Los Angeles Soccer: Portland Timbers

L.A. BLUES: Jean-Baptiste arrives on loan

July, 11, 2012
Bright Dike has returned to Portland after energizing the L.A. Blues attack with six goals over a seven-game span, but the Fullerton-based USL Pro club picked up something good from the Timbers.

Center back Andrew Jean-Baptiste, a first-round pick in January's MLS SuperDraft, has joined the Blues on loan from Portland in advance of this week's games against last-place Antigua Barracuda in Bradenton, Fla.

Also arriving on loan is Orlando City forward Maxwell Griffin (Palmdale/Littlerock HS), a former UCLA star who scored 10 USL Pro goals last year and finished the season on loan to the San Jose Earthquakes. The Blues sent winger George Davis IV to Orlando on loan in the deal.

The moves with Portland coincide with Monday's dismissal of Timbers head coach John Spencer, with general manager Gavin Wilkinson taking charge on an interim basis for the rest of the MLS season.'

The Blues also have signed defender Josh Suggs, who played for the club last year and has been with San Jose this season, and goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski, a Chicago Fire supplemental draft pick who spent nearly a week on trial in February with Chivas USA. Head coach Charlie Naimo indicated L.A. also is talking to an MLS club about acquiring an attacking player.

Woszczynski could be replacing Amir Abedzadeh, the Blues' No. 1 goalkeeper, whose transfer to a club overseas appears imminent.

Naimo, whose team has lost five in a row, expects to release a few players this week.

“Everybody knows we’re one win away from feeling good again,” he said in a club release. “That said, it doesn’t erase what I’ve seen over the past two weeks. Nothing will ever erase that -- not even two wins this week in Florida. What has happened has happened, and the mark has been left. Making changes now is nothing more than the logical conclusion from that.

“It’s never personal, but we’re absolutely going to release players and trade to bring on others who we think can help us. I’m exhausting every minute of my time right now to try to find a way for us to get better in our personnel.”

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CHIVAS: New-look reserves share points

June, 18, 2012

CARSON -- Neither of Chivas USA's center backs Monday morning was under contract, and one of them hadn't played competitively in months -- focused more on his UCLA degree and keeping up with two young sons.

One winger played on the indoor Anaheim Splash's reserve team last winter, and his replacement's experience is primarily in the minor leagues of Germany and the Netherlands. Neither are under contract.

Add in a couple of Chivas Academy stars -- high-schoolers, really -- and the Goats produced a most experimental lineup for their MLS Reserve League clash with Portland. They came out of it with a point -- rookie Casey Townsend and German trialist Sebastian Stachnik scored goals in an entertaining 2-2 draw in Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium -- and, more important, without having to expend much first-team energy.

Chivas is through one of four games in a grueling 11-day stretch, facing a critical Major League Soccer showdown Wednesday against Montreal, and the last thing it needs is to find minutes for players. There are enough meaningful minutes to spread around.

“For sure, we have a game in two days and another three days after that. And the [U.S.] Open Cup game next week,” head coach Robin Fraser said. “We have a busy schedule and are trying to manage the schedule for everyone involved.”

Only six first-team players saw action, and among them, only wingers Laurent Courtois and Ryan Smith, who came on in the second half, can be considered major contributors.

All three trialists in camp -- Stachnik, center back Bobby Burling and Brazilian winger (and former Spash reserve) Tiago Luzardi -- were given roles, and Academy midfielder Eric Gonzalez (Corona/Santiago HS) and forward Ben Spencer made their Reserve League starts since last year.

Also on hand was MLS veteran Nelson Akwari, who has played for the MetroStars, Columbus, Real Salt Lake and Vancouver (when it was a second-division team) before returning to UCLA last year to complete his education. He doubled up in the L.A. Blues' backline last season, but this year has been about school (he's two years from an engineering degree) and family.

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GALAXY: Portland win breeds belief

June, 18, 2012

CARSON -- The Galaxy had spent nearly a month in the Western Conference cellar before Sunday afternoon's victory over the Portland Timbers, but the weight of their performance -- and the circumstances in which it was achieved -- has them thinking the fever finally has broken.

They shook off injuries, suspensions and one big-name absentee on international duty that had whittled their roster by a third and forced them into a makeshift formation featuring just one forward, producing their finest 90 minutes of the campaign in a 1-0 triumph at Home Depot Center that halted an eight-game winless streak in all competitions.

