Los Angeles Soccer: John Alexander Valencia
Juan Agudelo scored his first goal with Chivas, and it might have stood up for a full three points had John Alexander Valencia not whiffed on a ball sent into the Goats' goalmouth just four minutes later. That's three times this season, and twice this week, they've taken a lead and given it right back.
That's on the list of things that still need to be corrected, and if it's a long list, it's getting shorter all the time.
“We would have liked to close the week with three points tonight. I think that goes without saying,” captain Alejandro Moreno said. “Listen, we had an emotional game against the Galaxy last week, we go to New York, a long trip, and get a [tie] there in a very physical and demanding game, and we were able to put together a decent performance tonight. In the end, I think we'll take whatever we got out of this week, but most of all, I think we'll take the fact that we seem to be taking steps forward, the way we're playing. There's more consistency to what we're trying to do on the field.”
Chivas had most of the ball, with 61 percent possession, but created only so many chances -- a recurring theme -- but they put away the best of the lot, maybe their best sequence all season, just 12 minutes into the second half.
Moreno played a ball back to Peter Vagenas, who sent it to James Riley -- outstanding all game, our choice as man of the match -- on the right flank. Riley had plenty of time to look up and pick out Agudelo, who got behind Jhon Kennedy Hurtado to head the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Bryan Meredith.
David Beckham took a fairly sizable cut in pay to stay with Galaxy rather than chase Paris Saint-Germain's millions, it turns out, and he's no longer Major League Soccer's top earner.
That's the big news from the MLS Players Union's release Friday of salary figures across the league, an annual event that provides the only substantial look at at least a portion of player contracts in the league.
Beckham, whose initial five-year deal with the Galaxy paid him $32.5 million -- $5.5 million in annual salary and $6.5 million in average guaranteed compensation -- settled for $2.5 million less this go-round: His salary is $3 million and guaranteed compensation is $4 million.
That drops him below New York Red Bulls stars Thierry Henry ($5 million and $5.6 million) and Rafa Marquez ($4.6 million for both figures). Galaxy striker Robbie Keane (making $2.917 million in salary, $3.417 million guaranteed) is No. 4 on the league's list, and captain Landon Donovan ($2.4 million) is No. 5.
Beckham was offered a reported 18-month, $18.7 million contract by French giant PSG before re-signing a two-year deal with the Galaxy in January.
Additional compensation, beyond base salary and guaranteed compensation, is not accounted for in the Players Union survey.
Chivas USA striker Juan Pablo Angel also took a substantial pay cut, dropping out of Designated Player territory. He's making only $350,000 in base salary (after receiving $1 million under his previous contract) but $600,000 in guaranteed compensation (down from $1.25 million).
The Galaxy has the second-highest payroll at about $10.76 million, behind only the Red Bulls' $12.2 million. Chivas is 14th at nearly $2.62 million.
Chivas has been economical in picking up talent in South America. Star central midfielder Oswaldo Minda is making only $50,000 ($68,750 guaranteed), fellow Ecuadoran Miller Bolaños and Colombian forward Jose Erik Correa just $48,000 apiece, and Colombian center back John Alexander Valencia $50,000.
Decent raises were given to Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy ($175,000 from $62,496) and Galaxy defenders Omar Gonzalez ($180,000 from $120,000) and Sean Franklin ($205,000 from $97,389).
Jose Erik Correa made the most of his first start, but Chivas USA couldn't hold onto to its advantage at the finish, settling for a draw in game they should have won even if they didn't really deserve to.
Correa scored with a simple but tremendous touch in the fourth minute, and the Goats defended with everything they had the rest of the way, coming within two minutes plus stoppage of their fourth road victory of the season before Alan Gordon's header gave the San Jose Earthquakes a 1-1 draw at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara.
It's the sixth goal, of the dozen the Goats (3-6-1, 10 points) have conceded in 10 games, to come after the 80th minute. It's the first that turned a win into a tie, although twice would-be draws became losses on stoppage-time strikes.
