Los Angeles Soccer: Sanna Nyassi
The Chicago Fire split a pair of games Saturday morning at Oxnard College, bringing to an end a series of 20 preseason matches involving Major League Soccer clubs in Carson and Oxnard.
Three more games were played in San Luis Obispo, and Chivas USA has a ticketed game Wednesday night in San Diego against Mexico's Club Tijuana.
Eight clubs, including Chivas and the Galaxy, trained this month at Home Depot Center or Oxnard College, several of them at both sites.
The San Jose Earthquakes beat the Fire, 2-0, in Oxnard's main stadium Saturday, with Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart and Brad Ring scoring first-half goals. The Fire rallied from a first-half deficit to beat the Ventura County Fusion, 2-1, on an adjacent field. Woodland Hills' Orr Barouch converted a penalty kick and set up Pari Pantazopoulos' strike to lift Chicago.
Thousand Oaks' Danny Barrera, who was in camp for the Fire, scored on a free kick, his second such goal in as many games. Barrera, a former UC Santa Barbara standout who is contracted to a Serbian club, scored a superb goal in the Fusion's loss Friday to the Montreal Impact at Home Depot Center.
BEST OF THE CAMPS: All in all, the soccer on display wasn't great. Everyone's in preseason form, which means lagging fitness, too many mistakes and too many connections still being made. Some matches were interesting only because you could hear everything said on the field, including a fair share of expletives. (Yes, you can swear in soccer, so long as you don't direct it at the ref.)
All that said, here were some of the good things we saw during the games in L.A. and Ventura counties:
BEST TEAM: The Portland Timbers clicked better than everyone else, with Cameroonian trialist Franck Songo'o leading one of the few attacks that appeared ready for the season to start. Portland went 3-0-1, scored four on the Galaxy and two against Houston and Chicago.
BEST PLAYER: It might be Songo'o. Or his teammate James Marcelin, a monster in midfield. We also liked what Sanna Nyassi brings to Montreal's attack, Michael Lahoud's and Ryan Smith's play on Chivas USA's flanks, and the effort Adam Cristman brings up front for the Galaxy. L.A. newcomer Marcelo Sarvas' vision and touch also impresses, and Oswaldo Minda is clearly going to be a solid midfield anchor for Chivas. If we have to pick one ... it's Songo'o.
CARSON -- The last time the Galaxy lost three in a row? Go back to the 2008 regular season, before Bruce Arena was deeply into the rebuild that would take the club to 2009 Western Conference title (and MLS Cup final), Supporters' Shields the past two seasons and last November's championship-game triumph.
L.A. is struggling three weeks into its preparations for the Major League Soccer season, not that it matters. Tuesday's 3-0 loss to expansion Montreal on the club's training field at Home Depot Center -- following losses to Portland and Houston -- barely registers on the radar.
“Not losing a whole lot of sleep over it, to be honest with you,” Arena said. “This is, just for us, evaluation. Fitness, basically. That's what it is.”
The verdict: The Galaxy isn't as fit as its rivals, not at this point. They started a week later than a lot of the clubs, and a briefer offseason than the everybody else enjoyed has them on a different pace in the buildup to MLS's opening weekend in 3½ weeks.
“I think there's a little bit of understanding not that we're behind, but we have a little bit different schedule than everyone else,” said Todd Dunivant, who played 62 minutes at left back. “We finished Dec. 7 [after a postseason tour of Asia and Australia], and most teams finished at the end of October. We had a lot less of a break, and I think we're [following our own pace], which is the right thing to do.
“We're not going to win any championships these first weeks of preseason, but as it continues, we need to continue to keep getting better, get our fitness right, and I think that is improving. Personally, 60 minutes today felt a lot better than 45 did Friday [in the 1-0 loss to Houston], so that's a good sign. If we can keep building those things, the rest of it's going to come.”
The Galaxy have been without Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, both on loan in England, and Juninho hasn't arrived yet from Brazil. There's still a hole at the back, with rookie Tommy Meyer getting starts next to A.J. DeLaGarza in all four preseason games to date. Arena has used the games -- a rout of the L.A. Blues followed by a 4-1 defeat to Portland and the losses to the Dynamo and Impact -- to gauge the young players and build fitness. From that prism, things are going well.
