Los Angeles Soccer: Rafael Garcia
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.
Shriver, who scored four goals in the North American Soccer League club's second-round win over Irvine's PSA Elite last week, headed Shipalane cross at Galaxy goalkeeper Bill Gaudette, who made the save as he fell backward. The ball bounced in front, then skidded slowly over the goal line and into the net.
The RailHawks, who are winless in the NASL, will be home for next Tuesday's fourth round against the winner of Tuesday night's Ventura County Fusion-Chivas USA clash.
The Galaxy exit America's oldest and most prestigious knockout competition in their opener for the fourth time and the first since 2009. L.A. has lost four in a row -- the last three after giving away the lead -- and have dropped six of their last seven matches. Their winless streak in all competitions has reached eight games.
Pat Noonan, who wore the captain's armband, gave L.A. a 38th-minute lead from Chad Barrett's feed after Hector Jimenez stole a pass from RailHawks defender Austen King.
Shipalane scored from a feed by former New England Revolution forward Zack Schilawski in the 75th minute as Carolina, playing before a record crowd of nearly 8,000 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., took charge in the final 20 minutes.
The Galaxy, weary in their fourth game in 11 days, lost two players to injury. Jimenez departed just before halftime with a potentially serious knee injury, and left back Bryan Gaul leaving with about 20 minutes left after he was hit in the eye during an aerial battle in Carolina's box.
Noonan could have forced overtime deep into stoppage, but he fired over the crossbar after a Rafael Garcia feed left him one-on-one with former FC Dallas/Columbus Crew goalkeeper Ray Burse.
Then a tête-à-tête on the flank saw Seattle midfielder Christian Sivebaek sent off, and the insertion of three of their brightest young players sparked some life into the Galaxy attack. Reward arrived at the end, with rookie Rafael Garcia's diving header in the 90th minute delivering a 1-0 triumph on Home Depot Center's University Field 1.
The triumph offered a tantalizing glimpse at L.A.'s future, with Garcia -- a former Canoga Park High star taken out of Cal State Northridge in January's supplemental draft -- Home Grown Player Jose Villarreal (Inglewood/Leuzinger HS) and Academy standout Raul Mendiola (San Bernardino/Rialto HS) skillfully carving open the Sounders to create a flurry of chances before the goal arrived.
The Galaxy is high on all three. Assistant coach Curt Onalfo, who guides the reserve side, spoke about each in his postgame scrum with reporters.
- On Mendiola: “He's got great instincts going forward. He reminds me a little of [2010 MLS Rookie of the Year] Andy Najar, when I was [head coach] in D.C. Guys like that, you've got to let them play with their instincts and just create things, and that's certainly what he did when he came into the game.”
- On Villarreal: “Instinctally, he's very, very good, very comfortable on the ball. He's got to continue to develop to the speed of play, and when they do that consistently, that's when you see more success.
- On Garcia: “I love him, I have to say. I’ve always liked him. I loved him in college and was just glad we got him. Sometimes it’s difficult for me and for him, because we’ve got other guys who need to get minutes. Today [Marcelo] Sarvas needed minutes, which meant [Garcia] was coming off the bench. He deserves to be on the field. My message to him was to make the most of your opportunity. Sometimes playing 30 minutes is more important than playing 90, and certainly that was the case today.”
Villarreal, who returned a couple of weeks ago following preseason leg surgery, came on in the 70th, moments after Sivebaek was red-carded for a retalitary foul on rookie left back Bryan Gaul, and provided instant offense, forcing Sounders goalkeeper Bryan Meredith to make a diving save in the 75th, then forcing a tough stop about a minute later, with Kenney Walker's rebound deflecting past the post.
Sporting Kansas City on Monday signed supplemental draft pick Shawn Singh, boosting UCLA's presence in Major League Soccer and adding to the 53 local players already on rosters.
Singh, a left back from Bakersfield, is the fourth Bruin rookie in MLS this season, joining Philadelphia's Chandler Hoffman, Seattle's Andy Rose and New England's Kelyn Rowe.
Other local rookies: Cal State Northridge midfielder Rafael Garcia with the Galaxy, UC Riverside forward Cesar Diaz Pizarro with San Jose, UC Santa Barbara midfielders Luis Silva with Toronto FC and Sam Garza with San Jose.
Two new local signings -- Galaxy midfielder Jose Villarreal and Chivas USA midfielder Marvin Iraheta -- started the season sidelined by injury.
