Los Angeles Soccer: Marcos Mondaini
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.
Costa Rican defender Michael Umaņa and Argentine midfielder Marcos Mondaini have been released, and so have Mexican goalkeeper Sergio Arias and Ecuadoran forward Victor Estupiņan.
The club has not announced the changes, but head coach Robin Fraser confirmed the moves on the league website.
Umaņa, 29, has signed with Guatemalan power Comunicaciones. The center back, in his second stint in MLS, was a starter for the Goats in 2010 and the latter half of last season. He was out of contract.
Mondaini, a 26-year-old winger who made 24 appearances for Chivas on loan from Uruguayan club CA Fenix, has joined Ecuadoran club Emelec, where he played in 2006-07.
Chivas declined to pick up the option on 23-year-old Estupiņan's loan from Ecuadoran powerhouse LDU Quito and he made just nine league appearances. Arias, 23, who was on loan from Guadalajara, was the Goats' No. 3 goalkeeper and did not make a first-team appearance.
Counting down the 11 biggest 2011 stories in Southern California soccer ...
Robin Fraser brought a lot of changes to Chivas USA and how it goes about its business on the field, and expectation has it that success should follow. We'll soon see.
The Goats might not have made the playoffs in 2011 -- a seven-game winless streak in August and September was too great to overcome -- but the work Fraser and his staff completed in altering the culture and building a foundation to win was among the most impressive this year in Major League Soccer.
Fraser, a former U.S. national-teamer and two-time MLS Defender of the Year, received his first professional head-coaching assignment last January and, without the benefit of a full offseason to build, immediately began to improve a threadbare roster.
It was a long-term project, ongoing, that saw him bring in more than a dozen players on trial, wheel and deal within the league (Nick LaBrocca, Heath Pearce and Juan Pablo Angel were the real prizes), and lure several players from abroad (Marcos Mondaini, Laurent Courtois and David Junior Lopes making impacts) while implementing a possession game that surely had its charms.
At their best, the Goats were phenomenal, one of the best teams at keeping and moving the ball in MLS. But consistency wasn't a virtue, the team managed back-to-back wins just once -- back in April -- and the 8-14-12 mark might have been an improvement on 2010, but the win total was the same.
“At times from game to game and even within games, I thought we played extremely well and were extremely engaged,” Fraser said when the campaign was over. “Then at other times, it was a lack of concentration and critical mistakes.”
The triumphs were in the details: LaBrocca's star turn atop the midfield diamond, Pearce's seamless transition to central defense, Dan Kennedy's phenomenal performance in the nets, Angel's finishing after he arrived from the Galaxy in August.
Seems pretty wasteful to let the No. 4 overall pick in last January's draft, an outside back with the potential to become a star (and maybe for the national team, too), slip away for nothing.Zarek Valentin's departure from Chivas USA in Major League Soccer's expansion draft isn't so simple. And Chivas coach Robin Fraser isn't happy about it.
The Montreal Impact, which next season will debut as MLS's 19th club, on Wednesday listed Valentin No. 2 on its list of 10 players culled from the other 18 clubs after the Goats failed to include him among the 11 players they were permitted to protect.
The 20-year-old right back's fate is product of MLS's decision to “graduate” him from its Generation adidas developmental program, a decision Fraser, Chivas' head coach, called “baffling” and “extremely, extremely disappointing” -- and one that vastly changed Valentin's worth to the organization.
He's young, he's developing and in no way is he there yet -- just what the Generation adidas program is about -- and as a GA he counted nothing against Chivas' salary cap nor roster size. His change of designation means his salary, $80,000 annually (with $138,000 average guaranteed compensation), suddenly is applied against the cap.
MLS success often is about how well clubs maneuver within and around the salary cap, and the Goats also are getting a salary-cap hit from second-year midfielder Blair Gavin's GA “graduation.”
'MADE NO SENSE': “All the ramifications went into that decision” not to protect Valentin, Fraser said Thursday. “Here's a player who comes out early [following his sophomore season at the University of Akron] and is the No. 4 pick and as a GA player that has time to develop.
“It was baffling, to be quite honest. Extremely baffling. And I was extremely, extremely disappointed that he had 'graduated' from that. That's the sort of of program meant to allow players time to develop. For me, it just made no sense.”
Valentin and former Akron teammate Perry Kitchen, who had a solid rookie season on D.C. United's backline, were the only GA rookies who “graduated.” They also were the only GA rookies to exceed 2,000 regular-season minutes. Kitchen played in 31 games, 30 of them starts, and was on the field for 2,726 minutes. Valentin's numbers were 25 (with 24 starts) and 2,114.
Robin Fraser's first season in charge of Chivas USA ended as it started, in defeat, with the Goats dropping a spot in the standings and failing to surpass last year's victory total.