“I think it was a good morning for us. We got a lot out of it,” Arena said. “I think to Montreal's credit, they pushed the pace of the game. Our midfield play in the first half wasn't good. We turned the ball over too many times, but I thought it was a real good game to evaluate some things, which is good, which is the purpose of these practice games.”
Juan Pablo Angel, acquired from the Galaxy at week's start, added a needed dimension to the Goats' attack and scored on a superb first-half strike as Chivas twice rallied from deficits to score a 2-2 draw with the Rapids at DSG Park.
For a team that was surrendering leads at nearly every opportunity earlier this season, rallying on the road felt good.
“It’s the amount of points that we wanted,” Lahoud told media following the game. “Considering the time of the year, it’s all about results. But we’ll take this draw. Coming back twice to grind out a result in a very tough place to play against a team that’s been on a hot streak, you have to take what you can get here.”
Caleb Folan and Jeff Larentowicz scored for the Rapids, headers off crosses from the right flank (Larentowicz's from a corner kick) against poor marking, and Macoumba Kandji nearly gave them a victory deep into stoppage, booting the ball after a corner kick, but Heath Pearce knocked the ball away as it sailed toward the net.
Angel was active and involved and connected with teammates even as Chivas struggled to get its game going in the first half. The Goats were hit and miss much of the night, despite holding 56 percent possession and winning the vast majority of duels. It will take a little time for Angel and his new teammates to acclimate to each other, but this was a good start -- and the Colombian striker's goal was sensational.
“It was a great feeling, a great play from a great pass and a great moment for me,” he told the league's website. “I know what I can do, and my challenge is to help this team in the last stretch of the season, and I’ll try to play well for them.”
Robin Fraser certainly was happy.
“He added quite a bit to us,” Chivas' coach told the MLS website. “It took us a while to get in sync, but as the team got better, we were able to find him with the ball quite a bit, and he was very instrumental in helping us build out of the back and get into a bit more of a rhythm.
“Certainly, his alertness on the goal and the quality of his finish was excellent. I thought, overall, it was a great debut for him.”
A quick look at Chivas' draw:
BEST PLAYER: We've got three.
Chivas USA captain Jonathan Bornstein, who is headed in January to his mother's native Mexico to join UANL Tigres, can no longer call himself a Goat.
The U.S. national team defender was a surprise selection by the Portland Timbers in Wednesday's Major League Soccer expansion draft, although he has no plans to head north.
Bornstein (Los Alamitos/Los Alamitos HS and UCLA) was the 15th selection in the draft, through which the Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, making the leap from the second-tier USSF D2 Pro League to MLS, are building their rosters for next season. Each took 10 players from the existing 16 clubs' unprotected lists.
Chivas USA forward Alan Gordon, who played all or part of seven seasons for the Galaxy before an Aug. 5 trade, was taken by Vancouver with the 10th pick. Chivas USA, allowed to add a 12th player to its protected list following Gordon's selection, took defender Mariano Trujillo off the table.
No Galaxy player was taken in the draft.
Chicago Fire midfielder John Thorrington (Palos Verdes Estates/Chadwick School) was the final selection, taken by Vancouver.
Defender Patrick Ianni (UCLA) was added to Seattle's protected list when Vancouver made Sanna Nyassi its first pick. Goalkeeper Chris Seitz (San Luis Obispo/Thousand Oaks HS) was added to Philadelphia's protected list when Vancouver selected Shea Salinas with the eighth pick.
Bornstein, who played for the U.S. at the World Cup in South Africa, has a four-year contract with Tigres, but Portland would hold his MLS rights indefinitely. If the veteran left back/midfielder were to return to MLS, he would return as a Timber.
Bornstein was a Chivas regular from the moment he arrived in the 2006 draft. Then-Goats coach Bob Bradley converted him from a forward/midfielder to left back, and he rewarded the club with an MLS Rookie of the Year performance. He played a club-record 131 MLS games for Chivas, scoring nine goals with 10 assists.