“At the end of the day, you take every point you get, because at the end of the year, they're all going to be important,” Chivas head coach Robin Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles. “Certainly having lost [three in a row], it was important to come out of this with something.”
Given the onslaught they survived in the second half, the Goats are fortunate to have that point. Dan Kennedy was again superb in the nets, making three huge saves -- on Simon Dawkins in the 28th minute and Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart in the 55th and 74th -- and the men in front of him were organized and committed, terrific if hardly perfect.
“I think if you were to tell us that we were going to come in here and get a point, we would have been happy with that,” said Kennedy, who faced 24 shots (to five by Chivas) and 15 corner kicks. “The team really put in a shift in the second half. Obviously, we were under pressure. They had a lot of service. For me, I think this is something we can build on.”
Gordon, a former Galaxy stalwart who spent time with Chivas in 2010 and most of preseason last year, returned from a hamstring injury to score the equalizer. First-round draft pick Sam Garza, from UC Santa Barbara, delivered the cross from the left flank, and Gordon got behind center back John Alexander Valencia to easily head the ball into the net.
Valencia failed to jump on the play, and Garza had far too much time to prepare his service. As relentless as the Goats were defensively -- Fraser called it “a very resolute effort” -- there were problems. They left San Jose little space to operate, but their marking was sometimes ridiculously poor (Chris Wondolowski and Dawkins were open at the far post for a cross from Lawndale's Rafael Baca in the 18th minute) and struggles to effectively clear the ball helped San Jose maintain constant pressure the final 45 minutes.
San Jose (7-2-2, 23 points) had far more possession -- 62.5 percent, officially, although completed passes (503 to 302 for Chivas) better illustrate the dominance -- and the Goats put just one shot on target, Correa's goal on their first genuine foray.
CARSON -- Chivas USA took care of their first need Friday night, finally finding the net in a home game. It took 383 minutes and came from the penalty spot, courtesy of Juan Pablo Angel.
That was supposed to spark the Goats to some real home success, but another hit-and-mostly-miss performance -- marked by many of the same troubles -- led to another home defeat.
Marco Pappa scored a superb goal in the third minute of stoppage time to deliver to the Chicago Fire a 2-1 victory, handing Chivas their fifth one-goal loss in as many matches at Home Depot Center.
“Not a whole lot to say, really,” said Robin Fraser, who dropped to 5-12-5 in home games as Chivas head coach. “Bitterly disappointing to give up a goal in the dying seconds to lose at home. It's a bitter pill to swallow for sure.”
Their season-worst third successive loss left them 3-6-0, and things aren't going to get any easier. The next five games, through mid-June, are against a Major League Soccer murderers' row: at San Jose, home against the Galaxy, at New York, home against Seattle, home against Real Salt Lake.
Fraser changed his formation, heavily altered his lineup and gave four players their season debuts -- two of them, Colombian defender John Alexander Valencia and newly arrived Colombian forward Jose Erik Correa, their MLS debuts -- but Chivas' game ebbed and flowed, with moments of great clarity obscured by extended spans in which they created very little.
They got the goal in the 23rd minute, with Angel converting after rookie Austin Berry, making his MLS debut, dragged down Alejandro Moreno just inside the Fire box. Berry made up for it about two minutes later, volleying a chip from Sebastian Grazzini inside the left post after a throw-in was cleared.
The Goats did enough to earn a point, but Pappa crushed those aspirations following a sequence on the right flank with Federico Puppo, firing across the goal and inside the left post from about 22 yards.
“[It's great] any time you can score a goal like that late and put three points in a difficult place,” said Fire coach Frank Klopas, who was confined to a luxury suite while serving a one-game suspension. “It took a special player to make a special play at the end.”
Kennedy was, as always, outstanding, making three big saves -- including back-to-back stops on Grazzini and Dominic Oduro in the 62nd minute. There was nothing he could do on Pappa's winner.
