Los Angeles Soccer: Hans Backe

CHIVAS: Angel's return almost a winner

May, 23, 2012

Juan Pablo AngelMike Stobe/Getty ImagesJuan Pablo Angel received a warm welcome in his first game at Red Bull Arena since 2010.

Chivas USA had to do without its new arrival from New York -- Juan Agudelo is off with the U.S. national team in Florida -- but there's another Red Bulls veteran on the Goats' roster, and he made himself quite at home Wednesday night.

Juan Pablo Angel, New York's all-time goals leader, returned to Red Bull Arena for the first time since he departed the Red Bulls after the 2010 season, received a warm reception from the fans, then did his best to make their lives miserable.

His best performance of the season was rewarded with a spectacular goal at the start of the first half, and although Chivas couldn't turn it into three points, a 1-1 draw was a rather satisfying result.

The Goats' attack had spark, their defending was mostly exceptional, and had they done a better job holding onto the ball, especially under New York's second-half pressure, they might have boosted their road mark to 4-1-1.

“I think any time you don't get three points, there's some level of disappointment,” head coach Robin Fraser acknowledged to ESPN Los Angeles. “But, realistically, on the road against the first-place team in the East -- with a five-game winning streak -- you have to look at the big picture. A point in Red Bull Arena is not a bad result.”

It could have been worse. Nick LaBrocca, a Jersey boy who tested rookie Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara just two minutes in, was done by the fifth minute, tweaking his hamstring chasing Dane Richards into the Goats' box. He figures to miss Saturday's game at HDC against Seattle and next week's U.S. Open Cup match against the Ventura County Fusion, and tests will determine if he'll be out longer.

Richards was a handful for Chivas defenders -- he was the pivotal figure on Kenny Cooper's 56th-minute equalizer -- but the Goats did well limiting the effectiveness of Thierry Henry, returning to the Red Bulls' lineup after missing four games with a hamstring injury, and Cooper, who nonetheless tallied for the fourth straight game.

The Danny Califf-Rauwshan McKenzie partnership in central defense, just two games in, looks very good, and Oswaldo Minda was a force in front of them, keying Chivas' transition game while frustrating Henry and Cooper, both of whom confronted the Ecuadoran midfielder.

Dan Kennedy was sharp, making a fine reaction stop on Henry's 51st-minute header, and Ante Jazic secured the point by clearing Dax McCarty's header off the goal line following a corner kick in the 83rd.

Angel, who is still finding his form after missing five games because of a concussion, was the sharpest he has been since his scoring tear last year. He hit the left post in the 25th minute, following a nice sequence involving Paolo Cardozo and Miller Bolaņos, and brilliantly provided a 47th-minute lead.

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CHIVAS: Agudelo finds freedom with Goats

May, 19, 2012

Juan AgudeloJeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesJuan Agudelo has impressed with the U.S. national team. He hopes to do the same with Chivas USA.

CARSON -- It took Juan Agudelo all of an hour, not even that, to feel more at home with Chivas USA than he had in two-plus seasons with his hometown club.

This, he believes, is going to be great.

The 19-year-old striker, the most exciting young player in America, was the big prize in Chivas USA's pick-ups Thursday, a big (6 feet 1, 183 pounds), strong, skilled striker who has impressed with the U.S. national team while wilting under the New York Red Bulls' disinclination to use him.

Heading west, he figures, is the best thing that could have happened for him.

“I was happy in New York,” the Colombian-born forward, who moved with his family to New Jersey when he was 7, said Friday morning following his first training session with the Goats. “I wish things would have worked out better, but I feel like the best place, honestly, for my development was not a team like New York.

“I'm just happy to be here. I truly believe already from the first day here that my development is going to shoot up and the sky's the limit here. I feel valued here.”

He hopes to start repaying Chivas for setting him free Saturday night in the SuperClasico against the Galaxy at HDC. No word from head coach Robin Fraser that he'll be in the starting XI, but don't bet against it.

Fraser and his staff's initial instruction to Agudelo was simple: enjoy yourself.

“They told me go out there, play with a smile and have fun,” Agudelo said. “That's really all I need to hear to excel myself. I just want to have that free feeling. I feel like I understand how the game is and the things I have to do to help out the team, and it was awesome for them to give me that freedom.”