Gordon, 29, scored once with three assists in nine appearances from the Goats after arriving from the Galaxy. He scored 16 goals with 12 assists in 106 MLS games for L.A.
1. Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), midfielder
2. Eric Brunner (Columbus), defender
3. Adam Moffat (Columbus), midfielder
4. Anthony Wallace (Colorado), defender
5. David Horst (Real Salt Lake), defender
6. Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), forward
7. Peter Lowry (Chicago), midfielder
8. Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), defender/midfielder
9. Jordan Graye (D.C. United), defender
10. Arturo Alvarez (San Jose), forward
Findley, a former Galaxy forward who played for the U.S. in South Africa, has said his intention is to play in Europe. McCarty, taken with the No. 1 overall selection, was a key figure in FC Dallas' run to the MLS Cup final.
1. Sanna Nyassi (Seattle), midfielder
2. Atiba Harris (FC Dallas), midfielder/forward
3. Nathan Sturgis (Real Salt Lake), midfielder
4. Shea Salinas (Philadelphia), midfielder
5. Alan Gordon (Chivas USA), forward
6. O'Brian White (Toronto FC), forward
7. Alejandro Moreno (Philadelphia), forward
8. Joe Cannon (San Jose), goalkeeper
9. Jonathan Leathers (Kansas City), defender
10. John Thorrington (Chicago), midfielder
Harris is a former Chivas USA player. Sturgis, Moreno and Cannon previously played for the Galaxy.
1. DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS: L.A.'s smart, gritty -- Seattle coach Sigi Schmid called it “grisly,” although he might have meant “grizzled” -- approach to both legs of the series made the difference. They neutralized the Sounders' speedy flank game by shutting off wingers Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi (great work, again, by Sean Franklin and Eddie Lewis) and gave central midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Nathan Sturgis no room to work.
The backline was superb, but it's a team effort all over the field, and the efforts by Landon Donovan and David Beckham -- in assisting Franklin and Lewis with their assignments, but also in pinching in and teaming with Juninho and Dema Kovalenko to clog passing lanes and destroy options -- was inspirational.
The Galaxy's first hour is as good a primer on team defense you'll ever find.
2. QUICK STRIKES: Seattle had to score to stay alive, and they weren't going to find it easy the way the Galaxy's defense was playing and the kind of form goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts is in. So when L.A. added to its 1-0 advantage from last week's first leg, with Edson Buddle's header from Beckham's corner kick, the Sounders' task became much harder.
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
The Galaxy's tight, disruptive defense helped them get the advantage in the first-round playoff series.
What we saw in the first leg of the Galaxy-Seattle playoff series is what we can expect Sunday evening in Game 2 at Home Depot Center: The Sounders will attack, looking to exploit space behind L.A.'s defense primarily through wingers Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi, and the Galaxy will try to make doing so difficult.
Things are fairly simple heading into the decisive encounter in the Major League Soccer first-round home-and-home. The Sounders must make up a one-goal deficit, and they must do so on the road. The Galaxy wants to win at home, but a draw will suffice.
And so their approaches to the game ought to be similar to those taken in the opener, in which the Sounders looked to attack and the Galaxy's emphasis was on playing tight, disruptive defense.
“It all depends what [the Galaxy's] approach is at home,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said Saturday. “Our approach has to be somewhat similar, in that we need to win and need to score goals. Hopefully, a little more good fortune, but don't expect that much difference because they were successful with what they did in Seattle. But on the same token, being at home I think they will be a little bit more willing to go forward than they did in Seattle.”
The Galaxy, captain Landon Donovan said, “want to play the way we're good at playing and the way we know how to win. In general, that's a little more cautious than it is aggressive, so we're not going to change anything from that standpoint. But we're not going to go into the game thinking, 'Let's do everything we can to tie the game and get out of here.' We're playing at home. It's like any home game. We want to win.”
Dema Kovalenko of the Galaxy dribbles against Nathan Sturgis (12) of the Sounders during Sunday's playoff game.
