Los Angeles Soccer: MLS Preseason
OXNARD -- Marvin Iraheta's first game experience with Chivas USA's first team was such a blast that even a knee injury, one that might be more serious than he believes, couldn't wipe the smile from his face.
The Goats' 19-year-old Salvadoran midfielder, signed out of the club's academy, offered a lot more good than ill in Friday morning's preseason opener, a 1-0 loss to the Ventura County Fusion in heavy winds at Oxnard College.
Iraheta was paired at the base of midfield with another Chivas debutant, 12-year MLS veteran Peter Vagenas, in a 4-2-3-1 alignment for the first of two 30-minute halves, and his incisive play and positive energy certainly made an impression.
“I like playing alongside him,” said Vagenas, a former Galaxy captain from UCLA whose signing has been completed but not announced. “I don't like driving him home all the time. I could do a few days here without Marvin, to be honest.”
He's kidding, of course. Iraheta, too, is from Pasadena, and Vagenas, who has 14 years on the youngster, is taking the kid under his wing.
“He's a good kid,” said Vagenas, who lives in Arcadia, close enough to carpool with Iraheta. “He seems to understand the game, he seems to want to get better, which is important, and he's all ears: He listens, which is good for a young player. ... Obviously, as he moves his career forward, he'll realize that the game is going to be a lot faster, and the things he did a year ago in three touches, he's got to do in one. I'm trying to encourage him not to get a false sense of security, especially in the middle of midfield, that he's just got to speed up his play.
“He's 19 years old. The sky's the limit, as they say, and as long as he continues to progress, he's going to be OK.”
Iraheta had a blast, calling it “a great experience to play next to someone the caliber of Peter” and saying he was “so happy I had the opportunity to play with the first team in my first game, and I feel like I'm important now, and I'm going to work hard and show [I can play].”
That's certainly the hope. Iraheta went down in the 20th minute, twisting his left knee in an unfortunate tackle. He reported he heard a pop -- never a good thing -- and tests will be required to assess how serious is the damage.
He wasn't the only casualty. Trialist Mario Ledesma, a former Chivas Academy player who has played in Guadalajara's system, hurt his right ankle midway through the second half.
Forgive us if we're wondering who's going to score goals.
That's five zeros in the last seven games, three in the last four, and, wait, it gets worse. Chivas scored just five goals in the nine games. Three of them were tallied by Alan Gordon, who was traded Friday to Toronto FC. Another was product of Jesus Padilla, who was dismissed this week from the team.
That leaves one measly goal, by rookie Ecuadoran forward Victor Estupiñan, who predicted as preseason opened that he'd score 30 this season. The Goats sure could use them.
Head coach Robin Fraser has been adamant that he's fine with the attack as long as it is creating chances, and the Goats have created some fine chances -- not always consistently so, perhaps -- that they haven't put away. At some point, they need to put them away.
Juninho and Landon Donovan scored for L.A. in a 2-1 triumph over UCLA on the club's Home Depot Center training fields southeast of the main stadium. Coach Bruce Arena began with what likely will be his starting XI against the Sounders, with every starter getting at least 50 minutes and most 70 or more.
Josh Saunders, the No. 2 keeper, was in the nets; Brazilian backliner Leonardo, who started six preseason games and went the full 90 minutes in his last two, teamed with Omar Gonzalez in central defense. The outside backs (Sean Franklin on the right, Todd Dunivant on the left) and midfield (from right, David Beckham, Juninho, Chris Birchall and Donovan) are holdovers from last year, with newcomers Juan Pablo Angel and Chad Barrett up top.
That lineup put on an impressive first-half performance, subpar finishing aside, pinning the Bruins -- an NCAA title favorite, for sure, next fall -- deep in their end for most of the half.
"It was good," said Angel, who scored only one goal -- in the first game, a 7-1 rout of Loyola Marymount -- during preseason. "The majority of players played more than 60, 65 minutes, which is important. The first half I think we played well. We were well-organized, created chances, and the second half we lost the rhythm a little bit."
Arena was happiest with how the game helped his team's fitness, especially playing in temperatures at or near 80, and that UCLA "pushed us physically, and that's what we wanted."
Are the Galaxy ready for Seattle?
"We're going to have to be," said Dunivant, who limped off in the 61st minute after taking a charley horse in a collision with Bruins sophomore Matt Wiet -- he declared himself fine afterward. "I think all the team at this point in the season are kind of up in the air, but we have a veteran team, and we've had a good preseason. We have a big game against Seattle, so whether we're ready of not, we really don't have a choice."