Bolaños finished from crosses from Jorge Villafaña in the 68th minute and trialist Victor Chavez in the 80th. He also converted a penalty kick in the 12th minute, after Chivas director of soccer operations Kevin Esparza -- serving as referee after the officiating crew didn't show -- whistled Normando Mariscal after contact with Villafaña.
Julio Madrigal scored both goals for the Rangers, curling in a corner kick off of goalkeeper Patrick McLain's hands in the third minute and then firing the fourth-tier club ahead again 11 minutes into the second half.
Bolaños continues to assimilate into American soccer, which is a far more physical, frantic game than he's used to in Ecuador.
“Before I came here, they had told me it's a very strong soccer, and little by little I'm going to adapt and I'm going to adjust to the group,” he said.
Bolaños has made just two appearances in five MLS games, both off the bench, and is trying to work his way into the first-team starting XI. Games like these help.
CARSON -- There's plenty for Chivas USA to improve upon following its Major League Soccer opener Sunday afternoon, but the finish against the Houston Dynamo, who pulled out a 1-0 victory with nearly the last boot of the game, dampened the Goats' spirits only a smidge.
Chivas was organized, spirited and battled evenly, more or less, all afternoon with the club that played in last year's MLS Cup final, and if everything didn't quite click -- especially on attack -- there was more than enough reason for optimism.
“I'll be honest,” said midfielder Peter Vagenas, who made his Chivas debut in central midfield. “Like a lot of people, I wasn't sure what we had. ... We have character, we have heart, we fight. The soccer wasn't ideal, but let's be realistic. This team hasn't played together very much. We're facing a team that's got, I mean, how many games have Brad [Davis] and Brian [Ching] played together at this point? Right?
“At some points it was disjointed, we didn't get the service in to Juan [Pablo Angel up top], and that was frustrating, but at the end of the day we were tough, we were organized, we fought, and I promise you it's only going to get better.”
Chivas looked sharper and stronger than at any point during preseason, created four clear scoring opportunities -- with Angel volleying off a post with one and three headers, two by Angel, off-target -- and benefited from another big game by goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who solved whatever problems surfaced until almost the end.
The Goats were seconds from a 0-0 draw and a share of the points, but defender Andre Hainault lifted Houston two minutes into stoppage after Davis' corner kick was cleared. It fell outside the box to Adam Moffat, who possesses a rocket shot, and his blast appeared to deflect to Hainault.
Chivas' backline was racing forward, as it should, so Hainault was left 1-on-1 with Kennedy. The finish was simple.
“It's a tough one,” said right back James Riley, one of seven players making their club debuts for the Rojiblancos. “In practice this week, our whole focus was set pieces, because we know that's what Houston lives and dies on. I thought we defended it well, guys jumped out to the second ball and tried to block it and prevent it, and it was just one of those things that are unlucky.
“That happens. For it to happen in the 90th minute was absolutely gutting. It's a cruel game sometimes. Very cruel game.”
CARSON -- Three quick thoughts from Chivas USA's 1-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo in their Major League Soccer opener Sunday afternoon at Home Depot Center:1. AN UNJUST RESULT
Chivas deserved more from this one, and it was seconds from a scoreless draw. Andre Hainault scored in the second minute of stoppage after a ball from Adam Moffat found him in space after a corner kick had been cleared.
It seemed at times that Chivas was playing for a 0-0 draw. Injuries deprived them of at least two starters -- winger Michael Lahoud (hamstring strain) and center back John Alexander Valencia (quadriceps strain) -- and perhaps a third, although Miller Bolaños' absence from the 18 wasn't explained.
Robin Fraser's half-makeshift lineup was short on attackers, and the offense was stagnant all of the first half and until he switched from the 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-4-2 after Cesar Romero came on for Peter Vagenas an hour in. There was little overlap on the flanks, and the decision to start Ben Zemanski on the right side -- rather than put Laurent Courtois on the right rather than the left and start Ryan Smith on the left -- was a little curious.