It's a nice foundation to build upon.

“You look at it now, we're five points out of the playoffs with 20 games left,” said left back Todd Dunivant, who headed home a 61st-miunute David Beckham corner kick for the goal. “For as poorly as we started, you look at it that way, and there's a lot of optimism in this locker room.”

The playoffs haven't been in sight since March, when the Galaxy stumbled at the start, then drifted lower and lower. They were at the bottom of the Western standings after the first week and again in March, and a long string of failures starting in late April led to three straight losses in when they'd taken first half leads, then given them back near the finish.

This time everything seemed to click, from the dynamic midfield triangle -- with Beckham, Juninho and the marvelous Marcelo Sarvas -- that replaced L.A.'s customary 4-4-2 alignment to a backline that neither bent nor broke while posting the club's first shutout in seven months.

“We made the little plays and didn't let ourselves down, like we had been,” noted Dunivant. Landon Donovan agreed.

“We got back to doing things that make a difference,” said the Galaxy captain, who nearly gave L.A. an early lead, blasting a deflected cross from Bryan Jordan off the right post from 22 yards in the 15th minute. “It wasn't pretty, but we made a lot of real good plays on both sides of the ball that make a difference. I can’t look at any one guy and say, 'He didn't perform well, and he didn't give it everything he had.' It's a good building block.

“Let's not get carried away. It's one win, but a good win and everyone feels good about it, and to get a shutout against what I think is a good offensive team is a plus.”

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GALAXY: Saunders' shutout lifts L.A.

June, 17, 2012

CARSON -- The Galaxy was missing more than a third of its roster, with 11 players out with injuries or suspensions or off playing in Euro 2012, but Josh Saunders was back in the nets Sunday afternoon -- and he seemed to bring the spirit of last year with him.

The veteran goalkeeper, making his first Major League Soccer appearance since heading into the league's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program in late April, made two big first-half saves, and Todd Dunivant's second-half goal stood up for a 1-0 victory over the Portland Timbers, the club's first shutout since November's MLS Cup triumph ending its seven-game league winless streak.

Forced to play a new formation -- let's call it a 4-5-1, although there were different variations as the game wore on -- the Galaxy played with a tenor that's been missing all season, grinding their way out of the Western Conference cellar with perhaps their most complete performance of the season.

Saunders made a face-save on Kris Boyd in the seventh minute, a diving save on the Scotsman in the 26th, and the men in front of him did the rest, preventing the Timbers from creating anything resembling a scoring chance over the final hour.

“We were fighting numbers today -- we were very limited who we had available. We just had to gut it out,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who stationed Chad Barrett alone up front, had Landon Donovan and Bryan Jordan on the flanks and a midfield triangle headed by Marcelo Sarvas, in his best showing since joing L.A. “Our guys did a terrific job given the numbers we had today and the conditions. ... We knew a goal could hold up today, and we're pleased with that. Because there were a number of games this year that should have ended like that and didn't, so to be able to get the three points tonight is great.”

Sarvas was the key performer, working in combination with David Beckham and Juninho to lead an attack that deserved more than one goal, and Saunders' play in the first half-hour made a huge difference.

“Josh was great,” said Donovan, L.A.'s captain. “I think his attitude since he's been back has been great. I guess everyone would say the same thing: It looks like he has some clarity in life. He looks humble, he looks calm.”

The save on Boyd, a point-blank shot that whistled through Saunders' hands and smashed into his face, was the big play, along with Dunivant's 61st-minute header from a Beckham corner kick, his first goal in more than two years.

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GALAXY: Is Saunders' return a sign?

June, 16, 2012
CARSON -- The last time Josh Saunders touched a ball in a Major League Soccer game, he was making a stoppage-time save on a penalty kick to deliver for the Galaxy a victory at Colorado.

Within a week, the goalkeeper was off in the league's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program -- dealing with stress, he says -- and L.A. was in free fall. They've gone eight first-team games since without a win, dropping into the Western Conference cellar, the Galaxy's 3-8-2 record unimaginable three months ago, and falling to a lower-level club in the U.S. Open Cup.

Josh Saunders
Denny Medley/US PresswireGoalkeeper Josh Saunders will return to start a first-team game for the Galaxy on Sunday vs. Portland.