Here is a list of local players in MLS (with hometown/local high school in parentheses, with local college following):
TORONTO -- Rafael Garcia, whose San Fernando Valley exploits revealed him as one of Southern California's most promising young players, will get his shot at the big time.
The central midfielder from Canoga Park and Cal State Northridge survived preseason with the Galaxy, winning one of the final three roster spots. The Galaxy has not yet announced the deals but are expected to later Tuesday or Wednesday.
Defender Bryan Gaul and midfielder Kenney Walker also signed with the club, giving L.A. 31 players, although only 30 -- the MLS cap -- will count against the roster maximum until Omar Gonzalez, expected to be out until at least September because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, comes off the disabled list. They'll then have to make a roster move.
Garcia, 23, part of the great Canoga Park High School team that won a mythical national championship in 2007, starred at Northridge, participated in Major League Soccer's pre-draft combine in Florida and was selected by the Galaxy in the second round of January's supplemental draft. He impressed in just three preseason match appearances, providing one of the highlights of L.A.'s preparations with a dynamic run to set up a Dan Keat goal in a 3-2 victory Feb. 16 against Chivas USA.
“I'm at a loss for words,” Garcia said following the Galaxy's training session Tuesday afternoon at Rogers Centre, where they'll face Toronto FC in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg Wednesday night. “I'm really excited to be on the team, and to make it official is just a great feeling.
“I tried my hardest [during preseason]. I worked very hard. I like to think my hard work paid off. I looked at the rest of the midfielders, saw what they were doing, and I learned a lot. I think that was to my benefit, and thank God it all worked out for me.”
Gaul, 22, a 6-foot-5 forward-turned-center back from Bradley University, also was selected in the supplemental draft. He made eight preseason appearances, with three full 90s, primarily partnering Andrew Boyens as a second-choice tandem in the middle.
Walker, 23, a central midfielder from the University of Louisville, was taken in the second round of the SuperDraft after an impressive performance at the combine. He played in seven preseason matches.
Supplemental draft pick Justin Davies, an outside back from San Diego State, and trialist J.T. Murray, an outside back from Louisville who was drafted last year by Sporting Kansas City but did not make the Wizards' roster, were released from camp.
Center back Tommy Meyer, the Galaxy's first-round SuperDraft selection, signed an MLS contract before the draft.
CARSON -- Landon Donovan is starting to feel like himself again. Robbie Keane is “sharp” and “fit.” Both finally are training with the Galaxy, just days before the season begins, and that's a huge step forward for the Major League Soccer's reigning champions.
Both have returned from short-term loan spells in England, but with one significant difference. Keane arrived last week after an exceptional stint with Aston Villa -- he was, from the moment he arrived, the Premier League club's most significant player.
Donovan, coming off a superb seven weeks at Everton, arrived home with the flu and spent the next week in bed.
He's finally coming around but needs to regain the fitness and form he had while overseas.
“It's been a really frustrating 2½ weeks, missing the last game [of the loan] at Everton, missing the trip [for last week's U.S. game] to Italy and just trying to get healthy,” he said after L.A.'s training session Sunday morning at Home Depot Center. “Sometimes the flu or sickness doesn't care what's going on, it's just going to do what it's going to do.”
Donovan said he felt he turned a corner on Wednesday, as he watched the Americans' victory over the Italians. He ran for the first time Thursday in Arizona, where the team ended its preseason preparations, and trained for the first time, for real, Saturday at HDC.
“Honestly, probably not till today did I feel closse to getting back to myself,” he said. “I haven't been able to breathe very well with all this in my lungs. It's a nice feeling.”
Galaxy opponents are afraid to commit fouls anywhere near their box when David Beckham is on the field, for obvious reasons. When he's not, it's no big thing.
After Marcelo Sarvas' piece of brilliance Wednesday night, they might be rethinking that philosophy.
Sarvas, on for Beckham with 25 minutes to go in the Desert Diamond Cup group finale against New York, whistled a free kick from inside the semicircle above the box past Red Bulls rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara and inside the far post to provide L.A. a real highlight in an otherwise disappointing 2-1 defeat in Tucson, Ariz.
Chad Barrett's return to action, for the first time since brutally dislocating his ankle in the lead up to last November's MLS Cup final, was another plus, as was the effort by Canoga Park's Rafael Garcia -- the Cal State Northridge product making a strong bid for a roster spot on the eve of the league's compliance date.
