Los Angeles Soccer: Omar De la Piedra
Fullerton Rangers coach Raul Zico Ruiz expects a classic battle of opposing styles when his club takes on the Ventura County Fusion in Tuesday's opening round of the U.S. Open Cup.
Fusion coach Ole Mikkelsen doesn't know what to expect, and really doesn't care.
“At the end of the day, in the first round, you just want to play your game and get a few fortunate bounces of the ball,” he said. “I knew very little about the teams we've played in the first round the past few years, and I know very little about [Fullerton]. At the end of the day, we'll focus on the style of soccer we want play. Hopefully, it's enough to get you through.
“Last year it was. The year before it wasn't.”
The Rangers probably have the advantage at Santa Ana Stadium, owing to schedule and holdovers. They made the National Premier Soccer League playoffs last year as the Santa Ana Winds, and most of the players stuck around when the team changed sponsors -- so there's some continuity at work. They were playing Open Cup qualifiers in March and opened National Premier Soccer League play on April 7.
The Fusion, with a relatively new roster, played their first Premier Development League game last week. Many of the players who were with the team during preseason -- when they took on (and beat) Major League Soccer clubs -- are with bigger teams in more advanced leagues.
“It's a huge advantage for us,” said Ruiz, who scouted the Fusion's 1-0 PDL loss Sunday against L.A. Misioneros and says Ventura County's direct approach will contrast with the Rangers' possession-first game. “We had a couple of losses in league, but they brought the team together. We've been together now two years, and they know how each other plays and moves off the ball.”
The winner advances to a second-round game next week against the L.A. Blues, tentatively slated for Riverside Community College's Norco campus.
The Rangers are 4-2-0 in the NPSL, but both losses came when they were without midfielder leader Andre Turoldo (Torrance/North Torrance HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills) and backline anchor Leobardo Alvarez.
The Fusion (0-1-1 in the PDL) lost to the Arizona Sahuaros on penalties in the first round of the 2010 Open Cup -- they had qualified by winning the PDL title -- and last year beat Manhattan Beach's Doxa Italia in the first round and lost to the L.A. Blues in the second round.
Two more Southern California teams, both with pro talent, also play openers Tuesday. U.S. Adult Soccer Association Region IV champion PSA Elite, from Irvine, visits 2010 PDL champ Portland Timbers U-23, and Region IV runner-up Cal FC, from Thousand Oaks, plays at reigning PDL titlist Kitsap Pumas in Bremerton, Wash.
Tyler Coombes (Palmdale/Palmdale HS and Cal State L.A.) and Alex Harlley (Rosamond/Rosamond HS) scored early goals, and the Storm (2-0-1) -- revitalized by a new coach (Jose Meza) and lots of new talent -- pulled out a 2-0 victory over the weekend to vault over the Rangers (2-1-0) and to the top the Southern Conference standings in the National Premier Soccer League's Western Division.
Coombes, coming off a five-goal, NPSL player-of-the-week performance in a 9-1 rout of Phoenix a week earlier, tallied in the third minute, heading home Stephen Martines' corner kick. Harlley, a Togo-born forward who scored 45 goals as a senior this season at Rosamond High School, first-timed from 22 yards a Matt Shaxton cross in the 27th.
Santa Clarita leads the San Diego Flash (2-0-1) on goal difference.
Thousand Oaks' FC Hasental claimed its first victory, winning, 2-1, at San Diego Boca on goals by Robert Pate (Chatsworth/Chatsworth HS and Cal State Northridge) and Omar de la Piedra (L.A. Mission College). The Conejos' home opener, at Cal Lutheran's Rolland Stadium, is Saturday night against Santa Clarita.
The Bay Area Ambassadors play Sunday for a U.S. Open Cup berth against Stanislaus United Turlock Express, which beat Paso Robles' Naples FC, 5-2, in the U.S. Club Soccer qualifying final.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
PREMIER DEVELOPMENT LEAGUE: Paul Islas scored twice late in the first half as defending Southwest Division champ Fresno Fuego opened the PDL season with a 4-1 win over L.A. Misioneros.
