Los Angeles Soccer: Jose Miranda
Bright Dike scored his first goal for the Blues and set up Matt Fondy's finale as L.A. (3-2-1) completed a two-day sweep of lesser sides with a 3-0 romp Saturday night at Pittsburgh (2-5-0).
All three goals came in the second half as the Blues overcame a slow start and gradually assumed command starting about halfway through the first 45 minutes.
Ricky Waddell scored a stunning goal in the first minute of the second half, running onto a bouncing ball and half-volleying it into the upper-left corner from 25 yards to send L.A. ahead.
Dike, who Tuesday joined the Blues on loan from Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, chipped over Riverhounds goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap six minutes later from Fondy's ball over the top. Fondy, who played last season for Pittsburgh, netted his second of the season from a Dike feed in the 69th.
The Riverhounds' best chances arrived early, with David Leon hitting the right post in the third minute and former New York Red Bulls youngster Matt Kassel firing at Blues goalkeeper Jose Miranda when 1-on-1 in the eighth minute.
Russell pounced on a loose ball in the box following a corner kick to give the Blues a 1-0 USL Pro victory Friday night at Dayton, his team-best second goal of the season.
It was a make-up play for the 31-year-old Scot, who had skied a penalty kick well over the crossbar just 12 minutes earlier. His other goal, in last week's win over Wilmington, was from the penalty spot.
The victory extended L.A.'s unbeaten streak to three games with another match set for Saturday night at Pittsburgh. The Blues (2-2-1) vaulted from 10th to fifth in 11-team league and remained nine points off the third-division lead. Dayton (0-3-2) is in last place.
Bright Dike made his presence felt in his first appearance for the Blues, forcing a point-blank save from Dutch Lions goalkeeper Matt Williams in the 26th minute and drawing the foul from Mettin Copier for Russell's 67th-minute spot kick, but Ladislas Bushiri made the biggest difference after coming on in the second half.
The big Congolese-born Canadian, making just his second appearance of the season, entered in the 61st minute for Cheun-Yong Park to change L.A.'s formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1. He clamped down on Dayton's midfield game, got involved in the attack and played the most prominent role as the Blues took charge for the final half-hour.
The Rochester Rhinos took advantage of Blues miscues to score goals six minutes apart early in the second half Friday night to post a 2-0 triumph, dropping L.A. to 0-5-2 all-time at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium and into the cellar in the third-tier USL Pro, at least until Wilmington and Harrisburg tangle Sunday.
“I'm baffled right now, I got to be honest,” said Blues head coach/GM Charlie Naimo, whose team lost its opener last week to the Rhinos, 1-0. “We wasted a half -- the first half they were there for the taking, the energy wasn't there in their team, and we didn't take advantage of it. ...
“Not a poor performance. I can't look at it and say we're bad. We're not bad. We do things well, we just can't get that elusive goal.”
Rochester goalkeeper Kristian Nicht came up big twice, making a diving stop on Irving Garcia in the 29th minute and parrying a Ricky Waddell free kick in the 73rd. The Blues' other chances -- a Garcia shot off the post, a deflected Bryan Burke blast that just went wide, and a Burke header that bounced past the upper-right corner of the net, all in the second half -- weren't on target.
“I'm a bit shell-shocked, to be honest, the fact that we lost, 2-0,” said Waddell, the captain. “That's the way soccer is. Credit to Rochester, because they came out with a game plan, same as last week -- exact same -- sat [back] and came out and attacked us, and they've done very well, and we weren't good enough to cope with that. We've got to look at that carefully as a team to sort that out.”
Hollywood United FC has a storied past, featuring more big names than the Galaxy could hope to sign -- movie stars, musicians and former footballers -- but it's reaching its greatest heights as a competitive club rather than a novelty act.
The Hitmen (13-2-1) are in Madison, Ala., this week for the National Premier Soccer League's final four, just 180 minutes from their first national title. They meet the Milwaukee Bavarians (8-2-2) in the first semifinal Thursday, and the winner takes on the Erie Admirals (11-1-1) or Jacksonville United (6-4-0) in Saturday's final.
Here's a quick take on Hollywood United:
ORIGINS: God save the queen, indeed! Former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook were behind HUFC's formation in the late 1980s, spurred by an English ex-pat community of actors and musicians that gathered regularly at The Cat & the Fiddle, the Sunset Boulevard pub.
