Los Angeles Soccer: Jorge Villafana
Chivas USA's quest for a trophy ended the same place its last real quest met its end, where every quest, at least for this trophy, seems to come to a close.
The Goats ran into the Seattle Sounders in Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup semifinals, and if their usual trouble spots -- an inability to create chances, costly mistakes in the worst places -- hadn't put them at a sizable disadvantage, then surely the reigning champs' attacking prowess would have done the trick.
The Sounders advanced to a fourth straight U.S. Open Cup title game -- and perhaps an unprecedented fourth straight triumph -- with a 4-1 romp in Tukwila, Wash., where they are 17-0 in the 99-year-old tournament.
Eddie Johnson gave Seattle a 31st-minute lead, Osvaldo Alonso converted a penalty kick at the start of the second half, and Cesar Romero's strike to halve the deficit with about 20 minutes to go was answered by UC Irvine product Brad Evans and Riverside's Sammy Ochoa near the end.
Chivas, which hasn't won a trophy in its 7 1/2-year history, failed in its biggest match since falling in the semifinals two years ago to the Sounders on the same Starfire Sports Complex turf.
“Early in the game was exactly as we expected it to be: a battle for territory, not giving anything up, getting into good spots,” head coach Robin Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles. “I really thought it was going exactly as expected. Then we made a mistake to give up a bad goal, made another mistake for a bad goal to start the second half, then we're chasing the game.”
Chivas, despite ample possession, couldn't penetrate, and the service from the wings wasn't good enough. Starfire's narrow dimensions caused problems, and the Goats didn't get off a shot until the 58th minute -- and didn't get off a good one until Romero, who provided a big spark off the bench, made it 2-1 in the 74th.
That has been the recurring theme all season: Chivas has only 17 goals over 21 games in all competitions, and it's not because chances aren't being taken.
“I'd say I'm running short on patience in terms of scoring goals,” said Fraser, whose team has been shut out in three of its last four Major League Soccer matches and scored more than once only four times all year, twice against lower-level Open Cup opposition. “We'll just continue to work at it, continue to try to get the ball in dangerous spots.”
Seattle will face Sporting Kansas City in the final Aug. 8 at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
Sporting won, 2-0, at Philadelphia, with Jacob Peterson tallying from Graham Zusi's free kick in the 65th minute and -- with Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath pushed forward in search of an equalizer -- Zusi scoring from midfield into an empty net deep into stoppage.
CARSON -- Chivas USA on Saturday night offered more of the same thing it's been offering all season long: solid defense, not enough chances -- not nearly enough goals.
None, in fact. The scoreless draw with Vancouver, a most reasonable result, was the sixth time the Goats have been shut out in 10 Major League Soccer home games this season, and coach Robin Fraser's dissection of the match had a familiar ring to it.
Chivas (5-7-5, 20 points) came close to scoring four times in the final 20 minutes after creating virtually nothing for the first 70 in another frustrating evening in a season full of them.
“I thought we were probably too passive at the beginning of the game,” Fraser said, echoing his comments from several games past. “We want to be able to push the tempo and push the pace, but in the first half things were too slow. ... The second half I felt the urgency was much better. Certainly the second half of the second half, I thought it was very good.
“We created a number of chances. Ultimately, we need to be able to finish one of those. ... More than anything, we came out of it as a group realizing the urgency we saw in the second half is something we need to see more of.”
The Goats were fine defensively, preventing Vancouver (8-4-6, 30 points) from creating anything particularly dangerous. The Whitecaps used a numerical advantage in midfield, made more pronounced by defensive midfielder Oswaldo Minda's absence because of his second yellow card-accumulation suspension of the season, to find their way to Chivas' box four times in the first 15 minutes, but they, too, lacked urgency.
“We did have decent looks from the edge of the box and didn't shoot, so that was the biggest thing we talked about in the locker room,” Vancouver coach Martin Rennie said. “If you have half a chance, you have to shoot. Even if it doesn't go in, it might deflect, it might come back off the goalkeeper. Who knows?”
Chivas matched up with Vancouver in the second half, switching from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-2-3-1, and that was more of less it for the Whitecaps' offense. With rookie speedster Darren Mattocks sidelined with his own yellow-cards suspension, the 'Caps lacked the pace to stretch the Goats' superb backline.