The Seattle Sounders, preparing for its playoff run, scored three second-half goals en route to a 3-1 triumph Saturday night at Home Depot Center, a deserved victory that sets up a first-round playoff series, starting next weekend, against Real Salt Lake.
Fraser and his staff now embark on postseason assessments, selecting which 11 players to protect before next month's Major League Soccer expansion draft, determining which players to invite back (and which to jettison), and taking the initial steps toward the 2012 season following an 8-14-12 campaign.
The loss, coupled with San Jose's victory over FC Dallas, sends the Goats from seventh to eighth in the Western Conference table, two points behind the Earthquakes and eight in front of last-place Vancouver. Chivas fell from 14th to 15th in the overall standings.
An Andrew Boyens own goal and fine finishes by Alvaro Fernandez and Riverside's Sammy Ochoa sent Seattle to a three-goal lead. Victor Estupiņan's header -- after Marcos Mondaini nodded back into the goalmouth a Mariano Trujillo cross from the right flank to the far post -- ended the Sounders' shutout bid in the 83rd minute.
Seattle (18-7-9), which finished second in the Supporters' Shield and Western standings to the Galaxy, suffered a potentially damning blow just five minutes into the game, when Ben Zemanski knocked knees with league MVP candidate Mauro Rosales, who just returned from an MCL sprain.
Rosales was stretchered off, holding his face in his hands, and pulled from the game (and Zemanski was yellow-carded, the first of several dubious decisions by overmatched referee Ricardo Salazar). Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said on the Sounders' telecast that he didn't think the injury was “as bad as last time.”
“It's a little more precaution than anything else,” he said. “Obviously, you're on high alert and you're concerned. Going into the game, you don't want anything [injury-wise] to happen, so that's important.”
A quick look at Chivas' defeat:
Robinson, who played in central defense, was acquired from Toronto FC in mid-September, but a groin strain has limited his availability.
Robinson, who can play in the middle or on the flank, was brought in to add experienced depth to a backline that's been beset by injuries, which has required several players to slog through a heavy stretch of games without break.
“Hopefully,” Robinson said, “I can contribute in some way the next couple of games.”
Next up is the real SuperClasico, on Sunday at HDC. The game means nothing to either team -- L.A. has clinched the Supporters' Shield as league champion, Chivas USA is out of postseason contention -- but, as always, is an important clash.
“You just never want to lose to Chivas,” said defender Omar Gonzalez, who did not play in the reserve game. “That's the main thing.”
QUICK GOALS: Chivas took charge Monday with second-half goals three minutes apart by Marcos Mondaini and, from Michael Lahoud's perfect cross, Victor Estupiņan. The victory sent the Goats (2-3-3) to fourth in the six-team West Division; the Galaxy (1-6-2) is last. Seattle (7-1-0) clinched the divisional title a couple of months ago.
Hector Jimenez scored the Galaxy goal in the 25th minute, finishing a fine feed by teen forward Jack McBean after intercepting a Blair Gavin pass at midfield to start a quick sequence.
The Goats' disastrous stretch of late season hit a new low point Saturday, when they battled back from another horrid start only to lose at the finish, a 3-2 decision at Chicago that extended their season-worst losing (four games) and winless (six) streaks.
The Fire (5-8-15) went ahead through Cory Gibbs' header in the second minute, made it 2-0 on a Juan Pablo Angel own goal in the 25th, then pulled out the victory when Dominic Oduro finished Patrick Nyarko's feed in the 85th.
Gibbs got above Michael Umaņa to nod home the first, and the second arrived when Pavel Pardo's free kick glanced off Zarek Valentin, hit Angel between his shoulder and his head and flew past goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.
Oduro's winner, which Chivas initally argued was offside -- Valentin kept Oduro onside -- followed a penetrating pass from Diego Chaves, who fended off Alejandro Moreno and Umaņa to find Nyarko.
Chivas (7-12-10), which held a man advantage after Gibbs was red-carded for a rough challenge on Michael Lahoud in the 37th minute, rallied on second-half goals two minutes apart by Angel -- his second since arriving last month from the Galaxy -- and Nick LaBrocca.
The Goats, employing an attacking lineup, controlled the game's tempo but not the game, a recurring theme this season. They completed more than twice as many passes as did the Fire (553-266) and possessed the ball for 67.6 percent of the game. If only those figures counted more than the score.
CARSON -- The landscape certainly has changed since Robin Fraser faced his former comrades at Real Salt Lake nearly four months ago, but Chivas USA's coach isn't buying into the prevailing wisdom.
The 2009 MLS Cup champion was playing a brilliant brand of soccer before falling at home to Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League final, then losing something much bigger a week and a half later against the Goats.
Javier Morales, the talisman for RSL's attack, suffered a fractured and grotesquely dislocated left ankle when tackled from behind by Chivas forward Marcos Mondaini. Major League Soccer's premier playmaker hasn't been on the field since -- and won't be, we're told, for another month or so.