SEATTLE -- The Galaxy heads home for the second leg of their first-round Major League Soccer playoff series against the Seattle Sounders with a 1-0 advantage after a near-perfect performance in an encounter so ugly it was, well, beautiful.
You'll find little agreement on that among anyone who watched -- especially the disappointed 35,521 packed into Qwest Field -- and few who played. Saturday's was a chippy, disjointed affair that favored the Galaxy on two fronts: Edson Buddle's miracle goal in the 38th minute and Donovan Ricketts' stalwart performance in the nets.
The beauty was in the precision with which the Galaxy engineered its disrupt-and-disgust game plan and how effectively it took the Sounders out of their game.
How did L.A. pull it off? Here are three reasons:
1. DEMA'S BOOTS
Ukrainian-born Dema Kovalenko is the fiercest (opponents might say dirtiest) tackler in MLS, and he was going to kick shins and keep kicking shins until referee Ricardo Salazar finally produced a yellow card.
It took Salazar, who had several conversations about tactics with the Galaxy defensive midfielder, until the 65th minute, and by then Kovalenko had forced the Sounders -- looking to play fluid, passing soccer on the slick, quick artificial turf -- completely off their game.
“I think they thought they'd have an easy game,” Kovalenko said. “You know, [Osvaldo] Alonso likes to get the ball and spray and this and that, but not today, my friend. Not today.”
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid declined to talk about the brutality -- “The refs are the refs,” he offered -- but he had a word with Salazar.
“This guy went to the referee and said I should be out of the game. I heard him saying it, you know what I mean?” Kovalenko said. “He can say what he wants, it doesn't matter.”
Frustratring foes is Kovalenko's game. It's, he said, “what I had to do. It's physical. … If the referee thinks its a yellow card, it's a yellow card. But you don't have to tell him what's going on. So I told [Schmid] something, too, you know what I mean?”
Once cautioned, Kovalenko's effectiveness was done. A second yellow is a red card, and he'd have been out of next Sunday's second leg at the Home Depot Center. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena pulled him five minutes later.
The Galaxy's dominance of its series with Seattle this season has some of the Sounders clamoring for revenge. Bruce Arena doesn't think a whole lot of that kind of talk.
L.A.'s 4-0 rout May 8 at Qwest Field was comprehensive. The 3-1 triumph July 4 at Home Depot Center was nearly as one-sided.
“I wanted L.A. from the beginning,” Sounders winger Steve Zakuani said earlier this week in The Seattle Times. “Of course, it's going to be very tough. They beat us twice in the regular season, but I think we owe them one, and we're ready.”
The Sounders of May and July bear little resemblance to today's team:
- Gone is Swedish midfielder Freddie Ljungberg, sent to Chicago in a midseason trade after dividing the Sounders' locker room.
Some things will mean more than others when the Galaxy and Seattle Sounders open their Major League Soccer first-round playoff series Sunday at Qwest Field (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 5 p.m.):1. WINNING … OVERRATED
At least for the Galaxy it is. For Seattle? Winning is a must.
Think of the opener in the two-game, total-goals series not as a 90-minute game but, rather, as the first half in a 180-minute game. The final score is all that matters, and the first leg is all about positioning for next Sunday's second leg at Home Depot Center.
That doesn't mean the Galaxy doesn't want nor won't be aiming for a win -- but a draw in the first leg is victory, and even a one-goal defeat isn't catastrophic.
“The pressure's on Seattle to get three points,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena notes. “We leave with a point, it's good. Generally in these series, the home team has to go out and try to win the first game.”
How might that affect what L.A. does? If it's, say, 1-1 in the 80th minute, there will be no need to press forward in search of a winning goal. If down, 1-0, the Galaxy aren't going to leave things too open at the back as they look for an equalizer. Other than that, not a whole lot.
“You'd like to win the game, ideally,” captain Landon Donovan says. “You don't want to go home having to score more than a goal to win [the series]. … We're not coming here to sit back and defend. We're going to play the game to win the game.”