Just looking around, he felt at home.

“A lot of Hispanics here,” he noted. “It's awesome. To feel welcomed. A lot of Colombians, [the team will] speak Spanish, English. It's great. It's got a little bit of flavor from my hometown [Manizales] in Colombia. ... It's a South American-kind-of-style team, and I think it's great because it's somewhere I feel like I fit in.”

He didn't fit in with the Red Bulls, who have a European owner, European GM, European coach and a bunch of European players -- and little use for a South American player with different qualities that need to be refined.

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GALAXY: L.A. can't finish, takes the fifth

May, 5, 2012

Los Angeles Galaxy dejectionVictor Decolongon/Getty ImagesSaturday's loss to the Red Bulls has left the Galaxy continuing to search for answers.

CARSON -- The Galaxy lost five games all of the 2011 Major League Soccer season, and two of those were giveaways, with B sides sent in to absorb defeat in New York at the end of a insane stretch in early October and in the season finale at Houston a few weeks later.

They matched that total Sunday in just their ninth game, another hapless display in front of the net costing them plenty in a 1-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls, who scored an early goal, then bunkered in and survived a second-half onslaught to escape with the points.

“It's a bit of a broken record,” head coach Bruce Arena said, then did his best impression, mentioning 11 times in eight minutes that the Galaxy had “enough chances to create [enough] goals” to win, or words to that effect. Chances are all well and good, but when they're not put away, things go wrong.

Things are going very wrong for L.A. (3-5-1, 10 points), which has lost three of six league home games and sit a dozen points -- four victories -- behind San Jose and Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference standings.

Ryan Meara made four big saves and the Red Bulls (5-3-1, 16 points) defended with vigor, but it's the Galaxy's lack of precision when it counts -- a recurring nightmare for them -- that's quickly defining what is developing into a deeply disappointing campaign.

“It's getting even more frustrating week after week ...,” said David Beckham, whose crosses into the box provided a good deal of the dozen decent opportunities the Galaxy found and quickly lost. “We keep saying we're not worried about it. It's got to come a point where we need to be worried about it, and we're close to that now.”

Joel Lindpere scored the goal for New York, striding through an open expanse and into the Galaxy box to collect a short pass from Jan Gunnar Solli and fire into the right-side netting. It was all that was required for the Red Bulls, who were missing six regulars -- injured Thierry Henry and Teemu Tainio and suspended Rafa Marquez the headliners -- and employed the expected tactics.

There wasn't a whole lot of space for L.A. to operate, and the sharpness needed to break down New York's 4-1-4-1 alignment wasn't forthcoming. The rookie Meara did well to repel an Edson Buddle header at the start, a Mike Magee shot to begin the second half, a tremendous Juninho blast in the 82nd minute and Landon Donovan's reflex shot from 12 yards in the 86th.

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GALAXY: Spark sought vs. ailing Red Bulls

May, 4, 2012

David Beckham Ron Chenoy/US Presswire

CARSON -- A week ago the Galaxy were feeling pretty good about their progress following a poor start to their season while anticipating a three-game winning streak, proof of sorts that all was good.

After failing to win their third in a row, rallying in stoppage last weekend to tie visiting FC Dallas, and falling, 2-0, Wednesday at Seattle, they're looking for positive signs once more.

“There's no need to panic yet, but we want to get it sorted out as soon as possible,” said David Beckham, who is expected to return to L.A.'s lineup for Saturday night's showdown the New York Red Bulls at Home Depot Center. “We can't continue going into games and going through the motions and not doing things right on the field, because it shows. When you don't get results, that's what you look for -- it's the simple things that we're not doing right. I don't think we need to start panicking too much, but it needs to start happening pretty soon.”

The Red Bulls, which has become a rival of sorts since joining L.A. as a big-money club bringing in big-name Designated Players, could provide the perfect balm. They're missing a half-dozen starters -- including DPs Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez -- to injury or suspension.

“You can perform two, three, perhaps maximum four games when your without six of seven regular players,” Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said, “but then you will drop a little bit.”

The Galaxy hopes that drop arrives now. They don't expect that will be so.

“Sometimes that's a good thing [to be missing starters],” Beckham offered. “Sometimes players who have not played games come in and want to prove themselves, and it's a tougher game.”