CARSON -- Chivas USA has survived stiff tests from two lower-division teams to reach the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals for just the second time, and they know that's not about to change.
The Charlotte Eagles, the Goats' foe in Tuesday night's final-eight showdown at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium, have an air of destiny about them -- and a belief, tested and proved, they can handle whatever a Major League Soccer team throws at them.
The third-division club has shown it already, winning its first three matches in the 99th edition of America's longest-running soccer tournament on the road, in Texas, the last two against higher-division teams. The defining result: 2-0 over FC Dallas, the MLS club.
“We feel like we deserve to be here, because we've really put some good games together,” said Charlotte head coach Mark Steffens, whose team also beat second-tier San Antonio Scorpions in the fourth round. “Now if we added all of our play the whole season, I'd say, no, we don't deserve to be here. But the way we've played the second half of the season, it hasn't been a surprise winning a few big games.”
The Eagles, who are affiliated with Christian group Missionary Athletes International and, Steffens says, consider their religious mission more important than winning trophies, are ninth in the 11-team USL Pro with a 3-8-2 record (and a game at home Thursday against the L.A. Blues). They're 6-4-1, including the Open Cup wins, since the end of April, and the losses have come to the league's Nos. 1 and 3 teams and to longtime rival Richmond Kickers, a result they answered in a 4-1 romp a week and a half ago.
“Our turnaround has been defensively,” Steffens said. “So we're not going to do anything different than we've done [during a 4-2-1 run] the last six weeks. We're just working on defending and defending as a unit and getting behind the ball, so that's what we're going to do. If we can counter and get one [goal], it's always good to get ahead.”
Chivas, which made it to the semifinals two years ago, understands well Charlotte's approach. The Goats have had to battle to get past amateur powerhouse Ventura County Fusion in the third round, then needed a Juan Pablo Angel penalty kick in stoppage to beat second-tier Carolina RailHawks three weeks ago.
“In some respect, these games are harder than MLS games because you're playing guys who are salivating at the mouth, and that's always difficult,” said Chivas midfielder Peter Vagenas, who has won four Open Cups, twice with the Galaxy and twice with three-time defending champion Seattle Sounders. “You're playing teams that are desperate and have nothing to lose, and that's always difficult. ...
“By no means are we taking it lightly. The first two games were, quote-unquote, lesser opponents, and at some point they gave us everything we could handle, and we expect more of the same. We have to make sure that we match [their] intensity, and if we match [their] intensity -- this is no disrespect to them -- but certainly our soccer will prevail.”
CARSON -- Chivas USA has been stung four times this year by late goals that cost it a win or a draw, so there was great enjoyment derived Wednesday night from getting a a winner near the finish.
Juan Pablo Angel's looping, off-balance header from Jorge Villafaña's cross in the 82nd minute delivered to the Goats a 2-1 victory over expansion Montreal, prodding them to within one point of fifth place following a performance that did much to alleviate the disappointment of last weekend's loss to Real Salt Lake.
Alejandro Moreno also scored, after Juan Agudelo connected with Cesar Romero's corner kick in the 14th minute, and Chivas (5-7-3) grabbed points for the fifth time in their last six Major League Soccer encounters.
“Now that feels a little better, doesn't it,” said goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who had to deal with a few scrambles in his box -- one immediately after Angel's goal in heavy smoke from a supporters group's celebrations behind his net -- but not a whole lot else. “That was good. Really, that game was there for the taking, and we've talked all week just about winning, and we found a way to win tonight.
“Just a class finish by Juan. That's what he is who he is: goals like that.”
The Goats were more aggressive in the final third -- their primary focus as the season nears its midpoint -- and got more from its wide play, even with lead wingers Ryan Smith out because of a concussion and Laurent Courtois on the bench.
“We've been trying to emphasize with the wide players that we need to get the ball in the box more, because at the end of the day that's where you score goals,” said Angel, who netted just his third goal of the season and his 71st in 5 1/2 MLS seasons. “And today we have a great cross by Cesar out of a corner kick and we score, and then another cross, another goal.
“I think today was a game where we probably crossed the ball more than we ever have. At the end of that day, that's what we have to do, and we have to do it consistently.”