Saunders is back in the nets for the Galaxy, starting with Sunday afternoon's Home Depot Center clash against the Portland Timbers (3-5-4), and if they're looking for some signal that this could turn things around, there were two MLS Reserve League games this month, both victories, both with Saunders in goal.

“Let's hope it continues,” David Beckham said as the Galaxy prepared for its first match since May 29. “If that happens on Sunday, it'll be down to the work we've been doing during these couple of weeks we've had off, and having Josh back can also lift the team.”

The Galaxy's lack of success with Saunders gone is “just coincidence,” the netminder said, but coach Bruce Arena doesn't agree.

“I don't think it's coincidence,” he said. “I think strong goalkeeping helps you win games, whether it keeps you in a game or results in you maybe getting behind. ... Goalkeepers are valuable to teams, and our team is not tested a whole lot. We've not been put under a while lot of pressure during the year, but still required to make timely saves and important saves, and we haven't gotten that on a consistent basis.”

Bill Gaudette and Brian Perk were no worse than Saunders, and Gaudette maybe a little better, from late April through the end of May, but having the No. 1 on the field can breed confidence. Captain Landon Donovan doesn't think it's an issue, and he's probably correct.

“I would say our goalies have been the least of our problems this year,” Donovan said. “We've got to get all the other stuff right. We've got goalkeepers here who can make plays when needed to, but we're leaving them on an island a lot of these games. We've got to do a better job in front of them, and then when we need them to make plays, they need to make plays.”

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OPEN CUP: Cal FC eyes another upset

June, 5, 2012

Since last week's stunning overtime upset of the Portland Timbers, Thousand Oaks' Cal FC has become a cause célèbre, drawing worldwide attention and comparisons to “Hoosiers” and “Rocky” while opening doors to professional careers for its best players, the whole point all along.

That was this ragtag band of amateurs' third successive U.S. Open Cup victory over professional opposition, and Tuesday night they'll look for No. 4 against a true powerhouse: three-time defending tournament champion Seattle Sounders.

Eric Wynalda, the Hall of Fame striker who put the side together, can't wait. And he won't be surprised if his team again does the unthinkable.

“We match up much better against Seattle than Portland,” Wynalda told ESPN Los Angeles. “A lot of people are saying we have no chance in hell, but from a practical standpoint -- from a game, a matchup -- I'd play Seattle 10 times before I'd play Portland again.”

That's about approach. The Timbers are a direct, battling team. The Sounders prefer a flowing brand of soccer, with possession and passing -- the pretty stuff, which is Cal FC's aim, too.

“The game will have an ebb and flow to it,” Wynalda said. “Two very technically sound teams. It's not going to be a case of just sitting back and trying to hold them off.”

That's what was required in last week's third-round clash. Portland took 43 shots and created more than a dozen good scoring opportunities, but Artur Aghasyan's counterattack goal five minutes into the extra period made Cal FC the biggest upset victor in the 99-year-old competition since MLS clubs arrived on the scene in the mid-'90s.

Cal FC has the talent -- more than a half-dozen players have been in camp with MLS teams, several others have pro experience in lower divisions or foreign leagues -- but nearly everyone on the roster has fallen through cracks while pursuing their dreams. Wynalda, who has extensive coaching experience and covets a chance to run an MLS team, created the team merely to provide them opportunity.

“If these guys aren’t with professional teams in August, then I didn’t do my job,” he said in a conference call Monday. “The idea was to showcase them. First to find them, then give them a chance and let them play and let them show what we can do.”

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GALAXY: Saunders plays, Leonardo hurt

June, 2, 2012
Josh Saunders made his return to action, Leonardo departed with an injury and the Galaxy finally held onto a lead, winning for the first time since late April in a most noteworthy MLS Reserve League clash.

Two first-half free kicks were put away by Leonardo and Chad Barrett as the Galaxy claimed a 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers to vault from fifth to second place in the West Division standings with a 2-1 victory at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Ore. It's L.A.'s first win that counts since the April 21 MLS triumph at Colorado and the first of any sort since a reserve friendly three days later against the L.A. Blues, a span of nine games in all.

The biggest news was Saunders' first game appearance since entering Major League Soccer's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health treatment program at the end of April, but that was quickly overshadowed when Leonardo, just back from a devastating knee injury suffered 13½ months ago, appeared to reinjure his right knee after a collision in L.A.'s box with Timbers forward Sebastian Rincon.