It's certainly not the marquee matchup everyone expected in the teams' only regular-season meeting this year. Henry has been a clear-cut MVP favorite, scoring nine goals -- a good many of them sensational -- before going down last week with a hamstring injury that could sideline him for a month. Marquez is serving the last game in a three-match suspension for breaking San Jose midfielder Shea Salinas' clavicle with a football-style tackle followed by a kick three weeks ago.

Holding midfielder Teemu Tainio is out because of a sprained knee, and three first-choice defenders -- Wilman Conde, Roy Miller and Stephen Keel -- are dealing with a variety of ailments.

The Galaxy is looking for something elusive, the sense that things will be right no matter who they throw on the field and what competition they come up against. That swagger, built primarily through defensive dominance now absent with Omar Gonzalez out, was behind last year's run to the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup triumphs.

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Henry, Bulls need to be 'incredible'

November, 3, 2011

Thierry HenryMike Stobe/Getty ImagesThierry Henry says of Thursday night's playoff match with the Galaxy: "We're going to have to do something almost incredible to be able to go through."

CARSON -- Thierry Henry has played in bigger games than this one during his career, so what's facing him and his New York Red Bulls teammates Thursday night isn't the least bit daunting.

The Galaxy takes a minimal 1-0 advantage into the second leg of the two-games, total-goals, first-round Major League Socccer playoff series at Home Depot Center, but Henry understands the challenge facing his club is a difficult one.

L.A. has not lost at HDC this season, going 16-0-6, including CONCACAF Champions League, the “away” game against Chivas and the friendly with Manchester City, and has posted shutouts in 21 of 43 competitive matches.

“It's a must-win game. A very difficult game,” Henry said on the eve of the clash. “They showed the other game at out place why they're so consistent. They were difficult to break down. We had a couple chances, but they defended well.

“It's always going to be difficult. They didn't lose a game at home this season, and for us to take it [and advance to the Western Conference final Sunday against Real Salt Lake], it has to be by two goals. So we all know it's going to be a difficult one against the best team in the league, but we came here to try to cause an upset.”

They'll have to do so without Mexican midfielder Rafa Marquez, a Designated Player suspended after picking up a postgame red card in Sunday's first leg for hurling the ball at Landon Donovan after the final whistle. Marquez's strengths are setting the game's pace from deep in midfield and delivering dangerous balls from distance, sort of like David Beckham, with a shade less proficiency.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe says Dax McCarty or Stephane Auvray will take his place, and with the Bulls needing goals, McCarty seems likeliest. The Swedish coach's comments on his game plan suggest so.

Asked if the aim would be to come out as in the second half Sunday, when the Red Bulls applied heavy pressure on L.A.'s backline, Backe said: “I hope so. I expect us to come out with a lot of energy. But at the same time, play smart. It's a long time -- 90 minutes -- and probably most important in the beginning is having a clean sheet, not going one down. ...

“I don't care that much if we score 88th minute or something like that and go to extra time. I think the key thing is not going down early in the game. We need to stay in the game for at least 60, 70 minutes.”

Pivotal to that, he says, is stopping “the service, the distribution” to Galaxy forward Robbie Keane.

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GALAXY: Red cards play role in return

November, 2, 2011

Landon Donovan and Luke RodgersChristopher Pasatieri/Getty ImagesLandon Donovan, left, called New York the "cheap-shot" Red Bulls, something that nemesis Luke Rodgers, right, did not take kindly too.

CARSON -- The fracas that erupted at the end of the Galaxy's victory Sunday afternoon over New York will surely have an impact on Thursday's rematch at Home Depot Center. Landon Donovan's criticism of the “cheap-shot” Red Bulls that followed, not so much.

Both sides are missing influential midfielders for the second leg of the first-round playoff series after Red Bulls star Rafa Marquez was red-carded for hurling the ball at Donovan at the final whistle and Galaxy catalyst Juninho was sent off for leaping into the fray that resulted.

Their absences will alter how their teams approach the match, but the situation -- and each team's aim -- remains the same.

