Los Angeles Soccer: Guillermo Torres

New Chivas trialist? Would you believe: Stern John

February, 25, 2011
The guy hammering balls to the upper-V in Chivas USA's postgame training session Friday afternoon looked vaguely familiar, but putting a name with a face wasn't so simple. Good thing Goats coach Robin Fraser was around.

"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."

Stern John
Michael Steele/Getty ImagesStern John is back in MLS trying to earn a spot with Chivas USA.

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.

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Chivas USA: No wrong move at right back

February, 19, 2011
The fight most anticipated as Chivas USA kicked off preseason preparations last month -- rookie Zarek Valentin vs. veteran Mariano Trujillo, with the job at right back awaiting the winner -- is a battle no more. Neither has won. Nor lost.

Serious defensive depth, in great contrast to last year, has left new coach Robin Fraser a lot of options, and when the Goats trot onto Home Depot Center's field March 19 against Sporting Kansas City, it could be new arrival Heath Pearce or trialist Jimmy Asprilla on the right flank. Or Valentin.

That's some of what Fraser is considering after the Goats' return from Arizona, where they played three scrimmages in a week-long camp considered productive despite injuries that kept two veteran midfielders -- Paulo Nagamura and Simon Elliott -- and top returning scorer Justin Braun out of action.

"I think Arizona was about solidifying some team concepts, and I think in a lot of ways they improved," Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles on Saturday, after the team's return to L.A. "Things they did well prior to Arizona, they did better. Now it's a matter of being consistent at it."

Fraser says he is beginning to get a feel for a starting XI, that he and his staff are "starting to narrow things down, but nothing is etched in stone." He isn't sure how Valentin or Trujillo (or Pearce and Asprilla) fit in, but he's not unhappy with what each brings to the team.

Valentin, taken with the fourth overall pick in last month's draft, has played on the right and at center back during camp. Pearce, acquired Tuesday in a trade from FC Dallas, can play at right back or left back -- or in midfield. Asprilla is a veteran right back, with more than a decade of experience in his native Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.

"Everything is up for grabs at the moment," Fraser said of Valentin. "He's a good young player who can play outside and inside, so [starting in the middle] is a possibility, sure."

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Relative success in Chivas USA loss

February, 12, 2011
Chivas USA had three new faces on the field for its scrimmage Saturday against the Seattle Sounders, and perhaps the most promising is an asset from Robin Fraser's appointment as head coach.

And we're not expecting him to make Chivas' roster.

Eriq Zavaleta, a U.S. under-20 national-teamer and high school senior from Westfield, Ind., was on Goats' backline for the final 30 minutes of the 1-0 defeat in Casa Grande, Ariz.

Zavaleta, who will be a freshman at Indiana next fall, moved last month from Real Salt Lake's academy in Arizona to Chivas USA's academy. His uncle is former Galaxy defender Greg Vanney, who had been director of RSL's Arizona outfit before coming in as Fraser's second-in-command just after New Year's.

He's certainly a prospect. He's got size (6-foot-1), experience (two years at U-17 residency in Florida, starting job for the U.S. at the 2009 U-17 World Cup in Nigeria) and accolades (NSCAA, ESPN Rise and Parade All-America, considered the class of '11's top defender).

And no matter how good he looks, no matter what he does, during Chivas' weeklong stay in Arizona, there's no chance, near as we can tell, that he'll be on the roster come April 19's Major League Soccer opener against Sporting Kansas City.

As we understand it, he does not qualify as a “Home Grown Player” -- clubs may sign players who have been in their academy systems for at least a year -- and would be dispersed into the league by lottery were he to sign a Generation adidas contract.

And it was only Monday that Indiana announced its recruiting class, with Zavareta.

OTHER TRIALISTS: Midfielder Guillermo “Memo” Torres, younger brother to U.S. national team midfielder Jose Francisco Torres, and Colombian defender Jimmy Asprilla also played the final 30 minutes for the Goats.

Asprilla, 30, who was at right back, has spent his career in South America and mostly at home, with three stints for Once Caldas, two more with Deportivo Cali and most recently with Millonarios. Torres most recently was with Pachuca in Mexico, his brother's club.

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