There was no immediate diagnosis on Leonardo, who appeared anguished while lying on the turf, was comforted by several teammates, and had to be stretchered to the sideline.

The Brazilian center back tore several knee ligaments near the end of an April 2011 MLS game in Chicago, including the anterior cruciate and, worse, the lateral collateral, requiring two surgeries and an extended rehabilitation. He made a brief appearance in the April 24 game against the Blues, played a half in the May 8 Reserve League match with San Jose, was activated from the MLS Disabled List on May 18, made the 18-man game-day rosters (but did not play) for the last three MLS matches, and went the full 90 in Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup loss at the Carolina RailHawks.

He went down just five minutes after giving the Galaxy a quick lead, volleying home a free kick that Kyle Nakazawa curled toward the left post. L.A. got its second goal in the 30th, also on a Nakazawa free kick, from the right edge of the box. Jack McBean, beyond the far post, headed the ball into the goalmouth, and Barrett outleapt Eric Alexander to nod it home.

Alexander scored on a 69th-minute penalty kick for Portland after Rafael Garcia fouled Brent Richards.

Saunders, who remains in the SABH program but returned to training May 21, looked solid in his first action since April 21. He did well on crosses into the box, ably cut off balls meant for Portland's forwards and made all the saves he was supposed to make, none of them particularly difficult.

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OPEN CUP: Cal FC tuned in for Sounders

May, 31, 2012
The stunning U.S. Open Cup run by Thousand Oaks' Cal FC has caught attention around the globe, and when Eric Wynalda's sort-of amateurs take on their second Major League Soccer foe next week, the cameras will be there.

Fox Soccer announced on its Twitter account Thursday that Tuesday's fourth-round game, with Cal FC taking on three-time defending Open Cup champion Seattle Sounders in Tukwila, Wash., will be televised live on Fox Soccer Channel. The game is not yet listed on the programming schedule.

Kickoff is 7 p.m.

Wynalda, the Hall of Fame forward who put together a team of mostly unaffiliated pros for this Open Cup run, is an analyst on Fox Soccer's broadcasts. So is Nick Webster, who works with the team and has served as head coach when Wynalda has been on assignment.

Cal FC stunned the Portland Timbers, 1-0, on Artur Aghasyan's overtime goal Tuesday night in a third-round game, the first time a U.S. Adult Soccer Association side has beaten an MLS team in the 17 years the first-division league has existed. The Open Cup is America's oldest and most prestigious tournament, dating to 1913.

The Ventura County club, which features nine players with professional experience and five with some sort of MLS connection, opened the tournament two weeks ago with a 3-1 victory at Premier Development League champion Kitsap Pumas in Bremerton, Wash. They routed third-division pros Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads, 4-0, in the second round last week. Tuesday's winners advance to the June 26 quarterfinals.

Chivas USA also remains alive in the Open Cup and will play the Carolina RailHawks in Cary, N.C., on Tuesday. The match, which begins at 4:07 p.m. PT, will be streamed on the RailHawks' website.

OPEN CUP: Cal FC stuns Timbers

May, 30, 2012

Cal FC celebrationLeah Parr/Portland Timbers Cal FC players celebrate with Artur Aghasyan after his overtime goal against the Portland Timbers.

Cal FC's stirring run through the U.S. Open Cup hadn't been all that unexpected -- this is a team filled with pros, remember, even if they're amateurs here, or at least close to it.

But what the Thousand Oaks club pulled off Wednesday night defied belief.

Artur Aghasyan finished a breakaway five minutes into overtime, and Cal FC fended off wave after wave of attacks by the Portland Timbers to stun the Major League Soccer side, 1-0, in a third-round clash at Jeld-Wen Field, a result that shook the foundations of American soccer.

Eric Wynalda's side was outshot, 43-11, conceded 11 corner kicks and dodged more than a dozen bullets to pull off what might be the greatest upset in this country's premier knockout tournament since MLS's formation 16 years ago.

The reward: a showdown next week in Tukwila, Wash., with three-time defending champion Seattle Sounders, which routed the second-tier Atlanta Silverbacks, 5-1, on Wednesday to advance to the round of 16.

"I think we are the ultimate Cinderella story -- that's for sure," Wynalda told reporters in Portland. "A bunch of misfit kids who did something unbelievable. This is what this Cup is about."