The Galaxy carries a 1-0 advantage into the decisive match in the home-and-home, total-goals series, so a draw or better sends them to Sunday's Western Conference title game against Real Salt Lake, also at HDC; a one-goal loss forces overtime and perhaps penalty kicks; and a two-goal defeat sends New York to Utah to play for a berth in the Nov. 20 MLS Cup final.

“We have good experience in this situation,” Donovan said following L.A.'s training session Wednesday. “We were in the exact same position last year, where we beat Seattle away, and then we came home. I think a lot of teams in that situation might have a tendency to sit back and guard the goal, but we wanted to come out and be aggressive, and we got at them early and ended the game quickly.

“In an ideal world, we could do that [Thursday], but, certainly, it's a different year and a different opponent, and it's going to be tough.”

Marquez, who has melted down in Donovan's presence before, usually in U.S.-Mexico battles, is among MLS's most talented players and probably the Red Bulls' most incisive passer. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said either offense-minded Dax McCarty or holding midfielder Stephane Auvray will team in central midfield with Teemu Tainio -- the decision has been made, no word on what it is, but McCarty appears likely.

Juninho has been a perfect foil for David Beckham, whose service is critical to the Galaxy's attack. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena says he has “three or four guys we're considering” to step in for the Brazilian youngster, and speculation is that Chris Birchall or Michael Stephens will get the call.

The incident at the end of Thursday's game prompted Donovan's postgame backlash. He deplored the Red Bulls for “disgraceful” behavior and “cheap shots,” claimed that “in all my years in this league, I've not played against a cheaper team” and said the Bills had “been doing it all year. ... I think it's part of their makeup.”

Red Bulls forward Luke Rodgers responded during a media conference call this week.

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GALAXY: L.A.'s start bests N.Y.'s finish

October, 30, 2011

Thierry Henry and David Beckham Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesThierry Henry and the Red Bulls still have hope they can come back on David Beckham and the Galaxy.

HARRISON, N.J. -- Hans Backe's take on the Galaxy's triumph Sunday: The Red Bulls were in command the whole way.

David Beckham's: The Galaxy played their game and got the result they were after.

Mike Magee's: L.A. isn't going to win an MLS Cup with many more performances like that one.

The opener of the first-round Major League Soccer playoff series served as a “Rashomon” experience for those involved, with no two versions of what occurred on the Red Bull Arena turf quite alike.

What can be agreed upon is this: The Galaxy is halfway to the Western Conference final following a gritty 1-0 decision over New York in which one beautiful Beckham ball, one tremendous Magee finish and plenty of lights-out defending by the visitors in the second half added up to an often invigorating and unquestionably intense battle.

Part II comes Thursday night, when L.A. takes its advantage into the second leg of the two-game, total-goals matchup at Home Depot Center knowing that a draw will be enough to send it to its third successive conference title game.

Magee scored the goal, firing home from a tough angle after his late run for a superb long ball by Beckham beat the Red Bulls' offside trap, and the Galaxy's backline -- led by center back Omar Gonzalez and goalkeeper Josh Saunders, both impeccable -- absorbed heavy pressure the final 45 minutes to notch the club's 21st shutout in 43 games this season, all competitions.

“Listen, we're not happy with the way we played,” Magee said afterward. “We're extremely happy with the points, but we stopped playing for some reason, which is uncharacteristic of us this season. That [kind of play is] not why we're here. I think we're well aware that if we have a similar performance and a similar effort, we might not get three points. We need to play better.

“We had some chances to score, to put a second one away. We gave them chances to score. We're well aware that performance isn't going to win us MLS Cup.”

Divide the game in half. The first half belonged to the Galaxy, which dictated the pace with an elegant possession game -- despite a heavy, pockmarked field damaged somewhat in the snow-removal process following Saturday's storm -- and created two chances, both from Beckham long balls, that should have provided a two-goal lead by the 15th minute.

The second half was all about the Red Bulls, who finally found a way to get wide -- primarily on the left, through Joel Lindpere and Roy Miller -- and quickly set a tone with three superb chances in the first four minutes after the break, the first two from Rafa Marquez balls over the top.

Saunders slapped away two of them, denying Dane Richards and, even better, Lindpere, and the backline, with Gonzalez doing much of the dirty work, was resolute the rest of the way.

