Los Angeles Soccer: Ian Russell

Guardian angel leads Rafael Baca to MLS

February, 15, 2011
Loyola Marymount's Rafael Baca slipped more or less unnoticed through Major League Soccer's draft last month, but the most unexpected of meetings -- in the worst possible circumstances -- has led to a job in the league.

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.

Rafael Baca
Courtesy of Loyola Marymount athleticsRafael Baca was a third-team All-American last season for Loyola Marymount.

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.”

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MLS Quick Look: San Jose Earthquakes

February, 7, 2011

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:


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.


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 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.

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