Los Angeles Soccer: Jovan Kirovski
Big crowd? Check. Rooting for El Tri? Of course. Early Mexican domination? Just like in series history. Lights-out goalkeeping? Shades of Tony Meola, Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel. An American triumph on home ground? Bingo.
“Same old same old, right?” Eric Wynalda chirped afterward. “2-0. That's the way these games finish.”
This one did, lending a red, white and blueish glow to a surprisingly delightful evening at the Clasico de Leyendas match between great U.S. and Mexican players of yesteryear, primarily the 1990s and early 2000s, when the rise of American soccer created the region's greatest national teams rivalry.
These games do finish 2-0, as most everyone on the field noted.
“Reminds me of the  World Cup,” said Cobi Jones, who like former Westlake High School teammate Wynalda played in three World Cups for the U.S. “Same score, always fabulous.”
2002 is the apex of the rivalry, the only World Cup encounter in 59 meetings, but it was 2-0 U.S. in the home qualifier for the last three World Cups, in the 1991 Gold Cup -- the first of 13 U.S. victories in the past 21 years -- and in 2000 and 2007 friendlies.
The goals came from Roy Lassiter (Major League Soccer's first scoring champion) and Brian McBride (a legend in the U.S. and parts of England), and both arrived in the second half, after Galaxy goalkeeper coach Ian Feuer (capped just once, in 1992) had made the best of eight fantastic saves -- on Francisco Palencia, Ramon Morales, Jared Borgetti twice, Alberto Garcia Aspe, Ramon Ramirez and Luis Hernandez twice -- that kept the Yanks in what had been a very one-sided game.
Ever wish you could travel back in time to see some of the region's greats of yesteryear? American stars such as Cobi Jones and Eric Wynalda, Alexi Lalas and Paul Caligiuri, or Mexicans Jorge Campos, Jared Borgetti, Luis Hernandez or Alberto Garcia Aspe?
Circle a week from Sunday on the calendar. The Legends Classic, featuring some of the biggest names in the North American game, is scheduled for April 15 at Home Depot Center, with a 6 p.m. kickoff. Tickets start at $15, and the game will be officially announced any moment.
The U.S. roster, according to the PRIMETIME Sports, the event's organizer, features National Soccer Hall of Famers Jones, Wynalda, Lalas, Caligiuri and Thomas Dooley, all key figures on the U.S. World Cup sides of the 1990s (and 2002, with Jones).
Also on the list: John O'Brien, who played in two World Cups; Cle Kooiman, a defender on the 1994 World Cup team; former Galaxy stars Clint Mathis, Chris Klein and Jovan Kirovski, plus longtime pros Roy Lassiter, Ted Eck and Christopher Sullivan.
Hall of Famer-to-be Brian McBride and Galaxy goalkeeper coach Ian Feuer are on the list but unconfirmed, and Galaxy assistant coach Curt Onalfo will guide the American “legends.”
The Mexican roster will feature Campos and Hernandez, both former Galaxy standouts, plus Garcia Aspe and Roberto Luis Alves, better known as Zague, the organizers confirmed. Hoy Los Angeles reports that Borgetti and former Chivas USA star Francisco Palencia also will play.
UPDATE (April 6, 5:40 p.m.): The game has been announced, and with it Mexico's roster, which includes former Chivas USA stars Claudio Suarez, Ramon Ramirez and Mariano Trujillo. Organizers report that also suiting up for El Tri, in addition to the players listed above, are Martin Zuniga, Carlos Reynoso, German Villa, Ramon Morales, David Oteo, Joel Sanchez, Missael Espinoza, Marco Antonio “Chima” Ruiz and Jesus Olalde.
CARSON -- Jovan Kirovski has moved from one spot on the Galaxy's bench to another, trading in his shorts and cleats to join Bruce Arena's staff following an at-times glorious two-decade playing career.
The veteran midfielder, who spent five seasons in two stints with the Galaxy in an eight-year MLS career that followed spells with big clubs in England, Germany and Portugal, was unveiled as a new assistant coach when L.A. opened its preseason camp Monday at Home Depot Center.