But Omar Gonzalez's absence continues to loom large for L.A., which is just a week from its season opener and continues to struggle without the big man in the back.
Poor defending led to both New York goals, with Kenny Cooper easily broaching the backline to finish rookie Connor Lade's feed in the 31st minute and Thierry Henry running unhindered from midfield to the box, then playing a give-and-go of sorts with Dane Richards and nodding home the return in the 62nd. Rookie Tommy Meyer has great upside, but he's a rookie; Andrew Boyens, his partner on Wednesday, is a reserve, pure and simple. One of them likely will team with A.J. DeLaGarza in central defense, at least until Leonardo is ready to go, and he'll have not played in a year when he's expected to return to the field in April.
It has to be a concern for L.A., which has just one shutout in eight preseason games -- Saturday's 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake -- and has conceded 17 goals, at least two in six games. The five preseason losses, which matters not a whit, is as many as the Galaxy lost all last year in Major League Soccer play, including the postseason.
The Red Bulls were the superior side most of the night, and their victory would have been more pronounced if not for goalkeeper Josh Saunders' off-his-line stop on Richards, who split Boyens and DeLaGarza to run on to Teemu Tainio's superb through ball midway through the first half.
The Galaxy's best chances were, as usual, product of Beckham's right foot, but Meara -- despite a clumsy performance that betrayed his youth -- took care of the most dangerous moments until Sarvas halved the deficit with 12 minutes to go.
The attack, like the defense, is a work in progress. Landon Donovan has not yet trained fully, and Robbie Keane will join the team in the next couple of days, now that his loan deal with Aston Villa is over and Ireland's friendly Wednesday with the Czech Republic done.
CARSON -- The odds Rafael Garcia makes the Galaxy's roster aren't necessarily great, not with the depth and talent already residing in midfield, but more of what he showed in a preseason victory Thursday over Chivas USA might push things in his favor.
The rookie from Canoga Park and Cal State Northridge made one fabulous run, creating a third first-half goal as L.A. romped to a big lead and then held on for a 3-2 triumph on its training field just southwest of Home Depot Center's main stadium.
The Galaxy played a reserve lineup against a Chivas side featuring eight to 10 likely first-teamers and dominated the first half, rolling up a 3-0 advantage as Adam Cristman and Jack McBean applied heavy pressure to the Goats' backline. There were mistakes galore -- and by some of Chivas' steadiest players, such as Dan Kennedy and Heath Pearce -- and L.A. took advantage.
Cristman did the bulk of the work, setting up Pat Noonan for the opener and turning a backpass miscue by Goats goalkeeper Kennedy into a 2-0 advantage. Garcia, getting a full, strong 90 minutes in just his second preseason appearance, made his move about 10 minutes later.
He took a pass and sprinted into the box, eluding Pearce to get to the byline. He spun around when John Alexander Valencia arrived, holding the ball for Dan Keat to get into a channel, then feeding his simple finish.
Garcia, 23, who captained that incredible 2006-07 Canoga Park High School team that went 24-0-1 and won the mythical state championship, has steadily grown since Galaxy camp began 3½ weeks ago.
“He had a good performance today,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “He's been getting better. He's started to pick it up over the last couple of weeks, so he's going to push hard to make our roster.”
Right now L.A. has 34 players. It needs to be down to 30 by March 1, and Omar Gonzalez will be on the disabled list, which opens a slot. Barring trades, one of the remaining cuts will be of a goalkeeper -- Nick Noble, who has been signed, and Bill Gaudette are fighting for a spot. Garcia, a supplemental draft choice, and second-round SuperDraft pick Kenney Walker are trying to win jobs in a midfield that might not have available space.
Garcia's plan is simple.
CARSON -- The Galaxy have two pressing questions as they wrap up their third week of preseason camp: the old one (who's going to step into Omar Gonzalez's shoes?) and the new one (who's going to start in midfield?).
The midfield considerations will work themselves out once Juninho has arrived from Brazil, which apparently will be sometime next week. There's still a month to figure it out, and all of the options -- with David Beckham, Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho likely rotating through two central spots -- are good ones.
