Los Angeles Soccer: Michael Stephens

GALAXY: An offer for Lampard?

July, 2, 2012

CARSON -- British reports claim the Galaxy has offered Chelsea's Frank Lampard a two-year, $20 million offer, and that the veteran central midfielder is strongly considering a move to Los Angeles.

It's not the first time Lampard's name has been linked to the Galaxy, but the reports have never been so specific.

Several outlets made the claim, none identifying their sources, but David Beckham lobbied his former England teammate last year and club owner AEG president Tim Leiweke has publicly expressed interest in signing the star.

“I'm a fan of Frank's. I think he's a great player. When I think of Chelsea, I think of Frank Lampard ...,” Leiweke told Sky Sports in January. “It took us two years to get David to come here the first time.

“We're working on the next [Designated Player], and we'll continue to work on the next DP. There are a half-dozen guys we have a good relationship with, and we'll see how that goes. But first we've got to have a spot, and at the moment we don't have a spot.”

The Galaxy still doesn't have a spot. MLS clubs may sign up to three DPs, whose salaries go beyond the $350,000 maximum hit to the salary cap. Beckham, Landon Donovan and Irish striker Robbie Keane occupy L.A.'s slots.

Sources with knowledge of the talks confirmed to ESPN Los Angeles that AEG is holding discussions with Lampard's representatives.

Lampard, who turned 34 on June 20, still has one year on a Chelsea contract that pays him about $12 million a year. He's been with the Blues since 2001 and captained them, in John Terry's absence to suspension, to triumph over Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League final in May.

He is considered one of the finest midfielders of his generation and has played in two World Cups and two European Championships for England, including Euro 2012, in which the English reached the quarterfinals.

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GALAXY: Villarreal paces Reserve win

June, 12, 2012
The Galaxy returns to Major League Soccer action this weekend riding a little wave of success.

Not in the games that count -- they've got eight games in all, seven of them in league, without a victory -- but Tuesday's 3-1 triumph in Vancouver takes L.A. out of the league's minibreak with successive MLS Reserve League victories.

Jose Villarreal netted two goals in his first start of the year and Jack McBean came off the bench to nod home a late winner as the Galaxy (3-1-1) climbed atop the Western Division standings at the University of British Columbia.

Things aren't going so well in MLS proper: L.A. is last in the West and 17th of 19 clubs overall with a 3-8-2 mark heading into Sunday afternoon's clash with Portland at Home Depot Center. Do Reserve League victories translate to the real deal? Subtly but surely.

“It's that feeling,” goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who went the full 90 after retuning from a month in MLS's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program for a 2-1 win 10 days ago at Portland, noted last week. “The guys that were in the locker room after the [reserve games] remember that feeling of winning. That's contagious. Those guys know what it's like to win again, and, hopefully, we can push that into our first team.”

Trialist Andy Iro, the former UC Santa Barbara All-American who played for Columbus and Toronto FC, went 90 minutes in central defense. Rookie Rafael Garcia, a central midfielder, got a look at right back. And assistant coach Curt Onalfo, who guides the reserve team, gave Galaxy Academy players Oscar Sorto and Mario Rodriguez spots in the starting XI.

Villarreal, a Home Grown Player from Inglewood, scored his first two goals since signing in December, finishing a Michael Stephens feed two minutes into the second half and adding an insurance goal in second-half stoppage from a long clearance by Saunders.

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No Beckham fine, but two suspended

June, 1, 2012
David Beckham has escaped punishment after railing against referees following the Galaxy's last two Major League Soccer defeats, but others in L.A.'s midfield were punished for infractions.

The league's disciplinary committee Friday suspended Mike Magee and Michael Stephens one match and assessed undisclosed fines for deeds during the Galaxy's loss last weekend at Houston.

Read the full story at this link.

GALAXY: One big plus in Open Cup loss

May, 30, 2012
Looking for a positive from the Galaxy's quick exit Tuesday night from the U.S. Open Cup? How about Leonardo, who returned to the Galaxy lineup after spending most of the past 13½ months rehabilitating a devastating knee injury?