Cal FC is the first U.S. Adult Soccer Association team to defeat an MLS club in the Open Cup, although Texas' Roma FC toppled Chivas USA on penalties following a 0-0 third-round draw in 2006. The Galaxy took care of the amateurs in the following round.

Timbers Army, Portland's fanatical supporters group, serenaded Cal FC when it was over with chants of “You deserve it!” and “Beat Seattle!” The game drew 5,489 fans to the stadium a few blocks west of downtown Portland.

Wynalda, a veteran of three World Cups and a star striker in Germany and in MLS, had on his mind the UEFA Champions League final a week and a half ago in Munich, which he covered as a studio analyst for Fox Sports. Chelsea upset Bayern Munich on penalties in that one after being outshot, 43-9, and outcorner-kicked, 20-1.

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Winning just a start for Cal FC

May, 29, 2012

Eric WynaldaMonica M. Davey/AFP/Getty ImagesEric Wynalda back when he was scoring goals for the U.S. National Team.

Eric Wynalda, one of the finest strikers America ever produced, has built a team somewhat in his own image, and it's taking on America's soccer establishment with impressive results.

Thousand Oaks' Cal FC, a collection of misfit players with undeniable talent, have already conquered two better-fancied clubs in the 99th edition of the U.S. Open Cup, and Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, on Wednesday night, could be next.

Wynalda, a first-ballot National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee who played in three World Cups, starred in Germany and scored the first goal in MLS history, knows that it's possible.

“We didn't enter this competition because we thought this would be fun,” the former goal-getter from Westlake Village, known to a new generation of fans as an at-times acerbic commentator on Fox's soccer coverage, told ESPN Los Angeles. “We really have high hopes. We set goals, we achieve them and we re-set.”

Wynalda's got, as he puts it, “a bunch of guys that everybody knows who they are.” There's former UC Santa Barbara star Danny Barrera (Thousand Oaks/Westlake HS), who trialed with the Chicago Fire during MLS's preseason after a stint in Serbia. And there's Artur Aghasyan, who has played with Real Salt Lake and been on trial a couple of times with Chivas USA. And Richard Menjivar (Panorama City/Monroe HS), a Cal State Bakersfield standout who impressed with El Salvador's U-23s during CONCACAF's Olympic qualifiers.

UCLA alum Eder Arreola (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS), who was drafted in January by the Houston Dynamo and trained with Chivas USA, is with the club. So is former Galaxy/L.A. Blues defender Mike Randolph (Chino Hills/Ayala HS) and Cesar Rivera (Pomona/Garey HS and Mt. San Antonio College), who led the Blues in scoring last year. And goalkeeper Derby Carrillo (La Mirada/St. John Bosco HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills), whom El Salvador's national team has targeted.

And hopefuls such as Danny's brother, Diego (Thousand Oaks HS/Loyola Marymount), former U.S. youth national-teamer Pablo Cruz (Azusa), defenders Hector Espinoza (Garden Grove/Santiago HS and Santa Ana College) and Beto Navarro, and others.

They're all good players who have been overlooked or dismissed or something, and Wynalda's goal is to showcase their talents and help them find paths to the professional careers he thinks they deserve.

That's the whole point of Cal FC, which grew out of Wynalda's experiences the past couple of years working with Mexican third-tier club Murcielagos, which employed for a time current Chivas USA forward Cesar Romero.

“I think the one thing I could say,” Wynalda said, “is I have a very high opinion of some of these guys, but I'm the minority when it comes to that. People just aren't seeing what I see.”

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OPEN CUP: Wynalda's club pulls an upset

May, 22, 2012

Eric Wynalda put together a team with a simple, perhaps unachievable goal: win the U.S. Open Cup.

Thousand Oaks' Cal FC took another step toward that Tuesday night, routing USL Pro side Wilmington Hammerheads, 4-0, in North Carolina to advance to the third round of the nation's oldest soccer competition, in which it will face Major League opposition.

Danny Barrera scored twice from assists by his brother, Diego, and the U.S. Adult Soccer Association side earned a date next week with the Portland Timbers.

Wynalda, an American soccer legend and first-ballot National Soccer Hall of Famer from Westlake Village, was on hand to guide Cal FC after missing last week's first-round win over Premier Development League champion Kitsap Pumas while he was in Munich preparing for Fox's coverage of the UEFA Champions League final. Wynalda is a studio analyst on Fox soccer broadcasts.