Both teams hit the goal frame -- Juan Pablo Angel volleying a Courtois corner kick off the right, near, post in the 41st minute for Chivas; Brian Ching volleying a long Brad Davis cross off the left post in the 78th -- and Angel twice headed over the crossbar.
Chivas' most important performer was reigning team MVP Dan Kennedy, who was sharp in the nets, making 1-on-1 stops in the first half against Ching and Will Bruin, parrying bullets from Moffat and Bruin in the second half, scooping up dangerous balls under pressure on several occasions and denying Macomba Kandji at the right post in stoppage just before Hainault's winner.
2. A BETTER START
Three minutes in, and already Fraser's second season in charge had started better than his first. The Goats didn't fall behind in the second minute, weren't down by two at halftime, and didn't spend the second half battling back from deficit just to fall short.
CARSON -- Robin Fraser has bolstered his roster with 12 acquisitions since his first campaign in charge of Chivas USA closed 4½ months ago, adding experience, depth and more than a little talent to a decent base.
Will it translate to success -- and if not now, then when?
That's the biggest question facing the Goats in year two of Fraser's reign, and where they sit come the end of October -- in or out of Major League Soccer's postseason -- will determine whether it has worked.
The playoffs are the goal for Chivas, and anything less will be considered abject failure. Fraser wants more.
“You should try to win it,” he said. “The goal is to win a championship. … I've said so many times: There's no sense in being in a competition if you're not trying to win it. Obviously, at the end of the road, we're all in this trying to win an MLS Cup.”
It's a heady aim for a franchise that has won only one of eight playoff games in its history and never advanced beyond the initial stage, not even when it won the West in 2007. The Goats have missed the postseason the past two years and are still rebuilding since so many important figures departed after 2009.
Fraser took aggressive steps during this offseason and preseason, bolstering a tattered backline with the acquisitions of veteran right back James Riley and Colombian center back John Alexander Valencia, strengthening a deep midfield with, especially, Ecuadoran national-teamers Miller Bolaños and Oswaldo Minda, and improving attacking options up front, with first-round draft pick Casey Townsend, especially, demonstrating the gravitas needed to become a seasoned pro.
The most influential of players from last year -- goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, defenders Heath Pearce and Ante Jazic, midfielders Nick LaBrocca and Alejandro Moreno, star forward Juan Pablo Angel -- have returned, and Fraser and his staff have been able to build on something; camp opened last year less than two weeks after he and top assistant coach Greg Vanney were hired.
On paper, Chivas has a far better side than the one that went 8-14-12 and finished eighth among nine in the Western Conference last year, but it might take a little time before that becomes apparent.
1. WILL THE GOATS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?
No playoffs, this year's a failure, and the task appears more difficult this year than it did in 2011, when Chivas had fewer attributes. Points can't be easily conceded this year -- late leads must hold, late deficits bridged -- because once you get past the Galaxy, Seattle, RSL and, for argument's sake, FC Dallas, there are five teams, all looking most capable, in a fight for one playoff berth. A decent team might finish last. Can the Goats make the playoffs? Absolutely. Will they? We're guessing they just miss.
2. IS THIS DO-OR-DIE FOR ROBIN FRASER?
It better not be. Fraser and assistant coach Greg Vanney could go down as the best hires this franchise has ever made, and the foundation they're building could provide big success in the coming years. A lot of weird stuff goes on above them, and that's a concern -- some bright GM elsewhere should be counting down the time on Fraser's and Vanney's contracts -- but given the proper resources and support, they can do big things. Everyone wants to win. Management should be smart enough to understand what they possess.
They paled next to those pluses disguised as torment Wednesday night, when an overly physical encounter with Club Tijuana turned on a slew of yellow cards and then a red.
By the time it was over, the Xolos -- just two points off the lead in Mexico's top division -- were celebrating a 5-2 triumph at the University of San Diego's Torero Stadium in a friendly that was not very friendly at all.