It took more than a month for approval to arrive on loan deals bringing in goalkeeper Sergio Arias and winger Francisco "Panchito" Mendoza, a former Goats regular, from Guadalajara, the parent club. Word came down this week on both, and the club finally announced their acquisitions Wednesday.
The agreement to bring in Owusu, a 22-year-old Ghanaian defender coming on loan from Tarkwa-based Medeama FC, was completed several weeks ago, and he had been awaiting his visa and other paperwork since.
Owusu, whose physique and athleticism make quick impressions, trained with Chivas' reserves Saturday while the first team played a friendly against UCLA, and he trained with the full team for the first time Tuesday. Fraser, who had scouted him for at least a year, is just starting to get a sense of what Owusu will provide.
"He's traveled a long way," Fraser said. "I think it's tough whenever you travel that long and immediately get into a training session. ... I think he's still getting himself adjusted. He's pretty quiet, but he's pretty intense. He came in with a good attitude, wants to do whatever he can to help the team. He listens and works hard. That's pretty much all I can tell you so far."
Owusu, a burgeoning Ghanaian national-teamer who has experience at left back and in central defense, figures to partner Jimmy Conrad in the middle of the backline, forcing Costa Rican defender Michael Umaña into a reserve role.
Conrad's first impression: "I was like, 'Man, that is a man-mountain.' He's a big dude. He's quick and strong -- it's not even fair, the gene pool he's in and the one I'm playing in."
Fraser had described Owusu to Conrad and others in glowing terms, and Conrad said he's "everything I thought he'd be. ... He's just got to get more comfortable, and I'm sure he'll get a little more vocal, and, obviously, when you play in the back, communication is a big part of it. So I expect that to come slowly as he eases himself in the group."
The Dartmouth-educated New Zealander is a two-way central midfielder taken with the third overall selection in the Jan. 18 supplemental draft -- basically, the start of the fourth round.
Keat was one of them, and for that he's thankful, and with reason. His injury might have cost him a chance elsewhere in the league, but he's already signed his L.A. contract and is looking forward to getting onto the field.
“I'm ready to go,” he said. “I've been itching to play for a long time.”
Here are five questions with Keat:
You've not been on the field; how has the team been treating you?
They've had a lot of confidence and faith to stick with me through this time, and they've said just be patient and keep working hard, and I hope it will work out. That's all I can really do.
You know, when you're injured, you've got to almost work harder than if you're training, to make sure you do all the right things and look after your body and make sure that you're ready when you get out on the field. … It's a little tough, coming in and being in the training room a lot. It's not where you want to be, being a rookie and missing out on all the hard work, but all I can do is go in and show that I'm working hard, and the guys, I think, can see that.
How did you end up at Dartmouth?
They had an assistant coach from New Zealand, and I grew up with Craig Henderson, who was a year ahead of me [at Dartmouth]. … It all stems from the [Notre Dame men's coach and former New Zealand national team boss] Bobby Clarke connection back to New Zealand. At a basic level, all New Zealanders stem from that, so I have to thank him and a lot of people for where I am now.
I knew some guys from my club that [went to college in the U.S.] -- Mike Wilson went to Stanford, and, obviously, there are players doing well, like Ryan Nelsen and Simon Elliott, who came through the system and went on to have great careers. I was never going to stay in New Zealand. I think I decided when I was about 15 I was going to go to Europe or end up in the States. So [coming to America] was a very real option and something that worked out wonderfully for me.
There were positives to be found in Chivas USA's dress rehearsal Saturday night, but not the kind that show up on the scoreboard. The Goats lost, again, this time to a college team, and head into the final two weeks of preparations for their Major League Soccer opener needing, one veteran said, “a little more urgency.”
Chivas had the better of play most of the way in a 2-1 loss to UCLA at Home Depot Center's track and field stadium, but putting away chances continues to be a struggle and defense on set plays has to be a concern.
The result itself doesn't matter, not really, except that the Goats were looking to duplicate a regular-season match -- from pregame to final whistle, including a close-to-first-choice lineup and just three substitutions -- and will be hoping the real thing, starting March 19 against Sporting Kansas City at HDC, doesn't end in defeat.
- Another goal, just their second in the past six preseason matches, and by Alan Gordon -- playing up top again -- who has netted three of the five Chivas has scored in eight games. Unfortunately, Gordon was overwhelmed by the defensive pressure UCLA applied, and head coach Robin Fraser did not appear pleased.
- The return of Justin Braun, last season's top scorer, who has been slowed or sidelined the entire preseason by an ankle injury. He came on in the 64th minute for Gordon and added a spark to the attack.