It's a tougher call at the back, where rookie Tommy Meyer has been getting the minutes opposite A.J. DeLaGarza with the first team and is showing that he belongs at this level. He gave his best of three preseason-match performances in Friday's 1-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo on L.A.'s Home Depot Center training field and, at the least, appears to be in the mix to fill the giant, empty hole left when Gonzalez suffered the torn ACL a little more than a month ago.
Or perhaps not. The company that owns half of Roman Torres' contract with Colombia's Atletico Nacional told Panamanian daily Critica that the Galaxy had ended discussions to acquire the Panamanian defender because they had sorted out their issues at the back.
That could mean the Galaxy has targeted a different central defender from aboard (or perhaps merely eliminated Torres from its list), or, after taking on Edson Buddle's and Juninho's salaries in the past 10 days, must sit tight with what they have.
One of the central spots falls to DeLaGarza, Gonzalez's primary partner last year. Candidates to join him in the starting XI, among those on the roster, are Meyer, Chivas USA castoff Andrew Boyens and Brazilian Leonardo, who is still rehabbing torn knee ligaments from last year and won't be back until April earliest.
Boyens has an edge in experience, with New Zealand's national team and with the Goats, New York and Toronto FC, but Meyer's upside appears far higher.
“He's been consistent, and that's what you like to see ...,” said DeLaGarza, a versatile defender whose best position is right back. “He's a young player, he's composed on the ball. You like that as a young player. He's doing well right now. Can't complain.”
The Galaxy went after local talent with three of their five selections in Tuesday's MLS Supplemental Draft, including a Cal State Northridge midfielder who impressed at the pre-draft combine.
Rafael Garcia (Canoga Park/Canoga Park HS) was taken at the end of the second round, 38th in the draft (and 76th overall, factoring in last week's SuperDraft), bolstering depth in the middle. Well, at least for the future.
“I think the challenge for these players is to make our roster,” said Galaxy head coach/general manager Bruce Arena, who nabbed San Diego forward/midfielder Stephen Posa and San Diego State right back Justin Davies in the fourth round. “I can't even look that far ahead to see if [any of them] are going to step on the field with our first team. The initial challenge is to make the roster.”
Arena took Bradley's Bryan Gaul, a 6-foot-5 forward-turned-defender, with his first pick, 19th overall, and Brazilian attacker Yuri Gorentzvaig, 21, who arrives from Flamengo system after spending the previous season with Corinthians.
Gaul, whose little sister, Alexa, is a U.S. youth international, scored 23 goals the past two seasons at Bradley, but he was used primarily in the back at the combine. That's where the Galaxy, in need of defensive cover, see his future.
“He's left-footed, can play center back or left back, and we're going to look at him in that position,” Arena said. “Hopefully he'll be able to adapt. He's a kid we think has a chance. That's why we drafted him.”
Garcia, just 5-6, is a defensive-oriented central midfielder who grew up a Galaxy fan. He was a four-year starter for the Matadors and a first-team All-Big West Conference selection in 2011.
They're the big names, but hardly the only ones, among local players aiming for an opportunity with a Major League Soccer team. There are nearly two dozen players who grew up or went to school in Greater Los Angeles hoping to hear their names called in Kansas City.
Some of them, let's be honest, don't have a shot, not with just two rounds of picks -- 38 in all. Next week's supplemental draft will provide possibilities, and players will be looking to participate in team combines and in trials during preseason training.
Some might look abroad -- there are leagues everywhere on the planet -- and there are two professional minor leagues (NASL, USL Pro) and several pro clubs in the Premier Development League and its rival NPSL.
Here's a quick rundown of 22 players who might find a job in MLS, if the right situation develops:
Four players looking to take UCLA to the NCAA men's soccer title next weekend have plans for next month. They're among 52 Division I college seniors invited to Major League Soccer's annual pre-draft Player Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The chosen Bruins are midfielders Eder Arreola and Andy Rose, defender Shawn Singh and goalkeeper Brian Rowe. Players from UC Irvine (forward Miguel Ibarra), Cal State Northridge (midfielder Rafael Garcia) and UC Santa Barbara (Luis Silva and James Kiffe) also are on the list announced Wednesday.
Two more UCLA players -- junior forward Chandler Hoffman and sophomore midfielder Kelyn Rowe -- would join the list if they sign Generation adidas contracts.
The Bruins meet North Carolina in an NCAA College Cup semifinal Friday night in Hoover, Ala. Three Tar Heels are on the combine list: defender Matt Hedges, midfielder Kirk Urso and forward Billy Schuler.