Real Salt Lake (10-7-6), virtually unbeatable before Morales' injury, hasn't been the same since, going 6-7-6 in all competitions and drifting to fifth in the Western Conference.
“All the hype about what's wrong with Real Salt Lake is just ridiculous,” Fraser, who was RSL coach Jason Kreis' top assistant before taking charge of the Goats (7-9-10) last January, said on the eve of Saturday night's match at Home Depot Center. “The media loves to create a story. They're the same team they were eight months ago when they were the darling of the league. Minus Javier, but they're so deep, they're still a very good team.”
When healthy, perhaps. The loss to Monterrey damaged confidence, Morales' injury played havoc on Kreis' tactical scheme, and a stream of injuries to follow has destroyed the Lions' depth and lessened their quality. They've lost four of their past five games after winning just once in eight games after Morales went down. They're winless (0-5-3) in their last eight road games.
And Kreis, among MLS's most intense coaches, is doing what he can to keep spirits up.
“The guys who are feeling helpless about it should leave ... because we’re not helpless at all,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week. “We have the ability, we know what to do. We have the right mentality -- we have the right mentality in this group. We have everything we need to bring ourselves out of this hole, and if we continue to believe and fight we will.”
As far as Chivas USA has progressed in its first season under Robin Fraser, and as impressive as the Goats often have been -- especially when they get their possession game going -- Wednesday's loss exposed an ugly truth.
After 26 games, Chivas sits behind the Portland Timbers, whose first season in Major League Soccer has perhaps too often been characterized as farce.
The Timbers (9-12-5, 32 points) looked very serious in completing a home sweep of the L.A. clubs, using Eric Brunner's header from a corner kick at the end of the first half to pull out a 1-0 triumph, their third successive home victory, before the usual crazies at sold-out Jeld-Wen Field.
Portland vaulted past Chivas (7-9-10, 31 points) into sixth place in the Western Conference and into 11th in the overall standings, just outside the playoff zone, with eight games to go. There's a battle among eight clubs, all within five points, for sixth through 13th places.
Chivas started slowly again, as in Seattle and Colorado, with Portland having all of the ball most of the first half. If not for goalkeeper Dan Kennedy's usual heroics, the Goats would have been behind early and out of the game by halftime.
Instead, they nearly made it to halftime even -- until Brunner deposited Mike Chabala's cross inside the far post from a 44th-minute corner kick.
By then, Fraser had already burned two of his three substitutions -- Michael Lahoud and Paulo Nagamura had to leave with injuries -- and he used his last one to bring on Justin Braun in the 60th minute. His energy sparked Chivas' attack, and the Goats dictated play most of the rest of the way, nearly pulling even on three occasions:
Chivas USA withstood one penalty kick and might have been doomed by another, but referee Kevin Stott's decisions at critical moments clearly favored the Goats.
It enabled them to claim a share of the points following an often sizzling 0-0 draw with the Seattle Sounders in front of 36,364 at CenturyLink Field, a result that kept Chivas (7-8-9) in the No. 10 spot on Major League Soccer's overall table, the last playoff slot. Houston, in 11th, can leapfrog the Goats with a win Sunday over Portland.
Kennedy made two big stops, Umaņa made another, and the backline continually cleared the area to prevent Seattle from turning its chances into shots.
“We don't want to rely on individuals to make unbelievable plays,” Fraser said. “We want to be solid as a team, and in that respect, we certainly didn't feel we were good enough in the second half. We needed some very, very key individual plays, individual moments.”
The game turned on two penalty decisions, the first against the Goats and the second, a no-call, securing for them the draw. Both went Chivas' way.
The Sounders were awarded a spot kick in the 18th minute when Alvaro Fernandez lifted the ball into Umaņa's hand -- the correct call, although Chivas thought Fernandez should have been whistled for a hand ball when he pulled down a cross before dribbling into the Goats' box.
Kennedy couldn't stop Fernandez's penalty, guessing right (and diving to his right) to cover every inch to the lower-left post. The rolling shot was just beyond him, struck the post, rebounded back, hit Kennedy in the upper back and ricocheted wide of the post.
“I knew I had a great jump. I thought it was going wide,” Kennedy said. “Then I heard it clank off the post, and it hit me so quickly. It took me a fraction of a second to figure out it went wide.”
Lopes, signed on a free transfer from Romania's Universitatea Craiova, also scored in the match on Chivas' training field, heading home a cross from fellow newcomer Laurent Courtois in the 28th minute to push the Goats ahead en route to a 3-2 victory over the National Premier Soccer League side from Thousand Oaks.
The transfer window closes Friday, and general manager Jose Domene said all ITCs must in place by then.