Better aim by New York might have made for a different result. The Bulls put just five of 17 shots on target, and Marquez managed just one of six on frame, a stoppage-time grass-burner that Saunders leapt to corral.

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GALAXY: Red Bulls ready for the best

October, 30, 2011

MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- The New York Red Bulls understand the magnitude of the challenge they face, and there's no question they believe they're up for it.

The last team to qualify for Major League Soccer's postseason plans to be the final team standing in three weeks, and to get there it will need an inspired effort in Sunday's opener of a two-games, total-goals, first-round series against the Galaxy.

Getting here was tougher than imagined -- the Red Bulls (10-8-16) have the league's highest payroll and, arguably, greatest talent -- but the team has been in fine form the past month and a half or so and believes it can take down the Supporters' Shield winners.

“All I can tell you,” says French striker Thierry Henry, the biggest of the Red Bulls' big-name players, “is [the Galaxy] are the best team in the league. Every time we had a chance to upset them, it's because we also raised our game and played better, so, hopefully, we can do the same thing.”

They need to score more goals than L.A. in games Sunday, with a noon kickoff PT (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes), and Thursday night at Home Depot Center, or prevail on penalty kicks if the sides finish on even terms.

“We did match up well with them since I have arrived [in MLS],” said Henry, who scored in both meetings with the Galaxy this season, a 1-1 draw in Carson and a 2-0 victory early this month over a truncated L.A. squad at Red Bull Arena. “They're consistent, they don't concede a lot of goals. That leaves always a chance for them to score in the last minute or even before that.

“They don't concede a lot, they can keep a 1-nil up, so we need to be careful. We know what can happen [when] they score a lot of goals. You have to stop [David] Beckham from playing those long balls that can kill you. And with Landon Donovan and some of the players who can play short.

“They've been not only this year but last year, also, the best team in the league, so let's see what we can do. But we all know it will be a tough test.”

The Red Bulls figure to benefit from the return of English forward Luke Rodgers, who missed the midweek wild-card victory at FC Dallas with fluid on his knee but said Saturday he's “definitely” ready to go 90 minutes. That's a big deal: New York's months-long struggles coincided with his absence with a plantar fasciitis injury.

Rodgers, the Bulls' emotional leader, says going against the Shield winners -- the regular-season champs -- is a perfect way to start the postseason after so difficult a regular-season campaign.

“All the lads are buzzing,” he said. “It's a big team [we're playing against], we're at home. ... Everyone wants to play in big games. It'll just be a tough game, a very hard game. They've got great players, but so have we. ...

“They're a solid team, a good team, and they've proved that by winning the league. I don't see no weakness.”

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GALAXY: Shield? Nah, it's a new season

October, 29, 2011

HOBOKEN, N.J. -- The Galaxy won 19 games, amassed 67 points -- just one off Major League Soccer's record -- and claimed the Supporters' Shield, as the league's best regular-season team, for the second year in a row.

As they head into their playoff opener Sunday, know what it all means? Nothing.

L.A. might be the favorite as it embarks on its postseason campaign with a bright-lights showdown against the New York Red Bulls, but don't mistake that for anything of significance. The playoffs are about who's hot now, and few teams are as sizzling as the Red Bulls.

The Galaxy understand this better than most. They got drilled by FC Dallas in last year's Western Conference final, then watched as the Colorado Rapids -- the No. 7 seed -- pulled out an overtime thriller in the MLS Cup final to capture the trophy.

A year before, Real Salt Lake -- the No. 8 seed, with a losing record -- beat L.A. on penalties in the title game.

“I think what you need to do is just kind of throw everything out the window and say this is another competition,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, whose team meets the Red Bulls in the first leg of a first-round series at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., and will be home for Thursday's second leg. “All this is going to prove is who's the best team in this format over the couple weeks that we have it.”

The Supporters' Shield gets far less attention but is the worthier measuring stick of quality in MLS, and only five teams in the league's first 15 years have captured both -- and just one, the 2008 Columbus Crew, since 2002. Just as many champs have come in seeded fifth or worse.

“Anywhere else in the world, we'd be champions,” David Beckham noted. “Do I agree with [the format]? I don't agree with it. No, it should be the same as everywhere else, and I'd be sitting here with two league [-championship] medals.”

