lucas Ayala (from UANL Tigres) contributed to the win Saturday.
BIG BOYS BEATEN: America got robbed. Monterrey got jobbed.
America, a sure title contender, saw two perfectly good goals erased on mistaken offside calls in a 2-0 home loss to Pachuca, which got goals midway through each half by Yulian Anchico and then Edgar Benitez.
Monterrey, which last month won the Apertura title, was outclassed at home by San Luis, also 2-0 -- with the Gladiadores' first goal, by Osmar Mares in the 71st minute, clearly offside. Juan Carlos Medina's sweet chip in stoppage, with the Rayados down a man, doubled the advantage.
Chivas USA is done with Venezuelan striker Giancarlo Maldonado, declining its option in the loan agreement with Mexico's Atlante after he failed to impress during four months of Major League Soccer play.
Maldonado scored just twice with an assist in 10 MLS games, netted one goal in three SuperLiga matches, and also played in one U.S. Open Cup games with Chivas. He rarely made an impression until the final weeks of the season, when he was fully fit and seemed to have adjusted to the league's more physical, athletic nature.
Maldonado, Venezuela's all-time scoring leader with 20 goals in 53 international appearances, spent nearly a month with the Goats before a loan agreement with Atlante was reached July 7. He had burst upon the scene with 46 goals in two full seasons, with Chile's O'Higgins and Atlante, but has scored just nine league goals since.
Reports from Mexico are that Atlante might sign him rather than seek another loan deal elsewhere.
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).