Creighton, which meets Charlotte in the other semifinal, received three invitations, for defender Andrew Duran, midfielder Greg Jordan and forward Ethan Finlay. No Charlotte player was invited.
The NCAA final is Sunday.
UC Riverside, taking its first real steps forward in men's soccer, posted the biggest victory in program history Wednesday night -- and in front the largest home crowd ever to see the Highlanders play.
Aaron Long (Oak Hills/Serrano HS) and Richie Osborne netted second-half goals as Riverside (6-2-1) upset No. 10 UC Santa Barbara, 3-1, in a Big West Conference opener in front of 2,016 fans, more than triple the previous record.
Cesar Diaz Pizarro (Chino/Ayala HS) also tallied for the Highlanders, who went ahead in the 11th minute, then pulled away after halftime. David Opoku tallied for the Gauchos (6-2-1).
UC Riverside, which is unbeaten in its last six games, is four games above .500 for the first time since the move to Division I a decade ago. This was the third victory over a ranked opponent in that time.
In other men´s action:
- Patrick Sigler scored in the 53rd minute, and Cal Poly withstood a 57th-minute red card to hold off No. 7 UC Irvine, 1-0, in a Big West opener. The Anteaters (8-2-0) held an 18-3 shot advantage.
- Rafael Garcia (Canoga Park/Canoga Park HS) scored two goals as Cal State Northridge (4-4-1) recorded its second straight 3-0 triumph, winning its Big West opener at UC Davis.
- Loyola Marymount (2-7-0) lost its fifth in a row and sixth in seven games, falling, 2-0, at San Diego in a West Coast Conference opener.
- Cal State Fullerton (6-1-2) shut down Gyasi Zardes (Hawthorne/Leuzinger HS) in a 0-0 draw with visiting Cal State Bakersfield (4-0-4). Zardes scored 11 goals in the Roadrunners' first seven games.
With Hollywood United departing for a rival league, the Ventura County Fusion might have figured they were in a two-team battle for the Premier Development League's Southwest Division title this year.
They would have been correct.
Only the other team isn't Orange County Blue Star.
The Fusion made that clear Friday night with a 7-2 pasting at Ventura College, running their record to 4-0-1. That's only worth second place -- Fresno Fuego, apparently their chief competition, is a point better, at 4-0-2.
The teams drew, 0-0, May 1 in Ventura and meet again June 11 in Fresno.
They're in another battle this week, for the division's berth in the U.S. Open Cup. Fresno won all four of its qualifying matches, and the Fusion is 3-0-0 heading into Saturday's PDL match against the Southern California Seahorses at La Mirada High School. Ventura County will advance if it wins by two or more goals or by one goal while scoring at least three. A 2-1 win forces a coin flip, a 1-0 win, draw or loss sends Fresno through.
Thousand Oaks' Danny Barrerra (Westlake HS/UC Santa Barbara) played the key role against Blue Star, setting up two goals -- his league-best fifth and sixth assists -- and scoring the finale.
SANTA BARBARA -- This wasn't quite the senior season Jeff Quijano envisioned, but he was going to deal with the circumstances the best way he could: by being a leader.
Quijano's response to losing his starting job turned out to be one of critical elements that prodded the University of Michigan to its first NCAA College Cup, but the Wolverines' path to this weekend's men's soccer final four at UC Santa Barbara would require greater contributions from the former Canoga Park High School standout -- when it mattered most.
Michigan (17-4-3), the No. 10 seed, takes on second-ranked Akron (20-1-2) in Friday night's second semifinal at UCSB's Harder Stadium (ESPN2/ESPNU, 8 p.m. PT) and Quijano figures to make an impact. Just like last week.
The veteran right back, at his best when attacking up the flank, gave perhaps his finest collegiate performance in the Wolverines' quarterfinal shocker over second-seeded Maryland, surging forward to score the first goal and sending in the cross for the second in a 3-2 overtime triumph.
“The performances of Jeff Quijano are one of the main reasons we are in the College Cup,” said Michigan coach Steve Burns, who started the program 11 seasons ago. “That's a huge statement, but he deserves that kind of praise for how well he's played. … [Against Maryland] there were times when he just took over the game and was clearly our Man of the Match. Now he gets to lead us once more, and it's fantastic for Jeff that he's back home in California for his final games as a Wolverine.”