“Bruce called me a month ago, put it out there,” said Kirovski, who last season played just 244 minutes over 13 regular-season games and saw action in 21 first-team games, all competitions and friendlies. “Actually, I was really excited, and it was a great opportunity, and I love being around the club. It was a no-brainer for me.”
“I had to get him off the field somehow ...,” joked Arena, who brought Kirovski in as he began his rebuild following the 2008 season. “He's obviously a very experienced guy, he knows our club, he knows the way we do things. He's prepared himself to get into coaching. He's earned his coaching license. I think it's a good transition for Jovan, and I think he'll be a great addition to our staff.”
Kirovski, 35, replaces Gregg Berhalter, who served as player/assistant coach last year, retired as a player at season's end and has become head coach of Swedish club Hammarby.
The son of Macedonian immigrants decided when last season ended that he was done playing, although he never acknowledged so publicly, and Arena's admission last week that he would not be returning to the roster was the first concrete sign he'd retired.
“I thought about it at the end of the year. I knew it was time,” Kirovski said. “I've played the game such a long time, and it was a great way to finish [with a championship]. I knew the time was right.”
Beckham's midfield partner, Juninho, is gone, two remarkable seasons in L.A. paving his way to Sao Paulo's first team. Backline leader Omar Gonzalez is out for maybe the entire season after shredding the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
The Galaxy needs to adequately replace both if they are to contend for a third straight Supporters' Shield and back-to-back MLS Cup titles, and Beckham could well be the key to doing so.
That's what Tim Leiweke says.
“He is out as we speak helping Bruce [Arena, the Galaxy's head coach and general manager] with a couple players we're trying to bring here,” said Leiweke, president and CEO of Galaxy owner AEG. “We're out of Designated Player slots, so we'll see how good a recruiter he is. Because they have to accept a salary that is not a Designated Player salary.
“He's helping us get better. He's the guy who helped me get [Irish striker] Robbie Keane. It took us one day to get Robbie Keane, 'cause David picked up the phone and recruited him.”
The Galaxy found a replacement for Juninho before Sao Paulo recalled his loan deal, signing his Brazilian countryman Marcelo Sarvas from Costa Rican powerhouse Alajuelense. Beckham and Sarvas met for the first time following the news conference Thursday afternoon at Staples Center to present Beckham after he signed on for two more years with the club.
Counting down the 11 biggest 2011 stories in Southern California soccer ...
The Galaxy have had some sensational years since they first kicked a ball back in 1996. That inaugural season was something, and '98, too, and '99, the titles in 2002 and '05, the 2009 turnaround.
Nothing like what they experienced in 2011.
L.A. won everything that matters, did everything they sought to do, and they did so in a spotlight that shone more brightly than any had illuminated Major League Soccer's first 15 seasons. They did so with charm, grit and verve through superb efforts by superstars and role players all orchestrated by America's best coach -- Bruce Arena -- doing his best work.
The Galaxy romped to their second straight Supporters' Shield, the regular-season championship, setting a post-shootout era points record with 63 (from a 19-5-10 record), then swept four playoff matches -- with a masterful performance before the home fans to beat Houston in the final -- to claim the franchise's third MLS Cup championship. Through one four-month, 20-game stretch, they lost just one league game.
From August on, they pressed through the best quartet in the CONCACAF Champions League's second stage, capturing the Group A title with dramatic, must-win victories over Mexico's Morelia and at Motagua in Honduras. They'll be big favorites in their quarterfinal series against Toronto FC in March.
They tied an MLS single-season mark with 17 shutouts, with two more in the playoffs and three in the Champions League, despite season-long injury struggles that sidelined nearly every major player at some point and played particular havoc at the back.
The stars came up huge. David Beckham, drawing greater attention in the final season of his five-year contract, was magnificent at the center of the Galaxy's attack. Landon Donovan netted 17 goals in all despite a quad injury that slowed him considerably the final three months of the season. Robbie Keane's August arrival, accompanied by Juan Pablo Angel's departure, provided a quality finisher with great vision and a knack for opening up the tightest spaces.