- The Goats fared well against UCLA's defense-stretching speed, especially center backs Jimmy Conrad and Michael Umaña, who answered a few questions about their ability to contend with fast foes.
It's a work in progress, the concepts and culture Fraser is implementing, and it's coming in starts and stops.
“We have two or three guys thinking the same thing [on the field], and maybe certain plays we've got four or five guys thinking the same thing,” said Conrad, the only UCLA alum in the Chivas lineup. “We need to get to a point where we've got everybody thinking the same thing, reading the same thing, picking up on the same cues -- the ball's here, here's how we're going to move; the ball turns over, this is how we're going to support each other.
“That can be a little bit cleaner. I think we do that at times. I think we show that when we do it right, it looks really good, and it flows, and it looks nice. It's aesthetically pleasing, if you will. But there's going to be some times we have to grit it out, and we have to just win balls in good areas and try to turn it the other way. There's a lot of different ways to win games, and I think we're trying to just do it one way, and I think that's what's limiting us right now.”
THE GAME: Gordon gave the Goats a 23rd-minute lead, turning a defender after taking a pass from Francisco Mendoza, and Conrad nearly made it 2-0 off a 35th-minute corner kick, but the ball was cleared off the line. UCLA pulled even, through Chandler Hoffman, on a corner kick three minutes later, and Andy Rose converted a 76th-minute penalty kick after a Umaña hand ball.
The big striker from Yorba Linda underwent arthroscopic surgery Thursday to repair a slight tear in the meniscus in his right knee and is expected to be out as long as four weeks. The Quakes, who acquired him in draft-day trade from Columbus, open the Major League Soccer season March 19 at home against Real Salt Lake.
"It's not really, really bad, but it's one of those things where it was going to linger," San Jose coach Frank Yallop told the league's website. "He wanted to get it done. It's his knee, and he felt it wasn't right."
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward is slated to be the target man in the Quakes' new 4-3-3 alignment. Ryan Johnson was slated to play the position in San Jose's exhibition Friday night against MLS champion Colorado in San Luis Obispo.
"It is [disappointing], because he's played well and trained well in preseason, but that's the reason we have a squad of players,” Yallop said. "Hopefully, we won't miss him too much."
The 16-year-old phenom from Newport Beach, who trained with L.A. for the first time Thursday, had several decent chances in a 25-minute stint at the end of the Galaxy's 4-0 rout of Canada's under-23 team on one of the club's training fields southeast of Home Depot Center's main stadium.
"It was cool," said McBean, a Corona del Mar High School sophomore who signed a "Home Grown Player" contract with L.A. in January. "All the guys were really supportive. It's really cool to know the guys want me to score.
"Adam was trying to set me up twice, and then he finally took one for himself and put it in the side net, so got to learn from that. It was a lot of fun."
Cristman's 85th-minute goal, his third strike of the preseason, completed the romp. Bryan Jordan had assists on goals by Miguel Lopez in the 15th minute and Mike Magee in the 38th, and Jovan Kirovski scored in the 52nd. Magee's goal also was his third; Chris Birchall has three, too.
McBean might have had three goal opportunities, and he was rued one miss, slipping the ball just past the left post in the 76th minute. Cristman tried to play him into space in the 70th minutes -- McBean failed to make the run -- and fed him two minutes later for a shot that was blocked. McBean took a touch before shooting; had he hit it first time, he might have had his first goal.
"He's good," said Cristman, a fifth-year forward acquired Jan. 11 from D.C. United. "He's a big kid. Moves well. He's fast. He did well holding the ball up a few times and getting in the box and getting in good spots. I tried to set him up twice, but it got caught out."
Joe Corona, the 20-year-old winger out of National City and San Diego State, was superb in a 2-2 draw at the University of San Diego's Torero Stadium, and Bruce Arena noticed.
“I think their No. 15,” he said. Told that No. 15 was from San Diego, had played at SDSU (as well as Sweetwater High School and for the lauded Nomads club), Arena was taken aback.
“He's a San Diego kid? Wow. Amazing,” he said. “Can we get him for the Galaxy? He's a good player.”
Tijuana might not want to give him up. He made a favorable impression as the Xolos romped to the second-tier Liga de Ascenso title in the fall, has been even better in the spring season and ought to be a pivotal figure on the team if it wins promotion to the Primera Division -- the league with America, Guadalajara, Cruz Azul and the like -- come May.
The notion of playing for L.A. doesn't sound too awful to Corona.
“That would be a great opportunity for me to play a different style of soccer,” he said. “It's always great we have these types of games, because we can show our talent, and we should have them more often. Because there's a lot of kids from down in Mexico that can come here and play, that have good quality soccer.”