STAR POWER: HUFC played for years in L.A.-area amateur leagues, but it made its name in charity matches and exhibitions, bringing teams loaded with Hollywood vets and former soccer stars.
Anthony La Paglia, a fine goalkeeper in his youth, has supported the club financially and on the field, and others in red and black include actors Gilles Marini, Jimmy Jean-Louis and Donal Logue, musicians Ian Astbury, Robbie Williams, Ziggy Marley, director Danny Cannon and lots of big-name players, from Franck Leboeuf, a defender for France's 1998 World Cup championship team, to Scottish great Richard Gough to notorious English Premier League hard man-turned-Hollywood tough guy Vinnie Jones to American soccer Hall of Famers Eric Wynalda, Alexi Lalas and John Harkes.
Was it a conference-title preview we saw Sunday, when the National Premier Soccer League's divisional winners wrapped up their regular seasons with a showdown in San Diego?
Hollywood United FC certainly hopes not. A red card, two injuries and the decision to rest two influential starters contributed to a 5-1 loss to the San Diego Flash, which posted the Western Conference's best record on the field (12-1-1) if not on the official books (10-3-1, after two forfeits).
HUFC (11-2-1, including one of the forfeit wins) can figure on another meeting next week perhaps -- the schedule has not been determined by the league, but July 16 sounds reasonable -- with a berth in the NPSL final four in Alabama on the line.
The Hitmen, who won the Northwest Flight and last week claimed the No. 1 seed for the conference final four, open the playoffs Saturday night against the Santa Ana Winds (8-4-2) at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. The Flash, Southwest Flight winners, are home against the Sacramento Gold (7-3-4) in the other semifinal.
Hollywood United, which lost its second game of the year to the Flash (a 3-1 decision that turned into a 3-0 win) and went unbeaten in the next nine, took both its losses last week. Thousand Oaks' FC Hasental (6-5-3), which made a late, failed run for a playoff berth, pulled out a 2-1 victory last Tuesday night that had HUFC, in its official game report, calling Los Conejos “by far the best team [we've] faced all year.”
It followed with a 6-0 rout of Lancaster's Rattlers FC to guarantee the conference's top record, led by Andy Contreras' hat trick and two goals from Jose Miranda.
More on local clubs and players:
Hollywood United's move to the National Premier Soccer League has been successful if perhaps a mite or two too easy.
The Hitmen (10-0-1), bolstered by new signing Carlos Carrillo (from Salvadoran power Isidro Metapan) and the return of Nick Blanco (from ousted USL Pro side Puerto Rico United), clinched the Northwest Division title last weekend with a 4-1 drilling of the Sonoma County Sol. Blanco scored, and Jose Miranda netted his league-best 10th goal of the campaign.
That gives HUFC a 13-point lead on reigning league champ Sacramento Gold (5-3-3) with three regular-season games to go. The competition was surely better in the USL Premier Development League; the Hitmen are averaging four goals per game in the lower-cost NPSL and have won four games by at least four goals and two more by three.
The Southwest Division race tightened with one very unexpected result: San Diego Boca 3, San Diego Flash 2.
The Flash (7-3-0) came in perfect on the field (they forfeited two victories, one over Hollywood United, for using an ineligible player), and they rallied from a two-goal deficit on Larry Emeanua's eighth and ninth goals, the equalizer on a bicycle kick three minutes into stoppage. Boca (5-5-1) prevailed on Juan Perez's strike with virtually the final touch of the game.
That leaves the Flash and the Santa Ana Winds (7-3-0) even on points with four games to play and set to meet Sunday in San Diego. The Winds were clobbered, 4-0, in the first meeting June 4, and they dropped another last weekend against Sacramento.
More on local clubs and players:
PDL: Big weeks for UCLA's Chandler Hoffman and Fernando Monge with Orange County Blue Star and La Caņada Flintridge's Ryan Shaw with Southern California Seahorses.
Hollywood United FC is mowing down most of the competition in the National Premier Soccer League, perhaps a little flummoxed that the level of the other teams -- San Diego Flash and perhaps Santa Ana Winds aside -- isn't quite what they saw most nights in the Premier Development League.
This week it was the Bay Area Ambassadors who took a beating, a 7-0 decision that kept HUFC (6-1-0) atop the Southwest Flight. The Hitmen, who scored six second-half goals, have struck 32 times in seven games, 30 in a five-game winning streak that has featured four shutouts.