“Tonight was a good demonstration of what the guys are capable of, at times good and bad,” Wynalda told the Wilmington (N.C.) StarNews. “All in all, I'm very happy with them. I think they've come together remarkably, in a very short span of time.”

The Barrera brothers hooked up in the 25th and 57th minutes, the first on a corner kick. Former Real Salt Lake forward Artur Aghasyan made it 2-0 in the 35th and Pedro Ferreira-Mendes added another on a 79th-minute free kick.

The game in Portland will be played next Wednesday.

In the other East Coast game involving a local team:

Carolina RailHawks 6, PSA Elite (Irvine) 0: The Galaxy is headed to North Carolina after the RailHawks, from the second-tier North American Soccer League, crushed the USASA Region IV champs in Cary, N.C. Carolina will be home for next Tuesday's third-round clash against the reigning MLS champion.

Brian Shriver scored a club-record six goals, with a first-half hat trick, to lead the Railhawks. Zack Schilawski and Amir Lowery also tallied for Carolina.

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BLUES: Timbers' Dike adds to attack

May, 6, 2012

FULLERTON -- The L.A. Blues battled from behind again Sunday -- twice, this time -- and picked up another point, but a bigger addition arrives Monday.

Blues head coach/general manager Charlie Naimo said after his team's 2-2 USL Pro draw with the Wilmington Hammerheads that third-year Portland Timbers forward Bright Dike is coming in on loan.

With former star Chivas USA forward Maykel Galindo in the fold, and looking to get over a sprained ankle before next weekend's trek east, the speedy Dike's arrival ought to provide untold attacking dimensions for the Blues, especially with Irving Garcia pulling strings in midfield.

Garcia, a former UC Irvine standout who spent 2010 with the New York Red Bulls, was the catalyst Sunday, breathing real life into a dull affair after coming on in the 60th minute and scoring a brilliant goal as L.A. (1-2-1) rallied from its first deficit.

Cheun-Yong Park also tallied, also a fine shot inside the left post, and nearly netted a stoppage-time winner as the Blues swapped out the direct style they started with -- and that drove them to a 2-1 comeback victory Friday over the Hammerheads (2-2-2) -- and pieced together some entertaining soccer for a crowd announced as 847 but probably half that.

“Game like today, it's good that we found a way not to lose here,” Naimo said. “That's a step in the right direction. Four points on the weekend is not terrible -- we'd like to have had six -- and we've got reinforcements coming. We've got players coming into the team now who have got experience scoring goals at higher levels than this. And we're going to get out captain-type figure in [Iranian defender Rahman] Rezaei when he gets here. We're only going to get better.”

Dike, 25, was a first-round pick by Columbus out of Notre Dame in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, but he signed with the Timbers -- then a second-division team -- when he didn't make the Crew roster. He scored 10 goals in 23 D2 Pro League games that year, also netted a U.S. Open Cup hat trick against PDL power Kitsap Pumas and was one of the first players Portland signed when it joined Major League Soccer last season.

Dike played in 11 games for all of 175 minutes last year, scoring one goal. He hasn't played for the Timbers' first team this season but has started all three MLS Reserve League games and has two goals.

Jack Avesyan (Hollywood/La Cañada HS) netted both goals off the bench for Wilmington, knocking home the rebound after Blues goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh parried a shot by Chukwudi Chijindu (Fontana/Damien HS) in the 66th minute and heading home a corner kick from former Ventura County Fusion teammate Hagop Chirishian (Hollywood/A.G.B.U. Manoogian-Demirdjian School and Pasadena City College) in the 75th.

The second goal was made simple by atrocious marking at the near post. “Our defense on set plays was shocking,” Naimo said. “If we could just defend a set piece, we win the game.”

Garcia answered the first within two minutes, blasting a ball from just outside the area across the box and inside the left post. Park (Bethesda Christian University) netted the decisive goal in the 84th.