Marcos Mondaini celebrated his new pact with Chivas USA by playing atop a diamond midfield Tuesday and showing off his playmaking skills. Not too shabby, either, even if it led to nothing concrete in a 2-0 loss to Canada's under-23 national team.
“Basically, we threw him in there without much instruction at all,” Goats head coach Robin Fraser said. “We just wanted to see what his instincts were.”
“I think that he was very calm on the ball, very calm first touch, has good ideas in the attacking end.”
A fine start for the 26-year-old Argentine midfielder, who was acquired in a loan deal announced Tuesday from Uruguayan club CA Fenix. The move have Chivas a full allotment of 30 players, at least until 23-year-old defender Carlos Borja (Anaheim/Loara HS) was waived a few hours later.
The two biggest names among trialists are gone, too. Colombian defender Jimmy Asprilla fell victim to numbers -- too many backliners on the roster, not enough international spots to use on another -- and Trinidadian striker Stern John, the former MLS star who spent the past decade or so in England, just wasn't ready to go after surgery last year to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“You could see he had some very good moments,” Fraser said. “You could see he's Stern John -- he's as comfortable in the box as any forward. But physically he wasn't quite ready yet, and so we left it open-ended, saying we'd love to see him get healthy and see what happens at that point.”
MORE ON MONDAINI: He has two friends with MLS experience: Real Salt Lake forward Fabian Espindola and former Columbus forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto, whom he knew while at Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors.
“I know it's a hard league, very competitive,” he said Tuesday, and of the league's physical nature: “That's what I was talking about when I was talking to Fabian. In 2007, with Boca, we made a tour and played against MLS teams, and I noticed that here is very physical, very strong.” And, yes, he said, he can deal with it.
“He's good. Obviously, he has a lot of tactical awareness: He knows where he should be,” said Chivas defender Jimmy Conrad, who went the full 90 against the Canadians. “Athletically, he might run into problems. You know, he's not the biggest guy, and our league is built on athleticism. He's going to have to really use his brain to find space and to make a difference.”
The Galaxy's youngest player has arrived in Southern California after leading the U.S. under-17 team to the regional championship, and he'll train with the first team for the first time Thursday.
He accomplished more pressing business first, joining his former teammates at Corona del Mar High School for a bus trek to its CIF Southern Section Division 3 semifinal game Tuesday afternoon at Paramount High and cheering on the Sea Kings in a 2-1 defeat.
Afterward, 16-year-old forward Jack McBean said he was excited to be joining the Galaxy and hoped he could reward their faith in him.
“I know I'm not going to go in there and start right away, because they have Juan Pablo [Angel] and Landon [Donovan],” said McBean, who signed as a “Home Grown Player” in January but has been with the U.S. U-17s as they prepared for and played in the CONCACAF championship.
“I want to improve my game the best I can, take all the experience I can as a young player, have an open mind to things, try to get better every day and see where that takes me.”
McBean's life has been a whirlwind the past few months. He left Corona del Mar to join the U.S. under-17 residency in Bradenton, Fla., then signed with the Galaxy, then played a pivotal role -- assisting two goals and setting up a third -- in the Americans' 3-0 overtime triumph over Canada in Sunday's final in Jamaica.
He's not expected to play much, if any, first-team soccer for the Galaxy this season, instead learning in practice and in reserve games, playing for the club's youth Academy team and featuring for the U.S. U-17s, who are headed to the June 18-July 10 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
Chivas USA is bringing in Argentine midfielder Marcos Mondaini on loan from Uruguay's CA Fenix, filling out the squad, at least for the moment, on Major League Soccer's roster-compliance date.
Mondaini's acquisition, it turns out, was a done deal when he arrived in camp last week. He played 29 minutes on the right flank in the Goats' 0-0 draw Friday against D.C. United.
Mondaini, 25, is from Boca Juniors' system and also has played for Emelec and Barcelona in Ecuador, Nacional in Uruguay and Atletico Nacional in Colombia.
The club expects to announce the loan deal before Tuesday's noon scrimmage against Canada's under-23 team at Home Depot Center's track and field stadium, a team official said.
Chivas has a full allotment of players -- 30, including Ghanaian defender Seth Owusu, who had not arrived in camp as of Monday -- and four trialists. Coach Robin Fraser has said Colombian defender Jimmy Asprilla is a possible signing, if he fills a genuine need. Trinidadian striker Stern John, a former MLS star who spent more than a decade in England, just joined camp, but we're hearing whispers he isn't likely to stay.