Lahoud finished a superb ball from Smith to give Chivas USA a first-half advantage, but newcomer Miller Bolaños was sent off after elbowing Bruno Piceno five minutes into the second half, and that was that.
Raul Enriquez evened things three minutes later, Mauro Gerk scored a go-ahead goal that didn't appear to cross the line in the 65th minute, and Tijuana added goals on their final three shots of the half to pull away in the second San Diego Clasico, played before 4,238 fans garbed mostly in red and black Xolos shirts.
It was an often ugly encounter, with 36 fouls, seven yellow cards -- five of the them to Chivas in the first half -- and the red to Bolaños, which was a blessing, sort of, in disguise.
“There's no such thing as a friendly game ...,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said afterward. “It's part of it, though, and it's part of the experience, and it's part of getting ready for the competition of MLS. So it's good that we got a game like this.
“It's a wakeup call, certainly from the mentality of preseason games. For us, it's good to be in that sort of environment.”
The Goats had a very fine first half, with LaBrocca and Oswaldo Minda providing a foundation behind Bolaños in midfield and solid backline play, especially by Valencia, who cleaned up a Riley miscue that gave Tijuana a chance and stepping in to block a shot that might have done damage.
Smith and Lahoud, who have been forces on the flanks all preseason, hooked up in the 36th minute. Smith stripped Alejandro Molina -- one of three former first-choice players in the Xolos' fully reserve lineup -- then pushed the ball past and leapt over him as he slid in afterward. That sent the Englishman into space on the right, and Lahoud was at the far post to deposit the cross.
The 10 a.m. game, the first of nine preseason matches on the Goats' schedule, will primarily provide an opportunity to work on “our eam concepts and be able to execute certain things that are important to execute as a group,” head coach Robin Fraser said.
That's in keeping with his plan, which he took last weekend to Oxnard for a week's encampment that was designed to “narrow focus even more on short-term and long-term objectives. When you're in a captive state, you really get to focus as a group on the objectives.”
Many of those objectives are esoteric, having to do with team movement and philosophies and deepening the club's newcomers' understanding of the culture Fraser and his staff began introducing a year ago.
“We had certain objectives in mind about where we want to go where we want to be by the end of the first two weeks, and certainly we'd like to meet those objectives,” said Fraser, who declined to identify these objectives. “We have certain objectives as a team that we specifically want o get out of [Friday's] game, things hat are important for us to start to grasp and embrace as a team. ... Certain general objectives and ideals we want to be team-wide sooner than later, and then from that we can build on the specifics of what we want to be.”
Michael Lahoud's best quality, among many, is probably his versatility, and that could mean he's a man without a position of his own when Chivas USA opens its campaign come March.
He's a natural midfielder, nearly any slot, who last year received an extended look at right back. It wasn't wholly successful -- his inexperience in the position was apparent -- but he showed enough promise and possesses the necessary tools, so it likely will remain somewhere in his repertoire.
Not that the fourth-year veteran from Wake Forest thinks of himself as a backliner.
“I'm a midfielder,” Lahoud said, “so I'm looking to play in the midfield this year.”
That's where he's at his best, either in the holding spot at the bottom of the diamond or on the right flank, but that's also where the greatest competition for jobs exists. Chivas has nearly two dozen midfielders capable of starting, and most of them can fit into more than one slot in midfield.
“That makes it competitive, but competition is good. It brings the best out of everyone,” said Lahoud, 25, who is in Oxnard with the Goats during their second week of preseason camp. “Just being able to play a variety of positions definitely helps, and being able to play positions I had never played in my life definitely helps a lot. I just feel like, OK, I can do it.”
Lahoud started 29 games in midfield his first two seasons with the Goats, under Preki and Martin Vasquez, but Robin Fraser shifted him to right back last season when Jimmy Conrad was knocked out of the lineup after two games because of a concussion that ended his career. Rookie Zarek Valentin, now with Montreal, shifted from right back into the middle, and Lahoud's speed and athleticism made him an ideal candidate for transition. He made 13 of his 17 league starts on the backline, and Fraser sees him as cover for newcomer James Riley at the position.