The Brazilian center back went the full 90 minutes, not by plan, in L.A.'s third-round loss in Cary, N.C., to the Carolina RailHawks, who will be home for next week's round-of-16 clash against Chivas USA, the third successive Southern California side the second-tier club will face in the nearly century-old competition.

Steven Bisig/US PresswireOne positive for the Galaxy in their U.S. Open Cup loss was the play of Leonardo.

That's about it on the plus side.

The Galaxy's season-long slide dipped a little deeper with the 2-1 defeat, in which they surrendered a lead for the third straight game and were beaten for the sixth time in seven outings. No, they didn't have their big guns -- only Chad Barrett, Leonardo and maybe David Junior Lopes among the first XI could be considered “starters,” and none are first choice at their positions. One of the lessons from an evening in which seven of 14 Major League Soccer clubs in action were eliminated by lower-division foes: Those who used virtual first-choice lineups won, and those who didn't lost.

It was more pronounced for the Galaxy, which had to spend all three substitutions on injuries -- one of them apparently significant -- and was unable to make tactical swaps nor pull off fatigued players as Carolina took charge down the stretch.

Hector Jimenez's demise was the low point. He had to be carted off, RailHawks midfielder Amir Lowery on one shoulder, with a knee injury after a rough tackle near the end of the first half. He couldn't put weight on his left leg, and it looked serious. The Galaxy have provided no updates but he'll undergo a scan now that the team is back in Los Angeles.

Barrett left while cramping 20 minutes into the second half. Bryan Gaul, who like Jimenez has seen increased first-team time, left just before Ty Shipalane's 75th-minute equalizer after he was hit in the face during an aerial battle in the Galaxy box. His left eye was puffed up, but it appeared to be nothing serious.

“Three guys who have actually been playing game and three guys that would have been good to go 90 minutes,” midfielder Michael Stephens noted in his postgame media session. “It was really unfortunate, and I think you saw that. A lot of guys ran out of legs down the stretch.”

Include Leonardo in that group. He'd played just twice in games this spring -- 11 minutes in an April 24 reserve friendly against the L.A. Blues and one half in an MLS Reserve League game with San Jose on May 8 -- and was on the 18-man roster, but did not play, in the last three league games.

“Remarkable we got 90 minutes out of him tonight ...,” Arena said. “We didn't anticipate him playing that long, but once we had those injuries and we had to make all our changes, he had to stay in there. He did a good job. He obviously got tired at the end.”

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GALAXY: Beckham makes things right

May, 12, 2012

The Galaxy offered a nice-sized view of what's been going wrong all year and a little of bit of where they want to be, and as bad as they began Saturday's visit to Montreal, they looked very good by the finish.

David Beckham scored on a second-half free kick as L.A. rallied from an early deficit for a 1-1 draw with the Impact, a result that can be considered fortuitous -- the Galaxy deserved absolutely nothing for its first 45 minutes -- or another in a long line of disappointments. Maybe a little of both.

The Galaxy (3-5-2, 11 points) might have scored four or five goals if not for the presence of their former goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who made huge diving stops on Landon Donovan and Marcelo Sarvas and shined in a quick sequence to deny Donovan and Robbie Keane to reward the Impact (3-5-3, 12 points) with a point.

“I think [we] played well in the second half, and I think the difference in the game was probably Ricketts, came up with some big saves for Montreal to keep them in the game,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said on the club's television broadcast. “I thought the way our guys went out in the second half and got after it and got the ball on the ground and started passing and moving, we were a different team.”

Might it be, finally, the stride forward that starts L.A. on the expected path following a horrendous first two months to the season marked by muddy, imprecise play, defensive miscues and struggles to match foes' intensity in battle?

“After the second half, yeah, I believe it is,” Beckham said on the Galaxy telecast. “Just because we worked hard. We're going through a tough time at the moment, where we're not getting the results, we're not getting the run of the green. But I think we've got character. We've got a lot of pride. I think we showed that in the second half, and we played a lot better. Hopefully, we can push on from here.”