The Galaxy gets some hardware with the Shield, and the top seed and home-field advantage for the playoffs, but little else. They're in the far tougher of the four-team brackets, battling second-place Seattle, third-place Real Salt Lake and a Red Bulls team that arguably has the best talent in MLS for one berth in the Nov. 20 MLS Cup final at Home Depot Center. The other bracket -- the Eastern Conference bracket -- is headed by the league's fifth-best team.

“In think it's a little bit of a mess, and it needs to be addressed, and I'm hopeful that there's a lot more player input put into it ...,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said of the postseason set-up. “There's no debate. Everyone knows it's not right. So we've got to find a way to fix it.”

It's not going to happen this year, and playoffs are here to stay. The MLS Cup champion always will be celebrated, but the wish among those who play the game is that the Shield will receive equal -- or greater -- billing. Don't count on it.

“[The Shield] is a really big accomplishment,” Donovan said. “Ask any guy in the league, any coach, any GM, what's the hardest thing to do in this league, and it's win the Supporters' Shield. We're very proud of it. Unfortunately in our league, it doesn't mean a whole lot.”

So the Galaxy heads into what Donovan calls “a four-game crapshoot.”

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Juninho, RSL's Rimando make All-Star list

July, 25, 2011

Galaxy midfielder Juninho is a Major League Soccer All-Star. So is Montclair's Nick Rimando, the goalkeeper for Real Salt Lake. Don't bother looking for either Wednesday.

They were among a half-dozen players selected in a vote among their colleagues for the final slots on the official All-Star list, but none of them are on the game-day roster for the clash with Manchester United at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.

The collective bargaining agreement between the league and the MLS Players Union mandates 32 all-stars, proportioned by position to resemble a realistic roster, but Red Bulls coach Hans Backe will take only 21 players into Wednesday night's game, which will be televised on ESPN2 and TeleFutura (KFTR/Channel 46). Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. PT.

Backe was allowed a 22-man roster, but Landon Donovan pulled out Sunday with a calf strain, and the coach said Monday he would not replace the Galaxy captain on the roster.

Four others previously chosen for the game-day roster -- Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, New York defender Rafa Marquez, Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller and FC Dallas winger Brek Shea -- pulled out previously with injuries or CONCACAF Champions League conflicts.

The others added to the list Monday were Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, Vancouver forward Eric Hassli and New York winger Joel Lindpere.

Juninho, a 22-year-old Brazilian in his second season on loan from Sao Paulo, has been pivotal in central midfield for the Galaxy, which have the league's best record (11-2-9) heading into the All-Star break.

Rimando (Montclair HS/UCLA), 32, is in the top tier of MLS goalkeepers -- arguably at the top of that tier -- and his exclusion from the game-day roster was one of Backe's more shocking decisions. Rimando hasn't spoken publicly about the snub, but RSL head coach Jason Kreis last week told The Salt Lake Tribune that his star netminder was “deeply hurt.”

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CHIVAS USA: LaBrocca, Pearce wait, hope

July, 17, 2011

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.

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CHIVAS: No shots, no goals, a waved-off PK

July, 17, 2011

Thierry HenryJeff Gross/Getty ImagesThierry Henry of the Red Bulls fends off Chivas USA's Ben Zemanski during Saturday night's game.

CARSON -- Chivas USA didn't manage to put one shot on target, and here they were, on the verge of victory. For a few seconds, at least.

Then referee Mark Kadlecik conferred with his linesman, and the penalty kick he'd awarded the Goats in the 90th minute was waved off.

The Goats' peaks-and-valleys campaign went through another one of those nights Saturday, and all in all, a 0-0 draw with New York was a reasonably positive result. But, oh, what could have been.

Chivas' half-chances weren't enough to test debuting Red Bulls goalkeeper Frank Rost, fresh from the German Bundesliga, but some fine play, as always, by goalkeeper Dan Kennedy was enough to keep a clean sheet as the Goats (5-7-8) extended their unbeaten streak to four games.

It was the struggles connecting in the final third, a problem that keeps resurfacing, that defined the match for Chivas, which put one shot off the crossbar (a Jorge Flores blast in the 38th minute) but couldn't get on the end of crosses into the box and found it difficult to find shots that might matter.