The Galaxy made the deepest plunge in Major League Soccer's second-stage re-entry draft, grabbing the rights to four veterans in positions Bruce Arena said the club needed depth and keeping the rights to two defenders whose options had been declined.
But the biggest acquisition the Galaxy coach/general manager mentioned in Monday's post-draft teleconference isn't official. Yet.
Arena said L.A., indeed, has signed Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Sarvas from Costa Rican power Alajuelense. Sarvas, 30, last week told Costa Rican website Al Pie del Deporte that he had agreed to a two-year deal with the Galaxy.
Asked about Sarvas, Arena first hesitated and asked the Galaxy's media director where the club stood on an announcement. Then he said: “We've signed that player, and we will in the next day or two get out a release on him. He's a good, experienced, two-way midfielder I think is going to help our team.”
So, in theory, will goalkeeper Jon Conway, defenders Andrew Boyens and Chris Leitch, and forward Pat Noonan, whose rights were acquired during Monday's draft. The Galaxy also reacquired the rights to defenders Frankie Hejduk and Dasan Robinson.
“Our selections were based simply on covering some positions, and as you know the rules, we have seven days to reach agreement with the players,” Arena said. “Whether we do or not remains to be seen. What we were able to do is select players in some positions we believe we need cover for. They're all veteran players, they have experience, and they're good players for the locker room. At the end of the day, if we get some of them or all of them, they'll all be a positive asset for our team.”
The Galaxy took Boyens, 28, a tall central defender from New Zealand who played in a dozen league games last season for Chivas USA, with the fifth selection of the first round. Leitch, 32, an outside back who has spent the past three seasons in San Jose, was taken at the end of the second round.
By then everybody else was done, and Arena added Noonan, 31, from Seattle and Conway, 34, from Chicago, then grabbed the rights to Hejduk, a reserve outside back for L.A. last season, and Robinson, a center back whom L.A. acquired in a trade from Toronto FC in September.
If this is the end of David Beckham with the Galaxy, he's putting on quite an encore.
Beckham scored a sweet goal, set up another on a corner kick, saw another from a terrific cross flagged offside and nearly tallied with a midfield rocket as L.A. poured it on in Manila, romping to a 6-1 victory over the Philippines' national team on the second stop of its three-game Pacific tour.
Robbie Keane added a goal and an assist, Adam Cristman came off the bench to score a couple, playoff hero Mike Magee netted one,and Gregg Berhalter, whose playing career will close with Tuesday's friendly in Australia, converted a late penalty kick.
Beckham, who will decide after the postseason tour whether he'll re-sign with the Galaxy or head back to Europe -- almost certainly to Paris Saint-Germain -- walked off in the 76th minute to a standing ovation, trotted to the edge of the stands at Rizal Memorial Stadium and handed his jersey to boxing champion Manny Pacquiao.
The Galaxy, fortunate to be ahead at halftime through Beckham in the 20th minute and Magee in the 39th, scored four second-half goals on a hot, humid evening, using an attacking pace that the Philippine players could not combat.
There was talent in the home side, especially the England-born and -bred Younghusband brothers -- Phil and James -- whose performances might be worthy of a trial back at Home Depot Center. They caused havoc along the Galaxy backline, scoring one goal and nearly creating another that would have erased L.A.'s early advantage.
Phil Younghusband twisted A.J. DeLaGarza to score from Angel Guirado's chip following a Galaxy turnover in the 41st minute. Two minutes later, James Younghusband's through ball left Carlos Alberto Martinez de Murga one-on-one with Josh Saunders, but his shot slipped past the left post.
The Galaxy nearly went ahead after 15 minutes, when Beckham noticed goalkeeper Ed Sacapaņo off his line and blasted toward the net from the midfield stripe. It was a line drive that the Phillipine keeper would not have gotten to had it not been a shade high.
Beckham got his goal five minutes later on a quick counter following a Sean Franklin takeaway near the top of their box.
Chivas USA on Friday re-signed left back Ante Jazic, as expected, and Galaxy forward Adam Cristman withdrew from Monday's first-stage draft in Major League Soccer's re-entry process.