The first half was a reminder of how bad things have been. The Galaxy, the numbers say, had a lot more of the ball, they just couldn't do anything with it. Montreal dominated the duels, continually built toward L.A.'s box and was in charge almost from the start, after Davy Arnaud delivered just eight minutes in.

It was another defensive error, or a couple of them, that led to the goal. Dan Keat, whom L.A. is converting from holding midfielder to central defender, got his chance in the middle -- it was his second first-team appearance this year and just his second MLS start in all -- and it didn't go smoothly.

Keat was caught flat-footed when A.J. DeLaGarza failed to adequately deal with a long ball from Impact defender Nelson Rivas, which bounced to Arnaud, who with just a couple of touches was past the New Zealander and honing in 1-on-1 with goalkeeper Brian Perk, an unexpected starter, who hesitated coming off his line. Arnaud's finish was precise.

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GALAXY: Jimenez attacks from the back

May, 8, 2012
CARSON -- Leonardo got a full half and Brian Perk played for the first time since preseason, substantial developments both, as the Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes traded penalty kicks in an MLS Reserve League game Tuesday.

Hector Jimenez
Andy Marlin/Getty ImagesHector Jimenez, normally a midfielder, was impressive at right back for the Galaxy in a reserve game against San Jose on Tuesday.

More significant, perhaps, was Hector Jimenez's performance in a new position.

The second-year winger from Bell Gardens was terrific as right back, teaming with Michael Stephens on the flank as L.A. dictated terms nearly the entire match before settling for a 1-1 draw on the Galaxy's training field at Home Depot Center.

Jimenez, who would be playing decent first-team time with a lot of Major League Soccer clubs but is caught behind L.A.'s deep, veteran midfield core, said he'd played as an outside back “toward the end of last year in a reserve game for a few minutes” but that this was otherwise a debut.

“I felt good,” he said. “I thought offensively I got involved a lot, it's just the defensive part, where I need to get used to checking the [restraining] line and stuff like that, but I thought I played good for the 90 minutes.”

Galaxy assistant coach Curt Onalfo, who runs the reserve side, agreed.

“The interesting thing sometimes in sport is when through injury and that sort of stuff you end up shifting things around, and sometimes all of a sudden something pops up that maybe you haven't seen. And I think that's the case.

“If you look at his game and you compare it to when he plays in midfield, he had just as much an influence going forward -- or maybe even more. The combination of Mikey Stephens coming inside and [Jimenez] overlapping, I thought was good. Would have liked to see more goals from it. It was a game where we possessed and had really the majority of possession, the majority of play. It's a game where you think you're going to get three points from.”

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GALAXY: Lopes is insurance for Leonardo

April, 12, 2012
CARSON -- David Junior Lopes arrives from down the hall ready to give the Galaxy's backline something it desperately needs, but as Landon Donovan noted following the big Brazilian's first training session with the team Thursday: “We didn't bring in a savior, so we need to keep it all in context.”

Junior Lopes
Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesDavid Junior Lopes is considered more of a stop gap than a long-term solution on the Galaxy's back line.

Lopes, acquired in a trade Tuesday with Chivas USA, is a stop-gap measure for the Galaxy, which is awaiting the returns of center backs Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo from knee injuries.

Head coach Bruce Arena said as much.

“We're a little behind with Leonardo coming back,” Arena said after Thursday's practice at Home Depot Center. “Our plan was he was going to be ready in March, but he's going to need more time. ...

“He's a player if he gets back to where he was, we've got a good young center back in the league. You know, we have him under contract now [after he was with L.A. last year on loan from São Paulo]. Sometimes you have to do things for the long-term. I think Lopes is a solution for the short-term.”

Lopes is big (6 feet 3 and muscular) and strong and athletic and physical, and those qualities have been missing on the Galaxy backline with Gonzalez out likely until mid- or late summer because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Arena, who called Lopes “an interesting player,” said a decision would be made Friday as to what his role, if any, will be for Saturday night's game against the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center.

Whatever happens Saturday, Lopes will be asked to contribute quickly. He says he's coming into camp looking for a starting job.

