Los Angeles Soccer: Kalif Alhassan
Cal FC's stirring run through the U.S. Open Cup hadn't been all that unexpected -- this is a team filled with pros, remember, even if they're amateurs here, or at least close to it.
But what the Thousand Oaks club pulled off Wednesday night defied belief.
Artur Aghasyan finished a breakaway five minutes into overtime, and Cal FC fended off wave after wave of attacks by the Portland Timbers to stun the Major League Soccer side, 1-0, in a third-round clash at Jeld-Wen Field, a result that shook the foundations of American soccer.
Eric Wynalda's side was outshot, 43-11, conceded 11 corner kicks and dodged more than a dozen bullets to pull off what might be the greatest upset in this country's premier knockout tournament since MLS's formation 16 years ago.
The reward: a showdown next week in Tukwila, Wash., with three-time defending champion Seattle Sounders, which routed the second-tier Atlanta Silverbacks, 5-1, on Wednesday to advance to the round of 16.
"I think we are the ultimate Cinderella story -- that's for sure," Wynalda told reporters in Portland. "A bunch of misfit kids who did something unbelievable. This is what this Cup is about."
Cal FC is the first U.S. Adult Soccer Association team to defeat an MLS club in the Open Cup, although Texas' Roma FC toppled Chivas USA on penalties following a 0-0 third-round draw in 2006. The Galaxy took care of the amateurs in the following round.
Timbers Army, Portland's fanatical supporters group, serenaded Cal FC when it was over with chants of “You deserve it!” and “Beat Seattle!” The game drew 5,489 fans to the stadium a few blocks west of downtown Portland.
Wynalda, a veteran of three World Cups and a star striker in Germany and in MLS, had on his mind the UEFA Champions League final a week and a half ago in Munich, which he covered as a studio analyst for Fox Sports. Chelsea upset Bayern Munich on penalties in that one after being outshot, 43-9, and outcorner-kicked, 20-1.
CARSON -- Marcos Mondaini says the last four weeks have been among the toughest of his life.
Forced to the sidelines and widely criticized following a clumsy tackle that shattered Real Salt Lake playmaker Javier Morales' ankle, the Chivas USA forward has worked diligently to be ready following a four-game suspension while continually mulling over all that occurred.
“I don't know how to call those weeks ...,” he said through an interpreter after a triumphant return to the Goats lineup Saturday night. “I never before lived what I lived in those weeks, but there are things that happen to you in life. Thankfully, I was able to recover.”
His recovery was complete with a 70th-minute goal, from a superb Paulo Nagamura cross, to give Chivas USA (4-4-5) a 1-0 victory over the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center. It capped one of the Goats' most energetic and masterful performances of the season in a delightful encounter between two sides in fine form and looking to attack.
Nagamura, in just his second game after recovering from a long-term calf injury, and Michael Lahoud, back at right back after getting over a concussion, were in the starting XI, and second-year midfielder Blair Gavin, arguably the most skilled player on the roster, played for the first time since reinjuring a tender hamstring in March.
That added to a spirit spurred by Wednesday's poor showing in a 1-1 draw with Vancouver that helped produce 19 shots -- a dozen in the first half -- and myriad opportunities, the best before the goal Jorge Flores' blast that tested Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins in the eighth minute and Justin Braun's off-target header from Flores' cross just before halftime.
“In [the locker room] before the game, you could feel the energy,” Lahoud said. “Nobody had to say anything.”
The Timbers (5-5-2) were good, too, especially midfield general Jack Jewsbury -- he forced two big saves from Chivas netminder Dan Kennedy and played in dangerous set pieces all night -- attacking midfielder Diego Chara and winger Kalif Alhassan.
But it was Mondaini's night.
“Marcos was very good, from his first touch of the game,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said. “He took on a few guys and got around the corner and was getting into dangerous crossing positions. I thought he was very good.
“In spite of the incident that happened with himself and [Morales], Marcos is a wonderful person, and he feels, I know, the responsibility. Because he feels like he's let the team down. The face that he came back, he came back with this attitude that he really wanted to help the team, and I think he was very good in that respect.”
A reunion in the middle for former Maryland teammates Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza is likely Saturday night when the Galaxy takes on the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center.
That's the most appropriate response to Leonardo's season-ending knee injury in last week's victory at Chicago. Gonzalez and DeLaGarza, third-year pros who won a national championship with the Terrapins, were paired quite effectively at the end of the season and through the playoffs following Gregg Berhalter's mysterious illness last year, and it was somewhat surprising they haven't seen time together this year with Berhalter sidelined with a knee injury.
And it's not certain head coach Bruce Arena will team them against the expansion Timbers and their vibrant attack led by Kenny Cooper and Jorge Perlaza and perhaps newcomer Diego Chara.
Sean Franklin, MLS's Rookie of the Year in 2008 while playing at center back, approached Arena after Leonardo's injury and volunteered to step into the middle. He's played at right back and right midfielder this season.
“Right now, it would either be Franklin or DeLaGarza,” Arena said Thursday. What determines who is “a variety of things, maybe opponent, form, all kinds of things. But A.J.'s got the most experience playing in there.”
DeLaGarza's versatility -- he's at home in any of the four backline spots -- has made him most valuable but hindered his finding a permanent home in the lineup. He impressed U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley with his play for the Galaxy last season and received a call-up for January's camp.
Leonardo, 22, was hurt near the finish of Sunday's 2-1 victory when he landed awkwardly during a challenge with Fire forward Dominic Oduro. He tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his right knee and is slated to undergo the first of two surgeries next week.