Jazic, 35, was expected to return to the Goats after the club declined its option on his contract, which was worth $115,000 ($123,000 average guaranteed compensation). Figures from the new pact weren't released and likely won't be available until the MLS Players Union next spring unveils every league salary, as it does annually. The contract is believed to be for one year.
Cristman, 26, whose option was declined, withdrew from the process and could be negotiating a new deal with the Galaxy, although it's unlikely he would accept much less than the $42,000 he made this season.
Midfielder Jovan Kirovski, 35, whose option also was declined, pulled out of the process before the re-entry list was released Wednesday. The Escondido product, who made $84,000 in 2011, is expected to re-sign with the Galaxy or retire.
Several others, including one local player, have pulled out of Monday's draft for one reason or another.
Vancouver midfielder John Thorrington (Palos Verdes Estates/Chadwick School) withdrew from the process and is in talks on a new contract with the Whitecaps, a club spokesman said.
The Galaxy's 50th game of 2011 had much in common with a lot of the first 49. They scored early, played some decent soccer and ground out a 1-0 victory -- their 13th of the year -- to start their postseason tour of Asia and Australia.
Robbie Keane provided all the offense L.A. needed in an often entertaining triumph over Indonesia's national team in a Jakarta friendly.
L.A. trotted out the same lineup from the MLS Cup title-game victory over Houston, made 11 substitutions -- one for injury -- and kept the crowd at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium happy by leaving David Beckham on the field into the 85th minute.
The victory leaves L.A. with a 29-9-12 record for the year, including ticketed friendlies, and 13-1 when the final score is 1-0. Josh Saunders and Brian Perk, both called upon to make important saves, combined for the club's 23rd shutout.
Beckham was the big draw, of course, and he went deeper than any other L.A. starter although the game contract called on him to play merely one half. He nearly gave the audience what it most wanted, putting a free kick just beyond the upper-left corner in the 76th minute.
He also gave Frankie Hejduk an open look at the right post six minutes into the second half, but the right back badly mishit the volley.
Keane scored the goal in the 14th minute after Adam Cristman cleated a ricocheting ball back above the penalty spot, and L.A. could have doubled it through Juninho and Sean Franklin -- both went wide -- or on a sequence in the 42nd in which Franklin hit the left post and Cristman ripped the rebound off the crossbar.
CARSON -- What might be most impressive about the Galaxy's conquests this season aren't the victories (28, with just eight losses, in 46 competitive matches) or the hardware (MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield) or even -- and this probably was the highest achievement -- the dauntless leap to the top spot in the CONCACAF Champions League's toughest group.
It's that the Galaxy did all of this with limited access to their first-choice lineup.
Injuries enough to derail the noblest aspirations had little impact on L.A., which rolled over its domestic competition and relied on Juninho's heroics to track down a favorable berth in the region's club quarterfinals come March.
More than a dozen players, including nearly every major contributor, were sent to the sideline for a spell -- some for two or three spells -- as head coach Bruce Arena, in arguably the finest season in a storied managerial career, mixed and matched brilliantly while shepherding the Galaxy through a wearisome schedule with no more than three hiccups, really, from start to finish.
To do so ...
- He got the best of David Beckham -- fabulous in his first full campaign with L.A. -- and a very good piece of Landon Donovan, the quad injury-slowed stretch drive aside.
- He dumped an underachieving star forward (Juan Pablo Angel) for a European star (Irishman Robbie Keane), adding dimensions to his attack just as the season's pace started to accelerate.
- He engineered career-best performances from three defenders (Omar Gonzalez, Todd Dunivant and A.J. DeLaGarza) and a couple of midfielders (Mike Magee and Juninho), all making significant contributions.
- He stuck with his backup goalkeeper (Josh Saunders), who emerged as a real force during No. 1 netminder Donovan Ricketts' injury absence.
- And he bred uncommon consistency from his squad, no matter that there was little consistency to the lineup until the postseason arrived.