“Absolutely,” Lopes said in Spanish through an interpreter. “The Galaxy is a great team, a team that's always winning, always getting good results. ... They have very good players and players with worldwide recognition, like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane -- they're obviously here because they are quality, and that's why I'm here, because I have some quality as well. I just need to get better every day so I can play for the club.”

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GALAXY: D better, but K.C. dominates

April, 7, 2012

Could it possibly just be that the Galaxy isn't very good?

It's something worthy of consideration following their latest defeat, a 1-0 decision Saturday afternoon to a vastly superior Sporting Kansas City side, in which L.A.'s vaunted attack -- missing David Beckham, yes -- created nearly nothing against Major League Soccer's new standard-bearer.

It was an improvement over last weekend's loss to New England, in that the Galaxy was tight at the back and made K.C. work for its every opportunity, but hardly the stuff championship runs are made of.

Lawndale's Kei Kamara scored the only goal, [click the link to view a nice video feature on Kamara] and he should have had another, as Sporting became the first MLS club since the Galaxy in 1996 to start a campaign with five straight victories. The ex-Wizards dictated nearly every facet of the match, stringing passes together, opening space through possession and direct play, pressuring the Galaxy all over the field while denying them anything in midfield.

L.A. (1-3-0) got off just four shots, none on target -- K.C. has conceded only one or no shots on goal in four of its five wins -- and completed an abysmal 62 percent of its passes, a number that declined as it increasingly utilized Route 1 trying to get back into the game in the countdown to 90.

One team was outstanding, and that team wasn't the Galaxy.

“We came to compete today, but I don’t remember us connecting five passes in a row,” Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee told media afterward. “Sporting Kansas City played at a high level today. They’ve got some amazing players, and some good guys coming off the bench. … They’re a big, fast, athletic team. They’re getting hungrier and hungrier the more they win. They aren’t a team I’d like to play every day.”

The Galaxy lost most of the battles, seemed to lose every second ball, and struggled to keep the plot, goalkeeper Josh Saunders and striker Robbie Keane aside. Edson Buddle was a step or two slow and never really got involved -- Chad Barrett's entrance in the 56th minute sparked some life in L.A.'s offense -- and poor showings by Juninho in central midfield and right back Sean Franklin hurt as Kansas City, fueled with superb showings by Kamara and fellow winger Bobby Convey, dominant front man C.J. Sapong, central midfielders Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza, and center back Aurelien Collin, scored a triumph far more one-sided than the score suggests.

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GALAXY: Donovan uncertain vs. Revs

March, 29, 2012
CARSON -- Landon Donovan missed training again Thursday, and Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena acknowledged afterward his captain could miss this weekend's game against New England because of a quadriceps strain.

Donovan also skipped sessions Monday and Tuesday after last training on Saturday. The Galaxy were off Wednesday.

“We've kept him out,” Arena said after Thursday's practice at Home Depot Center. “He's got some nagging injuries. Since he's come back, he's had a bunch, and we've kept him out of training trying to get him at 100 percent.”

Arena called the primary injury a “minor strain” and said “it's always possible” that it could sideline Donovan for Saturday night's game at Home Depot Center. “That's been the case over the last two, three games, but we want to be smart and make sure we get him right.”

Donovan played the full 90 in all four Galaxy games to start the season and seemed at full strength in the March 18 victory over D.C. United, following a lengthy bout with flu and bronchitis. He dealt with several injuries last season, including a quad strain that affected his play over the final three months.

“He's got a slight problem, but it's not a big issue,” David Beckham said. “We have to be careful with players and little niggles they pick up. He'll be fine.”

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OLYMPICS: Stunning Canada sinks U.S.

March, 24, 2012

Lucas CavalliniAP Photo/Mark HumphreyLucas Cavallini, left, and Doneil Henry celebrate one of Canada's goals against the U.S.

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:


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.

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MLS Power Rankings: Bridge to London

March, 21, 2012
CARSON -- Attention this week turns to CONCACAF's qualifiers for this summer's Olympics, with Group A -- featuring the U.S. -- opening Thursday in Nashville, and Group B starting Friday at Home Depot Center.