The attack could be strengthened in the next week, head coach Robin Fraser and general manager Jose Domene acknowledged, with signings of “more than one” player apparently imminent.

“Sure. Yes,” Fraser said when asked if a signing was about to happen. How soon? “You know how the process works, with signing and visas and that sort of thing, so as soon as it can happen, you will know.”

Domene said deals were “almost done” and that Chivas “wants to bring in [players] right away, but it's a process. It takes time. It's pretty much done, but it's not finalized.” A forward is the the biggest need, and Fraser acknowledged that signing one "certainly is a very big priority."

No shots on goal usually means no goals, but the Goats had to think one was coming when Kadlecik whistled Red Bulls defender Carlos Mendes for handling a Pearce corner kick in the final minute. The Red Bulls quickly surrounded the referee, who talked it over with linesman Jeff Hosking before reversing himself.

“That's quite a roller-coaster there in a matter of seconds,” said midfielder Nick LaBrocca. “You're in there, and the end of the game is in sight, you're given something, and to have it taken away is an emotional thing.”

Fraser didn't want to talk about it much. “It's extremely disappointing and confusing, to say the least, but whatever,” he said. “Anything else I say will lead to me getting fined.”

Mendes was sliding toward the goal when the ball hit him, and Kadlecik apparently thought it caught his arm. Replays seemed to indicate the ball hit Mendes in the face, caroming toward the goal, where Rost made the stop.

“It would have been really frustrating to gt that kind of wrong decision against you,” Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said, “but luckily the linesman saw that the ball hit Mendes' chin and not a handball.”

Chivas forward Justin Braun acknowledged the officials seemed to get it right, not that that eases the frustration.

“It just sucks that the ref did call it at first,” he said. “That's stuff that shouldn't go on. At this level, if you call a PK, you should stick with it.”

A quick look at Chivas' draw:

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MLS All-Star adds: Agudelo and Bravo

July, 16, 2011
Chivas USA fans hoping to see Nick LaBrocca or Heath Pearce on Major League Soccer's All-Star team are going to have to wait another couple of days. So will Galaxy supporters who want Juninho or Todd Dunivant on the roster.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber opted for frontline firepower with his two selections for the July 27 All-Star Game against Manchester United in Harrison, N.J., which were announced Saturday afternoon.

New York Red Bulls teen forward Juan Agudelo and Sporting Kansas City veteran Omar Bravo were added to the MLS roster, which stands at 14 -- with three of those players uncertain or unlikely to make the game.

Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller is expected to be in action in Panama the night before the All-Star Game, leading the Sounders against San Francisco FC in a first-leg preliminary-round clash in the CONCACAF Champions League. FC Dallas winger Brek Shea has a game in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the night after the midseason exhibition, a Champions League opener against Municipal.

New York coach Hans Backe, who will guide the All-Stars, last week ruled out his Mexican defender, Rafa Marquez, who has been sidelined since the CONCACAF Goldb Cup final because of a hamstring strain.

Keller, Shea and Marquez were on the First XI, selected in a fan vote. So were Galaxy stars Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Omar Gonzalez and Sean Franklin.

Garber told Fox Soccer Channel his reasons for choosing the Colombia-born Agudelo, a rising star with the U.S. national team, and Bravo, a Mexican star.

“I thought Juan was a no-brainer ...,” he said. “Great young player and really an exemplary product of our MLS academy system, so, you know, here's the guy that's proving the system is working. Sitting where we sit, this is an opportunity for Juan to continue his development ... allow him to get into a big-time game and hopefully learn from that experience.”

Of Bravo, he said: “What we really need to do here is play well against Man U, and Omar's a guy that has a lot of big-time experience. He's been there before. This is not a guy that's going to to get flustered. He's playing in games where there have been superclubs, and Omar has performed in those competitions. ... It doesn't hurt that Omar has a real ability to impress this audience of ours, which is increasingly Hispanic.”

Backe and the league will announce the rest of the team Monday.

CHIVAS USA: Henry, Red Bulls in key visit

July, 15, 2011

Thierry HenryMike Stobe/Getty ImagesThierry Henry is having an MVP-like season for the Red Bulls, who have struggled of late.

The best soccer game Saturday night in Southern California will feature one of the game's most celebrated figures playing for a team looking to quickly find itself before things truly begin to matter in the coming weeks.