“It was a great season,” said midfielder Chris Birchall, another of the Galaxy's under-the-radar sparkplugs. “We won the Supporters' Shield, the MLS Cup, and we qualified for the Champions League. That was our aim at the beginning of the season. A lot of us looked at each other, thinking it was a bit of a tough ambition, but we did everything right.”
The Galaxy feasted on the talents of the league's richest squad -- Beckham ($6.5 million), Keane ($3.4 million) and Donovan ($2.3 million) are Nos. 1, 4 and 5 on the league's best-paid list -- and a defensive approach that made the difference in a 19-5-10 regular season, four wins in the Champions League and the perfect playoff run.
CARSON -- The Galaxy is in talks with Sao Paulo to bring Juninho back next year, but the Brazilian midfielder says the situation isn't as simple as it appears.
Juninho, 22, has spent the past two season in L.A. on loan from the Paulista powerhouse, and he said his contract with the club runs out in about six months -- enough time to work out a pre-contract with the Galaxy, which would then, it follows, seek to extend the loan agreement for the first few months of 2012.
“The club in Brazil definitely wants something in return,” Juninho said through a translator Wednesday at Home Depot Center following the Galaxy's final domestic training session of the year. “And they have other offers and options.”
A number of players are out of contract (David Beckham, of course, but Sean Franklin, too) or have options to be determined (such as Chris Birchall), but the team has not acknowledged which players are in which camp and isn't expected to do so.
The Galaxy has an offer out to Beckham, who says he'll decide whether to sign for a sixth season (possible), head elsewhere (possible, with Paris Saint-Germain likeliest) or retire (not very likely). Birchall says he's waiting to see what the Galaxy plans to do with him. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena says he's “hopeful we can bring [Franklin] back” and is “exploring how we can” keep Juninho.
Juninho says he definitely wants to return.
“I'm very happy here,” he said. “This is a family right now, and after winning the cup, everybody is happy. I'm very secure here. I have my wife here and a lot of friends.”
NO CELEBRATION?: Want to celebrate the Galaxy's MLS Cup title? Go to it then -- the club, despite mulling options, has no plans for a public celebration involving the players and coaches.
“It's difficult because of the timing,” Donovan said. “We needed a few days just to get away and enjoy ourselves, then we've got Thanksgiving -- guys are leaving and want to go home and see their families, because we're going to be gone [to Asia and Australia, departing Saturday] for two weeks. So it makes it difficult.
It took a day, but the Galaxy has traced the mystery of what's going on with Jovan Kirovski.
The veteran midfielder, 35, had been left off L.A.'s protected and unprotected lists for Wednesday's Major League Soccer expansion draft, which suggested he was calling it quits.
The real reason is simpler. And not nearly so exciting.
Kirovski was supposed to be on the unprotected list, meaning the Montreal Impact, MLS's 19th club, can claim him if they desire. And now that's the list he's on.
One very curious omission on the expansion-draft lists Major League Soccer released late Monday afternoon: Galaxy midfielder Jovan Kirovski.
Is he retiring? The Galaxy isn't certain.
Kirovski, 35, a veteran with European pedigree and U.S. national team experience, was a role player for L.A. this season, playing in 13 league games (just two of them starts) for 244 minutes, not quite three full matches. He was a regular on Bruce Arena's 18-man game rosters -- his versatility provided options off the bench -- and was in the team for Sunday night's MLS Cup title-game win over Houston but did not play.
He was neither on the list of players the Galaxy protected in advance of Wednesday's expansion draft, nor on the list of players available to the Montreal Impact, which makes its MLS debut next season.
Home Grown Players (such as teen Galaxy forward Jack McBean) and those in the Generation adidas developmental program are exempt from the process. So are players who have retired, such as Galaxy center back Gregg Berhalter.
Kirovski could fit into only one of these designations. The Galaxy could neither confirm nor deny that he's done, but it looks suspicious.
HOUSTON -- No David Beckham. No Landon Donovan.
The Galaxy heads into its regular-season finale Sunday evening against the Houston Dynamo without their two biggest stars, and that's not all.