Rene Corona (Corona/Centennial HS and Santa Ana College) was this week's hero, joining the Hitmen's hat-trick club with goals in the 19th, 58th and 78th minutes. Former Chivas USA winger Brent Whitfield (Long Beach/Poly HS and Cal State Fullerton) and Cuban forward Jose Miranda had registered three-goal games in HUFC's two previous encounters.
Whitfield scored twice and Miranda added a goal against Bay Area.
Hollywood United FC has piled up 23 goals in its past four games, setting scoring standards that could make the Hitmen the class of the National Premier Soccer League's Western Division.
Only San Diego Flash -- not nearly as flashy but just as successful, perhaps more, than HUFC -- seems to stand between the revered L.A. side and the division title.
Hollywood United improved to 5-1-0 last weekend with a 5-3 romp over San Diego Boca as Cuban forward Jose Miranda netted a hat trick, the club's second in as many matches. Former Chivas USA winger Brent Whitfield (Long Beach/Poly HS and Cal State Fullerton) scored three in the 11-0 destruction of Real San Jose eight days earlier.
Rene Corona (Corona/Centennial HS and Santa Ana College) also tallied twice as HUFC remained ahead of the Flash (5-0-0) on goal difference -- it's plus-19 to plus-9 -- and impressive wins. HUFC crushed both of the divisions Northern California powers on a mid-April trek north; the Flash beat the Sonoma County Sol, 1-0, in San Diego last weekend.
The victory that matters most was the Flash's over HUFC, which took a first-half lead through Miranda but surrendered two second-half goals in a 3-1 decision.
Elsewhere in the NPSL:
- Santa Ana Winds (3-1-0) ran their winning streak to three games, beating Rattlers FC, 3-0, in Palmdale as Diego Turoldo (Torrance/North Torrance HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills) scored his third and fourth goals and Mike Piechota (Cal State Dominguez Hills) added a goal and an assist. The teams meet again Saturday in Santa Ana.
- Omar De La Piedra (L.A. Mission College) scored a big goal for the second straight week, lifting Thousand Oaks' FC Hasental (1-3-1) to a 2-2 draw with visiting Bay Area Ambassadors. Johnny Gonzalez netted his third goal for Los Conejos.
PREMIER DEVELOPMENT LEAGUE: UCLA sophomore Chandler Hoffman scored twice and assisted San Diego County high-schooler Adrian Avila's goal as Orange County Blue Star opened its Premier Development League campaign with a 4-0 romp over the L.A. Legends.
Hollywood United FC is finding that the National Premier Soccer League's Western Division not as tough as it hoped it would be.
The Hitmen, atop the Southwest Flight, hammered Real San Jose, 11-0, on Saturday night to improve to 4-1-0. The last three wins, all shutouts over Northwest Flight clubs, have been by an 18-0 margin. HUFC joined the NPSL, primarily for financial reasons, after playing several seasons in the rival Premier Development League, and club management cited the competitiveness of NPSL clubs when they announced the switch.
It's clear the divisional championship, barring something wholly unexpected, will be going to HUFC or the San Diego Flash, who are 4-0-0 after a 3-0 win over Bay Area Ambassadors up in Hayward. The Flash beat the Hitmen, 3-1, on April 9
Former Chivas USA winger Brent Whitfield (Long Beach/Long Beach Poly HS and Cal State Fullerton) had a hat trick after 34 minutes, and Jose Miranda and Andy Contreras pitched in with two goals apiece.
HASENTAL WINS: Thousand Oaks' FC Hasental claimed its first victory, spoiling Rattlers FC's NPSL debut with a 3-1 victory at Palmdale High School. Romanian forward Lucian Leu, Johnny Gonzalez and Omar De la Piedra (L.A. Mission College) scored for Hasental (1-3-0).
Santa Ana Winds (2-1-0) made it two in a row on the road with a 3-2 triumph at San Diego Boca on a last-minute strike by Diego Turoldo (Torrance/North Torrance HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills).
GRIFFIN STRIKES AGAIN: Max Griffin (Palmdale/Littlerock HS and UCLA) has two two-goal games in three games for Orlando City FC in the third-tier USL Pro. He netted a pair in a 2-2 draw Friday with Puerto Rico United and leads the third-tier league with four goals.