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).

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Power Rankings: Bruins everywhere

March, 14, 2012

UCLA's presence in Major League Soccer is somewhat staggering. There are 20 Bruins on opening-day rosters, at least one for 11 different clubs. Several others were in camps during preseason and could crop up again.

Westwood has long produced top players -- at least three in every U.S. World Cup team back to 1990, usually in important roles; on the last seven men's Olympic rosters; and 61 Bruins have played in MLS since the league's 1996 debut.

The 20 this year includes Galaxy forward Chad Barrett, midfielders Kyle Nakazawa and Michael Stephens, and goalkeeper Brian Perk, and Chivas USA midfielder Peter Vagenas.

The others, by club:

Colorado Rapids: Defender Marvell Wynne.
FC Dallas: Goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.
New England Revolution: Midfielders Benny Feilhaber and Kelyn Rowe, and goalkeeper Matt Reis.
Philadelphia Union: Forward Chandler Hoffman and midfielder Amobi Okugo.
Portland Timbers: Midfielder Sal Zizzo.
Real Salt Lake: Defender Tony Beltran and goalkeeper Matt Reis.
Seattle Sounders: Forward David Estrada, midfielder Andy Rose and defender Patrick Ianni.
Sporting Kansas City: Defender Chance Myers.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Defender Jordan Harvey.

That's not all. Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid played at UCLA, then guided the Bruins to three NCAA titles before winning MLS Cup titles with the Galaxy and Columbus Crew. Chivas USA assistant coach Greg Vanney played at Westwood. Sounders technical director Chris Henderson, part of the 1990 World Cup side, is a member of the fraternity.

Former Chivas USA captain Jonathan Bornstein, now in Mexico, is a Bruin. So are Jimmy Conrad, who moved into Chivas USA technical department after retiring last year; Frankie Hejduk and Sean Alvarado, who were with the Galaxy last year, and Maxwell Griffin, a second-division forward who spent time last season with San Jose.

UCLA's former MLS standouts also include National Soccer Hall of Famers Cobi Jones and Paul Caligiuri, slam-dunk future inductee Brad Friedel (with Tottenham in England) and U.S. national team captain Carlos Bocanegra, a two-time MLS Defender of the Year toiling for Rangers FC in Scotland.

Here's this week's power rankings:

1. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (0-0-0, 0 points), Last Week: 2
Last week:
Idle after David Estrada and Brad Evans fueled 2-1 win over Santos Laguna in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
We say: UC Irvine-produced national-team pool midfielder Brad Evans says Santos is “the best team we're going to face all year.” He's probably right.
So Cal hero: Lots to choose from. We're rooting for Riverside's Sammy Ochoa, who landed in Seattle after playing in Mexico.
Next: Wednesday in a Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Santos Laguna (Mexico), 5 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel and Telefutura); Saturday vs. Toronto FC, 7 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

2. REAL SALT LAKE (1-0-0, 3 points), LW: 3
Last week:
Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola add to an own goal as RSL scores three in the last 18 minutes to beat the Galaxy, 3-1.
We say: Kyle Beckerman huffs after beating Galaxy: “When have they been the better team? … They never possess the ball. They sit in. It's a matter of if we score or not. We're always going to have the possession.”
So Cal hero: Montclair's Nick Rimando might be MLS's best netminder.
Next: Saturday vs. New York, 7 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

3. GALAXY (0-1-0, 0 points), LW: 1
Last week:
The Galaxy rally for a 2-2 Champions League draw at Toronto FC, then concede a late lead in a 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake, ending a 25-game HDC unbeaten streak.
We say: Goals-against average after two games: 2.5. In preseason: 1.89. Last year: 0.79.
So Cal hero: Bell Gardens' Hector Jimenez is a winger ready to contribute.
Next: Wednesday in a Champions League quarterfinal second leg vs. Toronto FC at Home Depot Center, 7 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel and Telefutura); Sunday vs. D.C. United at Home Depot Center, 4 p.m. (KDOC/Channel 56 and Galavision).