Montreal (4-8-3) was just as good as the Goats, for the most part. Not as dangerous, perhaps, but deserving of a point after Felipe Martins beat an otherwise excellent Ben Zemanski to finish Davy Arnaud's serve just before halftime.
That answered Chivas' goal, which went to Moreno after Agudelo raced past Zarek Valentin to volley Romero's corner kick off the Goats' captain, who was squared up with a defender in the goalmouth.
CARSON -- Jesse Marsch returns Wednesday night to Home Depot Center, his home for nearly half a decade, and if it's nothing special to him -- and he says it isn't -- it is for the guys he played alongside.
Marsch, who has the Montreal Impact (4-7-3) humming along nicely for an expansion side, takes his team up against Chivas USA (4-7-3), the club he captained during its golden era under Bob Bradley and Preki, when making the playoffs were more than a dream and the deepest disappointment was failing to extend regular-season success into the postseason.
Marsch was more than the leader of the Chivas teams from 2006 to 2009: He set the Goats' standard for, well, nearly everything.
“I'm excited. I'm excited to play him,” said goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, one of three players, with Ante Jazic and Jorge Villafaña, who remain from Marsch's tenure. “He was the man. I mean, he was really a great, great teammate. He was an incredible leader I tried to learn a lot from. He really set the bar high for my expectation of what a captain is.”
Marsch, a gritty defensive midfielder who made up for a lack of size, discernible speed and sublime ball skill with an intensity and intelligence that gave him a 14-year Major League Soccer career and prepped him for a manager's job while winning the players' respect.
His teammates adored him.
“You knew right away he'd have a successful future in the game as a coach,” said Jazic, who arrived in 2009 from the Galaxy. “Very cerebral guy and a great locker-room guy and a great person in general. ... He was a coach in the locker room, a coach on the field.”
“He was the general,” said Kennedy, who has been with the Goats since 2008. “He demanded a lot out of his teammates, and he made us better as an individual and better as a team. ... He had a very big part in turning this franchise in the right direction.”
Said Villafaña: “He was the heart of the team.”
VENTURA -- The way its Major League Soccer brethren were dropping games left and right, Chivas USA couldn't be too disappointed after capturing its U.S. Open Cup opener Tuesday night, even if the performance left plenty to be desired.
The Goats got an early goal, from Cesar Romero, and withstood heavy pressure at times to pull out a 1-0 victory over the Ventura County Fusion and advance to a fourth-round meeting next week in North Carolina.
The Fusion, an amateur powerhouse from the Premier Development League -- and featuring former Chivas midfielder Rodrigo Lopez and two players, Kennedy Chongo and Daniel Steres, who were with the Goats during preseason -- were the better side much of the night but couldn't beat Tim Melia, the No. 2 goalkeeper, despite creating more opportunities than Chivas.
“In a single-elimination tournament, the most important thing is to win, and these games are tough,” Goats coach Robin Fraser said. “The 'underdog' really treats it like it's a huge game, and certainly we need to as well, but as you can tell by tonight with seven teams losing in the MLS, these are difficult games.
“So to come out and win and move onto the next round is the most important thing.”
An expected SuperClasico showdown with the Galaxy was dead before kickoff -- L.A. was one of seven MLS clubs to lose against lower-division competition -- so Chivas has a date next Tuesday in Cary, N.C., with the Carolina RailHawks.
“[Playing the Galaxy] is what we expected,” said Chivas winger Ryan Smith, an Englishman, “but this is like the F.A. Cup back home. You don't know who's going to win because it's who turns up on the day. I'm glad L.A. are out.”
Chivas managed only a couple of chances and tested Ventura's goalkeeper, UCLA's Earl Edwards, only once, on Romero's 13th-minute goal. He took a through ball from Juan Agudelo, and his low shot nutmegged Edwards from right of the net.
It was Romero's first goal for Chivas' first team, but his 12th in all for Chivas, including preseason, MLS Reserve League and reserve friendlies.
“I’ve been knocking on the door [of the first team],” said Romero, who has played sparingly the past six week. “Every day is a new day for me, and every day I train and work hard for the main goal which is to start on the first team.”
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.
Peter Vagenas, a 2000 Olympian, made sure to give the 22-year-old defender an earful.