WORTH NOTING: Play of the game: Abedzadeh's scrambling save to push a sensational, off-balance volley by Bryce Taylor past the right post in the 73rd minute. ... Avesyan had a significant cheering section, all wearing jerseys with his name and No. 22 on them, and they displayed an Armenian flag. “All my family was out there, all my cousins, everyone I know,” Avesyan said. “This is my home, you know. This is what it's all about, the fans.” ... Naimo, on Garcia: “Irving always steps it up when we're down. I don't know what it is, and it might not be always, but from what I've seen since he's been with us, he plays at a different pace and level when we're behind.” ... Chijindu, who played last year for the Blues on loan from Chivas USA, departed with an ankle injury. ... The Blues have conceded the first goal in all four games. They play Friday at Dayton and Saturday at Pittsburgh. ... The Rochester Rhinos (4-0-0), which beat the Blues twice to open the season, have not yet given up a goal.

Titan Stadium, Cal State Fullerton
L.A. Blues 2, Wilmington Hammerheads 2

W -- Jack Avesyan 66
LA -- Irving Garcia (Ricky Waddell) 68
W -- Jack Avesyan (Hagop Chirishian) 75
LA -- Cheun-Yong Park (Bryan Burke) 84

L.A. Blues: Amir Abedzadeh; Erlys Garcia (Israel Sesay, 46), Cory Miller, Ebrima Jatta, Sun-Hyung Cho; Allan Russell (Irving Garcia, 62); Bryan Burke, Carlos Borja, Ricky Waddell (Ladislas Bushiri, 82), Brian Farber (Shay Spitz, 58); Matt Fondy (Cheun-Yong Park, 46). Unused subs: Chad Bond, Jose Miranda.

Wilmington Hammerheads: Alex Horwath; Troy Cole, Gareth Evans, Tyler Lassiter, Yahaya Musa; Mark Briggs, Paul Nicholson; Bryce Taylor, Daniel Roberts (Hagop Chirishian, 54), Andres Cuero (Jack Avesyan, 54); Andriy Budnyy (Chukwudi Chijindu, 56; Dylan Riley, 82). Unused subs: Manny Guzman, Tom Parratt.

Yellow cards: Briggs 40, Jatta 43, Cole 63, Evans 64, Park 64, Lassiter 77, Spitz 82, I. Garcia 88.

Referee: Reed Christy. Att.: 847.

GALAXY: Step forward is a start

April, 14, 2012

CARSON -- It's too soon to declare things are back to normal in Galaxyland, but Saturday night's triumph over the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center offered a lot of evidence that L.A. is starting to turn a corner after an abysmal first 5½ weeks of the season.

Juninho and David Beckham scored late goals from distance and the Galaxy (2-3-0, 6 points) overcame a first-half deficit to claim a 3-1 triumph, vaulting past the struggling Timbers (1-4-1, 4 points) and out of the Western Conference basement with a performance that ranged from decent to really good.

L.A. had more spirit, more energy, better organization and a liveliness that has been missing during its roughest stretch since coach Bruce Arena took charge in August 2008, but the message in the locker room was simple: This was just a start.

“It's early,” said captain Landon Donovan, who scored a fine goal from Robbie Keane's feed just before halftime and set up Beckham's beauty in second-half stoppage. “It's important, because you can't sit on the bottom for too long, so it was good to get ourselves out of the cellar. We played better [than we had been] last week [in a loss at unbeaten Sporting Kansas City], and today was, I think, our best performance all-around of the season.

“And then we have to keep carrying it to the coming weeks. It's not good enough to have a couple better games, then have a bad game. We have to be consistently better, and I think we're getting back to doing things we're good at.”

A superb debut from Brazilian center back David Junior Lopes, who was acquired in a trade Tuesday from Chivas USA, was pivotal for the Galaxy, which conceded a goal to Kris Boyd in the 23rd minute, then dictated terms the rest of the way. Lopes needed a little time to find his footing, then provided everything L.A. hoped for -- adding a physical dimension to the backline that has been missing without Omar Gonzalez's presence -- and a little more.

He made three huge defensive plays, bodying Scottish finisher Boyd out of contention in the 10th and 51st minutes and sliding the ball away from Jorge Perlaza at the top of the box in the 85th, and admirably partnered rookie Tommy Meyer as A.J. DeLaGarza sat out because of adductor tightness.

Lopes, who hadn't played in Chivas' first five games, should have scored two goals, too. A cross headed back into the goalmouth by Mike Magee caromed off his thigh and over the crossbar in the 69th minute -- “I didn't see the ball,” he said -- and a blast following a Beckham corner kick four minutes later was cleared off the line by Franck Songo'o.