“Mike could be a central midfielder, he could be a wide player -- he could be a wide midfielder, he could be a wide back,” Fraser said. “That's maybe the curse of being blessed with the physical gifts he's got. You try to figure out where's he best spot for him.
CARSON -- Chivas USA has been looking to tap into Southern California's rich pool of young talent, and the first real foray was on display as the club opened its preseason camp Monday morning at Home Depot Center.
Salvadoran midfielder Marvin Iraheta, who came to Chivas' academy in last year's merger with Cosmos West, was presented, sort of, as the Goats' newest signing. He was the U.S. Developmental Academy's U-17/18 Player of the Year for the 2009-10 season and played at Old Trafford last year with a Cosmos side constructed for Paul Scholes' testimonial match.
Iraheta, just 19, is looking for more.
“I'm very happy about the opportunity I'm being given,” Iraheta, who moved from El Salvador to Pasadena when he was 17 and holds a green card, said through a translator. “This is something new for me, and I'm going to work as hard as I can so I can reach the top.”
Fraser, who Monday also welcomed English midfielder Ryan Smith, right back James Riley, goalkeeper Tim Melia and rookie forward Casey Townsend to the club, not only likes Iraheta, but also what he represents.
“Marvin is a tremendous product of Southern California soccer,” the Goats' head coach said. “He's a kid who was the Development Academy's Player of the Year a couple year back, certainly highly sought-after, well-recognized for his achievements. He's a non-nonsense, hard-working midfielder. He's a battler. He's a true competitor.
“It's great. This is what we've talked about since we got here [a year ago]: to be able to find and unearth some of the local talent that's here, and Marvin is a good example of that. he's a kid who's excelled as a youth player and is certainly moving into this next stage of his career.”
Another local talent, former Chivas Academy defender Mario Ledezma, is on trial with the Goats. The El Camino Real High School grad had been in Guadalajara's system.
CARSON -- Chivas USA's preparations for the 2012 season began with medical exams Sunday and moves onto good, old Field 6 at Home Depot Center on Monday morning, with head coach Robin Fraser welcoming a lot of new faces -- and not all of them, by any means, under contract.
The Goats have unloaded nearly half their 2011 roster and added a half-dozen or so new names, and if Fraser's second preseason in charge is anything like the first, plenty of trialists will get a look.
Chivas brass last year looked at more than 80 players, including academy kids, as Fraser and general manager Jose Domene presided over a rebuild that the coach said was more building “from scratch.”
Fraser's idea this year is to have a team in place as the preseason starts, but he's got roster spots to fill and areas of great need and not all negotiations are finished. Five players will be added in Tuesday's supplemental draft, and another overseas signing is possible.
Here's a quick look at the Goats as their campaign begins:
- LAST YEAR?
Nonetheless, Fraser and his staff built a strong foundation, several players -- especially goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, midfielder Nick LaBrocca and defender Heath Pearce -- enjoyed remarkable seasons and the addition of Juan Pablo Angel, in an August trade from the Galaxy, gave the Goats their first top-class MLS striker since Ante Razov.
A deal with Colombian center back John Alexander Valencia is nearing completion, a Chivas USA source confirmed, and could be completed as the club hits the field Monday to begin preseason preparations.
Valencia, 30, has played for Colombian perennial Junior, from Barranquilla, since 2007. Previous clubs include Independiente Medellin, Atletico Bucaramanga and Romania's Otelul Galati.
The move to Chivas was first reported last week by Diario Deportes, a sports newspaper published in Barranquilla.
The Goats have only four distinct defenders on their roster -- left back Ante Jazic, center backs Heath Pearce and David Junior Lopes and right back James Riley -- and several midfielders who can play in the back.