During a break in a short-sided drill Wednesday morning at Home Depot Center, the veteran midfielder needled Villafaña about the United States' failure to advance from group play in CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament. The Americans, with Villafaña at left back, surrendered a late, late goal in a 3-3 draw with El Salvador that ended their run toward this summer's London Games.
Vagenas brought up El Salvador, and he also mentioned Canada, which beat the U.S., 2-0, on Saturday, exposing the underbelly of a side that, all assumed, was a sure thing to make it to the Olympics.
“I asked him,” Vagenas said afterward, “if they were going to just replay the 2000 Olympic Games [men's soccer matches] during the time slots that were scheduled for them this summer.”
That 2000 team, Vagenas remembers well, was among the most memorable in American Olympic history, winning its group and making a stunning sprint to the semifinals before losses to Spain and Chile left them fourth.
Villafaña laughed when asked about the stick. “We knew that we were going to get this from everybody,” he said, “but there's not much we can do right now, just focus with Chivas.”
SHEDDING TEARS: Villafaña has been through a range of emotions the past few days. He was seconds from playing this weekend for a berth in London when Jaime Alas' long-range shot bounced off Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson and into the net, a catastrophic result that prompted heated criticism of the team, of coach Caleb Porter, and of U.S. Soccer -- a sign, at the very least, that American soccer fans and observers are nothing if not passionate.
“Everybody was shocked,” Villafaña said Wednesday. “We were winning, 3-2, and the last second you get scored, and you're out of the tournament. Everybody was on the ground crying. I don't even know what I was supposed -- it was bad. But soccer's like that, you know.”
“Sueño MLS,” Major League Soccer's reality-television search for untapped talent, returns to Home Depot Center this year, and Chivas USA is one of three participating clubs.
The Goats staged the program's greatest success story, unearthing inaugural winner Jorge Villafaña, who's in his sixth season with the club and currently off with the U.S. under-23 national team trying to nail down an Olympic berth.
Tryouts begin next month for the seventh edition of “Sueño MLS,” and the final stage, with five players each from events staged by the Goats, FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders, will be held in Southern California with a winner declared May 13 on Univision's “Republica Deportivo.”
Players ages 14-18 (born May 14, 1994, through April 13, 1998) are eligible, and up to 500 tryout slots will be available with each of the three MLS clubs. Registration began Sunday at the “Sueño MLS” website. Chivas tryouts are scheduled for April 28-29. http://www.mlssoccer.com/sueno
The winner will join his sponsoring club's youth academy, and the top goalkeeper will train with an MLS club. Former Columbus Crew star Guillermo Barros Schelotto, a Boca Juniors legend who won MLS's MVP award in 2008, and retired Mexican goalkeeper Adolfo Rios will work with the finalists in the So Cal camp.
Villafaña (Anaheim/Anaheim HS), 22, is the only “Sueño” winner to make an MLS roster, but 2009 co-winner Gabriel Funes Mori, who emerged from FC Dallas tryouts, plays in Argentina for River Plate. Downey's Briant Reyes (D0wney HS), who shared the 2009 title with Funes Mori, played at Cerritos College and last fall for Kansas Wesleyan University.
Chivas participated in the 2007 and 2008 events and the Galaxy in 2009 and 2010. Last year's clubs were Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia.
The bad news arrived for the U.S. under-23 national team before kickoff, and it just got worse. And now the Americans' qualification for this summer's London Olympics is in doubt.
U.S. Soccer announced before the game that star forward Juan Agudelo had suffered a torn meniscus and was returning to the New York Red Bulls for rehab. The team responded with a listless performance against Canada, marked by criminal defensive work on two set pieces that irretrievably altered CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament.
The expected outcome -- that the Americans and Mexico would be the region's representatives in London -- appears almost certainly dead.
Canada tallied twice off corner kicks for a stunning 2-0 victory Saturday in Nashville, and it can win the Group A title with an expected victory Monday over last-place Cuba, a 4-0 loser to El Salvador.
The U.S. needs a victory over the Salvadorans to finish second, which likely would set up a clash with Mexico with an Olympic berth on the line. Form (and Agudelo's absence) suggests the Americans would struggle in such a matchup; one of two upsets -- Cuba over Canada or, Sunday at Home Depot Center, Honduras over Mexico -- would be necessary to avoid the showdown.
Only the semifinal winners March 31 in Kansas City, Kan., qualify for the Olympics.