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GALAXY: First step for Stephens

March, 13, 2012

Michael StephensOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesThe Galaxy's Michael Stephens is with the U.S. U-23 team as it prepares for Olympic qualification.

CARSON -- Michael Stephens has been around the U.S. national teams programs long enough to know he can't be thinking about London just yet. The U.S. under-23 team must qualify for the men's soccer tournament at the London Olympics, and the fight for roster spots will be stiff.

The Galaxy's third-year midfielder says it's “a big honor” just to be part of Caleb Porter's roster for the March 22-April 2 CONCACAF qualifying tournament. Anything more, of course, would be terrific.

“[London] is too far,” the former UCLA star said following the Galaxy's training session Tuesday morning at Home Depot Center. “Obviously, we first have to qualify, then, obviously, a lot will go into picking those [roster] selections after that, so just take it one step at a time.”

Stephens is a versatile midfielder with good touch and ideas, capable of playing on either flank or in the middle, qualities that have made him a valuable asset off the bench as Porter, coach of NCAA powerhouse Akron, has built toward the qualifiers with camps last year in Germany, at HDC in January and last month in Texas.

“I think that's great that [Stephens] is in the pool of players ...,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “He's a good player, brings a lot of energy to the team.”

The team began gathering Tuesday in Nashville, but Stephens won't travel until after the Galaxy's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg Wednesday night against Toronto FC at HDC. His time with the U-23s hasn't helped him with L.A.

“We missed him for a couple weeks in preseason, an important part of preseason, for these practice games that [the U-23s] played,” Arena noted. “We've missed him a little bit in preseason, and that's hurt his ability to get on the field with us.”

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CHIVAS USA: Villafaña's aim is London

March, 12, 2012

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.”

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GALAXY: Galaxy wows in first outing

February, 3, 2012

CARSON -- The Galaxy are through only two weeks of preparations, they're missing their biggest names and haven't had much chance to build chemistry among the returning players and newcomers, so whatever their preseason opener produced doesn't mean a whole lot.

But as first impressions go, their victory Friday morning over the L.A. Blues had definite wow factor.

The Galaxy sent out a virtual starting lineup for the first 45 minutes -- everyone except he four missing stars and injured Omar Gonzalez's replacement -- and dominated the Blues, scoring five goals before halftime in a 7-2 romp on the club's practice field at Home Depot Center.

Marcelo Sarvas enjoyed a wonderful debut, teaming with Michael Stephens in central midfield to orchestrate an attack that moved easily, with interchange worthy of midseason, and passed the ball almost at will in a performance that suggests far more than it should.

The Blues, preparing for their second campaign in the third-tier USL Pro, also is in preseason form and did without a good number of their top players, but they're not an MLS club and couldn't keep up until L.A. coach Bruce Arena brought on a less-experienced cast for the second half.

Adam Cristman scored twice and assisted another, Sarvas converted a penalty kick and set up two goals with defense-splitting passes, and teen phenom Jack McBean scored as nice a goal as he might ever score to highlight a far more even second half.

Sarvas, the Brazilian playmaker brought in from Costa Rican power Alajuelense to replace departed Juninho, made the biggest impression. He's got quick feet, great ideas and vision that is going provide an additional dimension to an L.A. attack that seems to gain more each day.

The Galaxy made it look easy in the first half. Sarvas provided the lead from the penalty spot after a hand ball, Todd Dunivant finished from Sarvas' service about a half-hour in, Cristman tapped home a gift from Paolo Cardozo after a penetrating ball from Stephens, Cardozo scored from Cristman's feed, and Cristman added another after Sarvas played Sean Franklin into the box.

“It was certainly a concern losing Juninho -- he was a great player, and we're going to miss him -- but I think Marcelo is stepping in the role very nicely and is almost very similar in his ball-winning and distribution and chance creation,” Cristman said. “He played a great ball that led to [the last goal of the half], and he does a good job of switching the ball, and I think he combines well with the guys in the middle of the field. I think we had some good combinations in there.

“That was good to see, and good to see him in a real game situation. He's going to be a good fit for us.”

Sarvas said it wasn't quite as easy as it appeared.

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