“I was definitely nervous,” Lopes said. “I've played many places and in many leagues, and the first game [for a new club] I've always been very nervous. But I was excited. It took me awhile to get going to realize I'm playing for the Galaxy, one of the biggest clubs in MLS. ... I think I did OK for my debut.”

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GALAXY: Must-win territory, finally

April, 14, 2012

DunivantKelvin Kuo/US PresswireGalaxy defender Todd Dunivant admits the team has a lot of issues that needed sorting now.

CARSON -- It's only the fifth game in the Galaxy's Major League Soccer campaign, and already they're in must-win mode. That's what happens when things so puzzlingly fall apart.

There's enormous frustration and confusion in the L.A. camp -- David Beckham isn't even certain how many losses the Galaxy (1-3-0, 3 points) have -- but that's accompanied by a wary confidence that things will turn around, likely when the Portland Timbers (1-3-1, 4 points), fellow stragglers, visit Home Depot Center for a Major League Soccer match.

“I think there's certainly some frustration, but we're kind of looking at [the tough start] as an opportunity to get things right,” left back Todd Dunivant said. “And if there's ever a time in the season to do it, it's be now. We have to sort out all of our issues, and we've got a lot of them.”

Defending has been the biggest problem -- as much in midfield as at the back -- but L.A.'s defense wasn't bad in last week's 1-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City, the only MLS team with a perfect (5-0-0) record. That the attack has also been so poor, unable to put a shot on frame at K.C., suggests that either Omar Gonzalez should have been runaway winner of MLS's Most Valuable Player honor last year, or that the troubles are deeper or more varied than the missing center back. Maybe both.

“We've not done well in games and not even looked like winning games,” said Beckham, who figures to return to the Galaxy lineup after missing last week's game with a hamstring injury. “I think it's time now to show as a team and as individuals the character that we've got and we've shown over the last few years, because so far this season we haven't seen it. ... We're not defending well, we're not working, we're not doing the simple things. We've not become a bad team overnight, it's just the simple things we're not doing.”

And things aren't quite as bad as Beckham thinks.

“We're only, what, five games in?” he said Thursday. “Lost four and won one. Not a good record, but it could be worse. At least we have one win.”

Portland offers a nice opportunity to straighten things out. The Timbers have lost three in a row, and they dropped their last two -- at home -- by surrendering a late lead against Real Salt Lake and conceding a late winner to Chivas USA.

“The negative reactions of everyone outside of this team -- the fans, I guess -- they're worried are we going to play better,” center back A.J. DeLaGarza said. “Inside the team, we know what we can do better, we know we will do better. ... I think just to get our confidence back, we need something good this week.”

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CHIVAS USA: No road woes for Goats

April, 8, 2012

Robin Fraser laughed Saturday night when we asked if he'd like to play every game on the road.

“That's a popular question,” Chivas USA's head coach said after Saturday night's 2-1 victory at Portland gave the club, which is 0-3 at home, two wins in two road games.

Alejandro Moreno
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesChivas USA's Alejandro Moreno and Nick LaBrocca celebrate after their 2-1 win against the Portland Timbers on Saturday.

The Goats pulled off improbable wins in two of the most difficult places to play in MLS. Real Salt Lake has a terrific team (as good as any in the league), a loud and loyal fan base, and the 4,450-foot elevation takes a toll on visitors. They had lost just three games in two years at Rio Tinto Stadium before Chivas' 1-0 victory two weeks ago.

Portland has the most intimidating atmosphere in American soccer.

“For whatever reason, we seem to focus and engage into the game a little more on the road than at home,” said Alejandro Moreno, who scored the first goal Saturday. “When you come to a place like Salt Lake or Portland, the environment forces you to be engaged for 90 minutes, and your mind is not allowed to wander. At home at times, we're not able to gather the support that is important for us.

“We encourage fans to come out and give their best effort so we can put our best effort forth as well. We appreciate our fans, and we encourage those on the fence to come out and support us as well.”

Chivas has drawn just 35,559 fans through three games -- fewer than attend a Seattle Sounders game-- for an average of 11,853, and there are far fewer in the stadium than is announced. The crowd for the New England game was a league-low 7,723, although it bears mentioning that it was played on a very cold evening on a very stormy weekend.

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