Keeping tabs on the road to London:
- WHAT HAPPENED?
The Americans lacked spark, were outbattled and fell apart defensively, and that was enough for Canada to claim a deserved triumph.
Both goals came from corner kicks on which D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid's shortcomings were key.
The local games include Mexico and Honduras, which figure to battle the U.S. for the region's two berths in England. Plenty of Major League Soccer players will take part, including Galaxy midfielder Michael Stephens and Chivas USA left back Jorge Villafaña, who are on Caleb Porter's U.S. roster.
In all, some 24 players on MLS books and one more whose rights are held by an MLS club, are set for the tournament, which wraps up in Kansas City, Kan., with the March 31 semifinals determining the London-bound teams and the title game on April 2.
Fourteen on the U.S.'s 20-man roster are from the league, and six more (plus one) play for Canada, which will battle the U.S. in Group A. Honduras and fellow Group B sides Panama and Trinidad & Tobago also draw from MLS.
Here is the list of MLS players:
United States: Goalkeepers Bill Hamid (D.C. United ) and Sean Johnson (Chicago), defenders Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Ike Opara (San Jose), Kofi Sarkodie (Houston), Zarek Valentin (Montreal), Jorge Villafaña (Chivas USA) and Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia), midfielders Freddy Adu (Philadelphia), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia) and Michael Stephens (Galaxy), and forwards Juan Agudelo (New York), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City) and Brek Shea (FC Dallas).
Canada: Defenders Nana Attakora (rights held by San Jose), Doneil Henry (Toronto FC) and Matt Stinson (Toronto FC), midfielders Russell Teibert (Vancouver), Bryce Alderson (Vancouver) and Evan James (Montreal), and forward Babayele Sodade (Seattle).
Honduras: Midfielder Andy Najar (D.C. United).
Panama: Defender Carlos Rodriguez (FC Dallas).
Trinidad & Tobago: Midfielder Kevan George (Columbus) and forward Cordell Cato (Seattle).
Here are this week's power rankings:
1. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (1-0-0, 3 points), Last Week: 1
Last week: First-leg win in the CONCACAF Champions League counts for nothing after Mexico's Santos Laguna romps, 6-1, in the quarterfinal second leg; UCLA product David Estrada wins MLS Player of the Week honors after his hat trick beats Toronto FC, 3-1.
We say: Sprained knee puts Mauro Rosales out for “a couple of weeks … could be a little more,” Sigi Schmid says.
Pivotal player: At least three: forward Fredy Montero and midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Mauro Rosales.
Next: Friday vs. Houston, 7 p.m. (NBC Sports).
2. REAL SALT LAKE (2-0-0, 6 points), LW: 2
Last week: Fabian Espindola and Garden Grove's Luis Gil tally as RSL tops early Supporters' Shield standings following 2-0 win over New York.
We say: Espindola's next goal, his 29th, will tie Robbie Findley's club record.
Pivotal player: Playmaker Javier Morales makes things flow.
Next: Saturday vs. Chivas USA, 6 p.m. (Prime Ticket and KWHY/Channel 22).
3. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (2-0-0, 6 points), LW: 4
Last week: Kei Kamara and Graham Zusi each contribute a goal and assist in 3-0 rout of New England.
We say: Sporting up for Sports Team of the Year, Livestrong Sporting Park a finalist for Sports Facility of the Year in Sports Business Awards.
Pivotal player: It's increasingly becoming Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong.
Next: Sunday vs. FC Dallas, 4 p.m. (Galavision).
CARSON -- Jorge Villafaña celebrated his call-up to the U.S. Olympic qualifying roster Monday with 90 solid minutes in a friendly against the L.A. Blues. The Goats' 1-0 defeat at Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium couldn't knock the smile from his face.
“I'm happy to be called up for the qualifiers,” said Villafaña, who as Jorge Flores (he legally adopted his mother's name last fall) made Chivas' roster five years ago after winning a television competition for the chance. “Can't wait to be there with my teammates and the national team. It's going to be a great experience and a good opportunity for all the players who will be there.”