Cesar Rivera, the L.A. Blues' top scorer last year, netted the lone goal for the L.A. side, which, a club official said, includes former Chivas USA midfielder Gerson Mayen and former Galaxy defender Mike Randolph, although neither featured in the Central Valley. The return game is Sunday at Carver Middle School in Los Angeles.
Hollywood United FC has piled up 23 goals in its past four games, setting scoring standards that could make the Hitmen the class of the National Premier Soccer League's Western Division.
Only San Diego Flash -- not nearly as flashy but just as successful, perhaps more, than HUFC -- seems to stand between the revered L.A. side and the division title.
Hollywood United improved to 5-1-0 last weekend with a 5-3 romp over San Diego Boca as Cuban forward Jose Miranda netted a hat trick, the club's second in as many matches. Former Chivas USA winger Brent Whitfield (Long Beach/Poly HS and Cal State Fullerton) scored three in the 11-0 destruction of Real San Jose eight days earlier.
Rene Corona (Corona/Centennial HS and Santa Ana College) also tallied twice as HUFC remained ahead of the Flash (5-0-0) on goal difference -- it's plus-19 to plus-9 -- and impressive wins. HUFC crushed both of the divisions Northern California powers on a mid-April trek north; the Flash beat the Sonoma County Sol, 1-0, in San Diego last weekend.
The victory that matters most was the Flash's over HUFC, which took a first-half lead through Miranda but surrendered two second-half goals in a 3-1 decision.
Elsewhere in the NPSL:
- Santa Ana Winds (3-1-0) ran their winning streak to three games, beating Rattlers FC, 3-0, in Palmdale as Diego Turoldo (Torrance/North Torrance HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills) scored his third and fourth goals and Mike Piechota (Cal State Dominguez Hills) added a goal and an assist. The teams meet again Saturday in Santa Ana.
- Omar De La Piedra (L.A. Mission College) scored a big goal for the second straight week, lifting Thousand Oaks' FC Hasental (1-3-1) to a 2-2 draw with visiting Bay Area Ambassadors. Johnny Gonzalez netted his third goal for Los Conejos.
PREMIER DEVELOPMENT LEAGUE: UCLA sophomore Chandler Hoffman scored twice and assisted San Diego County high-schooler Adrian Avila's goal as Orange County Blue Star opened its Premier Development League campaign with a 4-0 romp over the L.A. Legends.
Hollywood United FC is finding that the National Premier Soccer League's Western Division not as tough as it hoped it would be.
The Hitmen, atop the Southwest Flight, hammered Real San Jose, 11-0, on Saturday night to improve to 4-1-0. The last three wins, all shutouts over Northwest Flight clubs, have been by an 18-0 margin. HUFC joined the NPSL, primarily for financial reasons, after playing several seasons in the rival Premier Development League, and club management cited the competitiveness of NPSL clubs when they announced the switch.
It's clear the divisional championship, barring something wholly unexpected, will be going to HUFC or the San Diego Flash, who are 4-0-0 after a 3-0 win over Bay Area Ambassadors up in Hayward. The Flash beat the Hitmen, 3-1, on April 9
Former Chivas USA winger Brent Whitfield (Long Beach/Long Beach Poly HS and Cal State Fullerton) had a hat trick after 34 minutes, and Jose Miranda and Andy Contreras pitched in with two goals apiece.
HASENTAL WINS: Thousand Oaks' FC Hasental claimed its first victory, spoiling Rattlers FC's NPSL debut with a 3-1 victory at Palmdale High School. Romanian forward Lucian Leu, Johnny Gonzalez and Omar De la Piedra (L.A. Mission College) scored for Hasental (1-3-0).
Santa Ana Winds (2-1-0) made it two in a row on the road with a 3-2 triumph at San Diego Boca on a last-minute strike by Diego Turoldo (Torrance/North Torrance HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills).
GRIFFIN STRIKES AGAIN: Max Griffin (Palmdale/Littlerock HS and UCLA) has two two-goal games in three games for Orlando City FC in the third-tier USL Pro. He netted a pair in a 2-2 draw Friday with Puerto Rico United and leads the third-tier league with four goals.