Courtois, signed from French second-division side Grenoble, has his, and he debuted in Chivas' victory Saturday at New England. The Goats also hope to bring in an “attacking” player by Friday; head coach Robin Fraser said he thought things would be clearer Thursday on a potential acquisition.
The 6-foot-3 Lopes, 29, is still working on fitness, but he was a steady hand in the first half and says that “little by little I'll fall into that rhythm, and things will be what they have to be.”
Scoring a goal was a bonus.
“Scoring goals is the maximum thing,” he said. “It doesn't matter whether it's an official game or a friendly, scoring a goal is scoring a goal.”
“He's composed, he's a good passer, he's tactically very strong,” Fraser said. “He's comfortable giving information. ... Hes a big man who's comfortable in his role. You can see hes played in some good sit, and he just looks comfortable.”
Ring's over-the-ball tackle cost the Goats a man with nearly an hour to go, and when referee Hector Perez decided yellow was a deep enough hue for the card, he was in danger.
The Goats' eruption after Ring's mistimed tackle was worth the admission price. (Oh, wait. It was free.)
“He does that all the time,” goalkeeper Zach Thornton bellowed at Perez as he marched from his box to the midfield circle. “He's got to go.”
Perez instead sent off Paulo Nagamura, the tackle's victim, for a retaliation swipe at Ring that appeared to miss. Plenty of F-bombs directed Perez's way at that point, and one defensive player pleaded, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Please let [Ring] have the ball.”
Ring did see the ball again, but there was no overt payback, and that's no surprise. It's not Goats coach Robin Fraser's style -- Chivas keeps things pretty classy.
The Goats failed to hold onto a lead for the fifth time in four games Saturday, their inability to defend set pieces costing them plenty in a 2-1 defeat at Houston.
Marcos Mondaini's seventh-minute strike -- a gift goal, from Hunter Freeman's severely underplayed pass back for goalkeeper Tally Hall -- wasn't nearly enough against the Dynamo's aerial game, with two crosses from Brad Davis providing goals either side of halftime.
“Unfortunately, we couldn't hold the score, and we leave very sad because we let the game go,” said Mondaini, who rounded Hall and fired into an open net after latching onto Freeman's poor feed just outside the Dynamo box. “Our job is to play football on the field, especially our style of football. Sometimes players just don’t have a good day or the rival is stronger on the field, and they were able to gain the advantage through set pieces.”
Geoff Cameron scored in the 29th for Houston (4-5-6), a fine glancing header from a Davis free kick, and the winner arrived from a Davis corner kick in the 54th that bounced off Michael Lahoud, hit Heath Pearce and ricocheted into the net as an own goal.
A quick look at Chivas' loss:
BEST PLAYER: Davis is an MVP candidate regardless of the Dynamo's record -- without him, where would they be? -- and he sure was too much for Chivas to handle. He picked up his league-best eighth assist on Cameron's goal and also provided the cross, of course, on the own goal. And his corner in the third minute was headed home by Bobby Boswell … a goal promptly waved off because goalkeeper Dan Kennedy was fouled before the shot.
Galaxy forward Juan Pablo Angel, who frankly hasn't played to an all-star standard in the season's first three months, was the biggest omission on the list of those eligible for the July 27 clash against Manchester United at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Also not on the list, and most deserving, is Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant.
The Galaxy's ballot sextet is goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, defenders Sean Franklin and Omar Gonzalez, midfielders David Beckham and Juninho, and forward/midfielder Landon Donovan.
Chivas' six: goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, defenders Ante Jazic and Heath Pearce, midfielder Nick LaBrocca, and forwards Justin Braun and Alejandro Moreno. The biggest Goats omission is forward Marcos Mondaini; would-be finalists Jimmy Conrad, Blair Gavin and Paulo Nagamura have missed almost all of the campaign through injury.
In addition to Franklin (Palmdale/Highland HS and Cal State Northridge), Donovan (Redlands/Redlands East Valley HS) and Kennedy (Yorba Linda/El Dorado HS and UC Santa Barbara), nine players from the L.A. area and another who attended college here are on the ballot:
- FC Dallas goalkeepers Kevin Hartman (Palos Verdes/Peninsula HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills/UCLA)
- New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis (Mission Viejo/Santa Margarita Catholic HS and UCLA) and midfielder Benny Feilhaber (Irvine/Northwood HS and UCLA)
- Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando (Montclair/Montclair HS and UCLA)
- Philadelphia defender Danny Califf (Orange/Orange HS)
- Columbus defender Chad Marshall (Riverside/Rubidoux HS) and midfielder Robbie Rogers (Palos Verdes and Huntington Beach/Mater Dei HS)
- D.C. United midfielder Chris Pontius (Yorba Linda/Servite HS and UC Santa Barbara)
- Sporting Kansas City forward/midfielder Kei Kamara (Lawndale/Leuzinger HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills)
- Seattle midfielder Brad Evans (UC Irvine)
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.”