Villafaña was among 19 players on University of Akron coach Caleb Porter's U.S. under-23 national team roster for the March 22-April 2 qualifying tournament, which will determine CONCACAF's two entrants for the men's soccer tournament at this summer's London Games. Home Depot Center will stage one of the first-round groups, but the U.S. will play in Nashville, Tenn., with the all-important semifinals and the title game in Kansas City, Kan.
Galaxy midfielder Michael Stephens, former UCLA midfielder Amoki Okugo (with Philadelphia), former Chivas defender Zarek Valentin (with Montreal) and San Diego's Joe Corona (with Club Tijuana) are part of the group set to convene Tuesday in Nashville. Porter has one player to add before the 20-man tournament roster must be finalized March 20.
Villafaña, who in the last year has been converted from left-sided midfielder to left back, grew immensely the past two seasons and impressed the U.S. staff during a January camp with the U.S. U-23s and last month's stint in Frisco, Texas, before a Feb. 29 victory over Mexico's U-23s. He's the first-choice backup for Ante Jazic with Chivas, and Goats coach Robin Fraser likes how he's developing.
“You get picked for a national team, you're obviously doing something right,” said Fraser, who made 26 international appearances for the full U.S. national team from 1988 to 2001. “I think he's a determined player who wants to play well wherever he's put on the field. An opportunity arose for him [at left back], and he's taken in and run with it. … I just think his confidence and understanding has grown greatly.”
It led to a three-goal deficit by halftime, and only a second-half rally, after Fraser made wholesale changes, salvaged some positives in a 3-2 closed-door loss on L.A.'s training field at Home Depot Center.
“First half really poor. Really poor,” Fraser reported afterward. “We had too many turnovers and not enough ideas to deal with the way that they were playing. I was disappointing to come out and start that way. I think the second half, we came out with as little more resolve against how we wanted to play against them, and as a result we were able to turn the game a bit in our favor and create some good opportunities.
“This is part of the learning process. You're going to see different sorts of teams. And I think the way the Galaxy play, this is the first time we've seen a team that plays [so directly], and we just have to learn from it.”
Miscues from trusted hands, including backline leader Heath Pearce and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, contributed to the first-half fallout, with the Galaxy scoring on easy finishes from Pat Noonan (after a takeaway), Adam Cristman (after a backpass disaster) and Dan Keat (after rookie Rafael Garcia sliced through the defense).
“Errors in the back are never good,” Fraser said. “We had guys make mistakes today who are good players and know the consequences of making mistakes like that in big games. So certainly we feel again like this is something we have to learn from. We have to recognize opportunities [to score], we have to be cleaner. You can't turn the ball over 35 yards from your goal. You just can't.
“I feel like we're taking steps forward, but it's always disappointing whenever you shoot yourself in the foot.”
Michael Lahoud, who arguably has been Chivas' best player through six preseason matches, said the first half “wasn't good enough.”
“We want to be a team of ambition,” he said. “We want to be a team that competes, especially when we play against these guys -- they're neighbors, they're our rivals, and it's never an easy game. But that doesn't excuse the way we came out. We came out flat and passes weren't connected.”
ON A FLIGHT FROM GUADALAJARA TO LOS ANGELES -- The messages were simple -- Chivas USA is striving to reach unprecedented heights; the club is an evolution from its Guadalajara namesake -- but the medium was anything but.
The local Major League Soccer club took to the skies this week to unveil its new jersey, part of larger marketing scheme meant to surprise and dazzle while embracing tradition. If there was a measure of the ridiculous to it all, well, that was the point.
With star striker Juan Pablo Angel, club-MVP goalkeeper Dan Kennedy and iconic local defender Jorge Villafaña serving as runway models, Chivas USA introduced its new look -- not particularly different than the old one -- on a flight Wednesday afternoon from Guadalajara to Los Angeles.
It was a flight like none other.
“We think it's very important to innovate, to do something very unique,” said Rodrigo Morales, who joined Chivas USA 14 months ago as vice president of marketing of sponsorship following four years in a business development for Club Deportivo Guadalajara, the Goats' parent club. “We decided to do something very creative, very unique, and to do something that's never been done in the airline industry and also the sports industry.”
Mission accomplished. This was certainly a first.
Chivas USA on Tuesday flew club executives and players, two members of the ChivaGirls dance team, representatives of sponsors and partners, plus several media to Guadalajara, where there was time to eat, sleep, eat and head back to the airport little more than 12 hours later.