They are among a half-dozen influential players who headed home as soon as the Galaxy's charter flight arrived Friday afternoon in Houston from Honduras, all being rested for next weekend's playoff opener. If it looks a little like surrender, think back to Columbus a month ago. Also following a crucial CONCACAF Champions League game in Central America, L.A. took on the Crew in front of a full house without several big guns -- Donovan, Beckham and Robbie Keane included -- and pulled out a dramatic 1-0 victory.
Something like that would be perfect for the Galaxy (19-4-10), who consider this one important even if it means nothing to their championship aspirations. A victory would give them 70 points -- a league record, two better than the '98 Galaxy side -- and and a shutout would be their 18th of the season, also an MLS best.
“This is our third game [in eight days]. We traveled all over the place,” head coach Bruce Arena noted. “We're here to play well -- there's no question about that. I think we've earned the right to rest some players.”
Also home are Best XI (and MLS Defender of the Year) candidates Todd Dunivant and Omar Gonzalez, midfielder Mike Magee and goalkeeper Josh Saunders -- and Keane remains sidelined with a leg injury.
“They'll probably think we're taking it easy with the lineup that we put out, but that's not the case,” midfielder Chris Birchall said. “We feel we can still go out and win the game, and it will be a good test for some of our players who haven't played too many of these games.”
The Galaxy could have Sean Franklin back from a knee injury that has sidelined him for six weeks, and 16-year-old forward Jack McBean and rookie defender Ryan Thomas could make their MLS debuts. It wouldn't be a surprise to see rookies Hector Jimenez or Dan Keat in the starting lineup for the first time, or for Dasan Robinson to see his first action with the Galaxy, and Brian Perk could get the call in goal for the second time, depending on how Donovan Ricketts' ailing quad is doing.
“No matter what team Bruce has put out there, they’ve done well and gotten results,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear told reporters this week. “Defensively, they’re always organized, and they don’t give you much.”
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- There were several heroes for the Galaxy in Thursday night's CONCACAF Champions League triumph at Motagua. Frankie Hejduk was the last -- and maybe the biggest.
L.A. was holding onto the 1-0 lead forged with Juninho's first-half goal, and the Hondurans, with Amado Guevara serving as orchestrator, were throwing everything into their attack.
As the clock neared 90 minutes, Guevara spread the ball wide to Milton Reyes on the right, and his inch-perfect cross into the goalmouth found Guillermo “Pando” Ramirez with only goalkeeper Josh Saunders between him and the net.
Hejduk stepped in, knocked the ball away, and Jerry Bengtson fired the loose ball over the crossbar. That was it for Motagua, and the Galaxy were celebrating passage to next year's quarterfinals no more than three minutes later.
“You could tell they were going to get a chance and that was their last one, and, luckily, it was,” Hejduk said. “At that point in the game, anything can happen, but this team all year has kept clean sheets, kept games at zeros, and maybe it could have gone either way, but it is a testament to the concentration of guys on the field.
“We were trying to kill off those last minutes of the game. It's never easy [in Central America] to keep games at zero ... but we did a great job as a team defensively.”
Ramirez played for the Galaxy in 2005, scoring just one goal -- but what a goal it was: an overtime strike to beat the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup final. He did his best to topple the Galaxy, which had to win to advance to the regional club championship's knockout stage, but the ball bounced up on him, forcing him to take a touch with his chest. That enabled Hejduk to race in from behind, get a piece of the ball and knock it away.
“It was a crazy play, but at the end of the game, those plays happen,” Hejduk said. “They had nothing to lose at that point. They were throwing numbers forward trying to get as many guys in the box as they could, but our defense the whole entire night did an incredible job of just killing plays, and that was one of many that we killed off pretty well.”
LONG, TOUGH HAUL: When CONCACAF divied up 16 clubs in the Champions League group draw three months ago, it was clear which was this tournament's “group of death.”
That the Galaxy went on to prevail in Group A, against opposition for each of the region's other three dominant countries, is a real accomplishment, especially after what happened last month in Morelia, where Robbie Keane's would-be 90th-minute winner was wiped away by an errant offside call, and the Monarcas won in stoppage.