All teams must have no more than 30 players, six in developmental slots, and be under the $2.675 million salary cap.
The Galaxy, which has 28 players on its roster, are expected to make no moves.
LAHOUD HURT: Midfielder Michael Lahoud will be out for about three weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a deep cut on his right knee sustained in a collision goalkeeper Dan Kennedy in training Sunday.
Lahoud, a third-year pro out of Wake Forest, played all over Chivas' midfield under former coaches Preki and Martin Vasquez but is being groomed for the defensive midfielder role by Fraser's staff.
"You joking?" Fraser said when asked the identity of the club's newest trialist. "None of you [media] guys know? ... Uh, helluva goal scorer in this league 12 years ago."
John, who played last season for Crystal Palace and on loan for Ipswich Town, is coming off a knee injury and not yet ready for game action, but there was no questioning the power and accuracy of his shot.
"He was really looking for an opportunity to get in with a club," Fraser said. "As you can tell, he doesn't look like he's necessarily quite ready, but when a guy who's scored goals in places he has [comes along], you take a look at him."
John, who as a young MLS player impressed with his quickness, power and knack in front of the net, was just fantastic in 1998, scoring an MLS-best 26 goals. He then tied for the league lead with 18 in 1999.
"One of [MLS's best]. Absolutely one of them," said Fraser, who was a center back for the Galaxy when John was in the league. "I know I had my battles with him, and it was funny: Carlos [Llamosa, a Chivas USA assistant coach and former MLS defender] said the same thing, and then Jimmy [Conrad] afterwards said the same thing. We've all had to deal with him for sure."
Also new in camp is Argentine midfielder Marcos Mondaini, 26, who came out of Boca Juniors' academy and has played, on loan from the Buenos Aires giant, for Ecuadoran clubs Emelec and Barcelona, for Nacional in Uruguay and most recently for Colombia's Atletico Nacional. He played the final 29 minutes on the right flank in Friday's 0-0 draw with D.C. United at Home Depot Center.
"He's just a player I've kind of watched for a while," Fraser said. "Quick, crafty ... definitely an interesting player who's done pretty well in a couple different countries. We're just going to see where it goes and see how it is and see how he fits into the group and how he does."
A club official said Friday night that Mondaini likely will be signed in the next few days.
"He took a knock and is out right now, but we expect to get him back soon ..." Arena said. "I think he'll be back in the near future. But we'll just have to see. Those are things that are day by day."
Berhalter, 37, missed most of the last three months of last season with what was called a mysterious ailment, but he's expected to team again with MLS Best XI defender Omar Gonzalez in the middle of the Galaxy backline this season. He's also an assistant coach for the team.
The trip otherwise went as desired.
"It was a good trip," Arena said. "Where the team's at right now is not good enough to win many games in the league. We know in the next 2½ weeks we have to get better as a team. I think what we've accomplished in the early going of preseason is identifying perhaps how we have to play, identifying the quality of our new players -- which is important -- and how we've got to organize our team around some of them. But I think it's been good. We've moved it along slowly on purpose because it's a long preseason and I think we don't need to be at our best in February, we need to be at our best beginning in March, and we're slowly moving toward that."
The league boosted its playoff participants to 10 teams with the addition of two single-game wild-card showdowns, which should be welcomed by Chivas and Columbus, Chicago and D.C., K.C. and New England, even Toronto FC.
The Galaxy and the like? Are you kidding?
Here's how the postseason works this year:
This system will cut down on all that confusing cross-conference movement in the playoffs, which led to an all-West showdown in last year's Eastern Conference final, an Eastern Conference title (en route to MLS Cup glory) by Real Salt Lake in 2009, and a Western championship by New York in 2008.
Had this system been in place last year, K.C. would have been the No. 3 seed in the East and opened against Columbus, which the then-Wizards might have won. Which would have left them 90 minutes from MLS Cup.
One wild-card battle would have matched Colorado against San Jose. ... Hey, they did play -- in the Eastern Conference final. The Rapids prevailed, then won the MLS Cup crown. (The other wild-card matchup would have been Seattle-Chicago; the Galaxy likely would have opened against Colorado.)
MLS has had eight playoff teams since its 1996 start, when there were only 10 clubs. As the league slowly grew to 16 teams by 2010, eight playoff berths seemed sufficient. Portland and Vancouver make for 18 teams this season and Montreal for 19 next year, and eight still sounds perfect.
L.A. would have reached the 2006 playoffs had this format been in place, but nothing could have saved the Galaxy in 2007 and 2008. And forget Chivas last year or in 2005.