Los Angeles Soccer: James Marcelin
The Chicago Fire split a pair of games Saturday morning at Oxnard College, bringing to an end a series of 20 preseason matches involving Major League Soccer clubs in Carson and Oxnard.
Three more games were played in San Luis Obispo, and Chivas USA has a ticketed game Wednesday night in San Diego against Mexico's Club Tijuana.
Eight clubs, including Chivas and the Galaxy, trained this month at Home Depot Center or Oxnard College, several of them at both sites.
The San Jose Earthquakes beat the Fire, 2-0, in Oxnard's main stadium Saturday, with Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart and Brad Ring scoring first-half goals. The Fire rallied from a first-half deficit to beat the Ventura County Fusion, 2-1, on an adjacent field. Woodland Hills' Orr Barouch converted a penalty kick and set up Pari Pantazopoulos' strike to lift Chicago.
Thousand Oaks' Danny Barrera, who was in camp for the Fire, scored on a free kick, his second such goal in as many games. Barrera, a former UC Santa Barbara standout who is contracted to a Serbian club, scored a superb goal in the Fusion's loss Friday to the Montreal Impact at Home Depot Center.
BEST OF THE CAMPS: All in all, the soccer on display wasn't great. Everyone's in preseason form, which means lagging fitness, too many mistakes and too many connections still being made. Some matches were interesting only because you could hear everything said on the field, including a fair share of expletives. (Yes, you can swear in soccer, so long as you don't direct it at the ref.)
All that said, here were some of the good things we saw during the games in L.A. and Ventura counties:
BEST TEAM: The Portland Timbers clicked better than everyone else, with Cameroonian trialist Franck Songo'o leading one of the few attacks that appeared ready for the season to start. Portland went 3-0-1, scored four on the Galaxy and two against Houston and Chicago.
BEST PLAYER: It might be Songo'o. Or his teammate James Marcelin, a monster in midfield. We also liked what Sanna Nyassi brings to Montreal's attack, Michael Lahoud's and Ryan Smith's play on Chivas USA's flanks, and the effort Adam Cristman brings up front for the Galaxy. L.A. newcomer Marcelo Sarvas' vision and touch also impresses, and Oswaldo Minda is clearly going to be a solid midfield anchor for Chivas. If we have to pick one ... it's Songo'o.
CARSON -- Eder Arreola is something of a sponge right now, soaking up every bit of knowledge and understanding he can find as he fights to make the Houston Dynamo's roster.
The winger from Chino Hills and UCLA, who went to the MLS Cup runner-up in last month's supplemental draft, is off to a good start, impressing with his touch and instincts, but he knows nothing is guaranteed. Arreola has not been offered a contract by the Dynamo, but if he keeps up his effort and performance the next couple of weeks or so, he could have something to sign before Houston's season kicks off March 11 against Chivas USA at Home Depot Center.
“We still have a little bit of time to go here. We have one more game [in Southern California] before we head back to Houston,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said after Arreola played the first 45 minutes in a 2-0 loss Sunday to the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center. “We'll see what the roster's looking like. He's put himself in a good position to be talked about in a good way.”
Arreola, 20, a natural left-sided flank player, is looking to provide cover for star winger Brad Davis, who is pretty far along in rehabbing the torn quadriceps muscle that forced him out of the MLS Cup loss to the Galaxy. Colin Clark can do so, but he's looking to win the job on the right side.
There's plenty of mentors around, including Davis -- Major League Soccer's best winger and a league MVP finalist last season -- and Clark. Kinnear was a U.S. national team attacking midfielder, and assistant coach Steve Ralston, MLS's all-time assists leader, is among the finest flank players in league history.
“It's been a great experience getting together with the guys and playing against other MLS teams,” said Arreola, who started two of Houston's three HDC preseason matches. “I feel like I've taken a lot of information from coaches. They've been helping me, and the other players have really helped me out, just knowing my movements and little things like that.”
Kinnear likes what he's seen.
“Good feet. He's got a real nice first touch,” said the two-time MLS Cup-winning coach. “The level of competition has been a good test for him. I think he's good when he's getting [opposing] players one-on-one -- he can go at them, he can come inside. And he has a real good soccer brain, I think.”