More attention will be paid to what's going on 12 miles up the road, where Real Madrid meets up with the Galaxy in a Coliseum friendly, but Chivas USA's clash with Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls matters more.

It's a critical contest for both sides.

Chivas is, as it has seemed to be at several junctures this season, on the verge of something special, although it might require a transfer-window move for a frontline finisher to bring it to fruition.

The Red Bulls, with more talent than anybody else in the league -- and not just Henry -- is playing like anything but title favorites, with just two wins in their last 13 matches, both over Major League Soccer bottom-feeders.

Inconsistent form, poor finishing and missing personnel (through injury and international duty) has produced a lot of groans in the Red Bulls locker room, with head coach Hans Backe noting after one defeat that he expected -- and desired -- a locker-room fight, and winger Joel Lindpere moaning that he wasn't having fun anymore.

The Red Bulls haven't beaten Chivas USA in Carson since 2005, not at all since June 2008, and were outslugged, 3-2, back in New Jersey two months ago, thanks to Justin Braun's hat trick. As Lindpere told the league's website this week: “We seem to struggle when we play them.”

What does it all mean? Nothing, says Robin Fraser.

“I think they're very dangerous because they have five or six players that can hurt you at any single time in the game,” Chivas' coach said this week. “Whether they're getting results or not has nothing to do with what's happening on the day.”

The consensus is that New York (6-4-10), with its quality, should be getting better results. They're even with Philadelphia on points but sit second in the Eastern Conference on head-to-head results. Backe and Sporting director Erik Soler have been adamant that they expect to win the conference and play for the league title.

The key to that, and to Saturday's game, is Henry, a French forward who starred at Arsenal and Barcelona and played in four World Cups (with a title in 1998) before coming to MLS last summer. He has been exceptional this year, scoring nine goals (tied with Galaxy captain Landon Donovan for most in the league), an uncommon percentage of them highest quality.

“He's got pace and experience and quality in front of the goal, doesn't waste too many chances,” Fraser said. “He's a difficult player to deal with individually because he's got such a great change of pace. Knows where to be and when to be and that sort of thing.

“He's the kind of guy who changes games in three, four seconds. Can be doing nothing and turn that into a 35-yard run by three people and score. You have to be very aware of him.”

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Galaxy quartet in All-Star First XI

July, 10, 2011

Landon Donovan, David Beckham and the right side of the Galaxy's backline is headed to Major League Soccer's All-Star Game.

Defenders Omar Gonzalez and Sean Franklin will join L.A.'s superstars in Harrison, N.J., for the July 27 match against Manchester United after their selections to the First XI in balloting by fans. The league announced the list Sunday afternoon.

It's the 11th straight selection for Donovan, the second for Beckham and Gonzalez, and Franklin's first.

Donovan was asked after Saturday's victory over Chicago about what his expected selection would mean, but he appeared unaware of a shift this season from a player/coach/media/fan ballot to strictly fan voting via MLS's website, Twitter and through text messaging.

“For me, it's an honor because the players and coaches vote on it, too,” he said. “If it was fan voting, which it partially is, but if it was only fan voting, it's a little different. Sometimes, more popular teams with bigger fan bases get players in.

“It is something that means a lot to us, and I think we have a lot of guys here who are deserving.”

Donovan is correct about popularity. MLS's two biggest clubs -- the Galaxy and New York Red Bulls -- dominate the First XI, and fan favorites Jack Jewsbury, the Portland Timbers' captain, and retiring goalkeeping legend Kasey Keller, from the Seattle Sounders, also made the list.

The Red Bulls are represented by French forward Thierry Henry, Mexican defender Rafa Marquez and second-year defender Tim Ream. The others are San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski, last year's Golden Boot winner, and FC Dallas winger Brek Shea, who is having an enormous year.

A 12th player -- Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler -- was the 12th selection, based on receiving the most text votes.

New York Red Bulls coach Hans Backe, who will guide the All-Stars, is not bound by the vote when he chooses his starting lineup -- these are, true to their name, the first XI chosen for the team. Commissioner Don Garber's two selections will be announced Saturday, and the remainder of the team will be announced July 18. The starters will be determined from the full roster.

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