Los Angeles Soccer: Seth Owusu
CARSON -- Chivas USA used two gorgeous goals and its finest defensive performance of the season to score its first victory in more than a month, an impressive 2-0 decision Wednesday night over the San Jose Earthquakes before a sparse gathering at Home Depot Center.
Ben Zemanski came off the bench to score on a bending rocket of a shot from 30 yards in the 64th minute, and Nick LaBrocca's team-best fifth goal in the 84th, from substitute Francisco Mendoza's perfectly weighted pass, sealed the triumph as the Goats (5-7-6) completed a season sweep of the Quakes (5-6-6) and vaulted past them and into sixth place in the Western Conference.
It was a triumph built on defense, with, especially, the backline denying the Quakes even one decent look at the net.
“I thought our defense really answered the challenge and made great decisions tonight,” head coach Robin Fraser gushed afterward. “As a result we were able to really prevent too many dangerous opportunities, and we're really excited about the shutout.”
Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy was required to make only three saves -- just one of them, an 86th-minute header by Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart, was the least bit troublesome -- and the Goats took command as they found a rhythm and after Zemanski and then Mendoza came onto the field.
The victory, Fraser said, was “a big boost for us in terms of our concentration. We have to recognize when we are concentrating, defensively we're not giving up the types of things that we have been, and as a result, as long as we're in the game, we give ourselves a chance. ...
“I think for us it was important that we go through the exercise of really focusing on not giving up dangerous opportunities. Ad we didn't [give up dangerous opportunities] and kept ourselves firmly in the game, and as we started to play better, we found a goal.”
A quick look at Chivas' victory:
BEST PLAYER: Several candidates, including both goal scorers and central defender Michael Umaña, who was solid from start to finish in helping to minimize the Quakes' opportunities and as a conduit to move the ball through and out of the back.
But our vote goes to central midfielder Simon Elliott, at 37 the oldest man on the field (and the Goats' captain). He indefatigably outbattled San Jose's Brad Ring and Sam Cronin for command in midfield and contributed mightily to Chivas' attack as a point man in possession and in creating opportunities in the final third.
Fraser was asked after Saturday's game how he keeps his players in a positive mindframe.
"I'm not sure that I am," he answered. "Based on how we started tonight, I'm not so sure that I am."
As Chivas (4-7-6) looks to close a four-game winless streak (on the heels of ending a three-game losing skid) Wednesday night at Home Depot Center against the San Jose Earthquakes, it is doing everything possible to remain positive, a task made easiest by the facility with which the Goats possess the ball and move it around. If they could turn that possession into goals, everything would be wonderful.
"When we do what we do," goalkeeper Dan Kennedy said, "we make it very hard for other teams to play against us. So now it's really just about that, applying that and getting in that mindset, that mentality, to do it for 90 minutes."
"I think we do need to look at the good we're doing ...," he said after the tie with Chicago. "If we only focus on what's negative, then I think guys get a little more uptight and frustrated. I think when we buzz around the midfield. we can be handle to deal with. And I think guys have to certainly keep in mind what we're doing well in addition to what we need to improve at."
Earlier last week, Fraser talked about trying to keep players optimistic when things aren't going well -- about setting a positive tone in training and film sessions.
"The thing is I'm honest. I'm honest," he said. "So if it's not good enough, they hear that it's not good enough. And if it is good enough, they hear that it's good enough. I mean, they get pretty constant feedback, and I think as long as you're honest and fair, then you really don't have to sugar-coat anything.
Is Ghanaian defender Seth Owusu still with Chivas USA? No, but there's been no official confirmation that he's gone.
Owusu, 20, who joined Chivas on loan in March, apparently was waived a week or so ago, although the Goats have made no announcement, and Real Salt Lake spokesman confirmed Monday night that he arrived for a trial with the club early last week.
A Chivas USA spokesman said Monday he knew nothing of Owusu's departure and had not been informed of a roster move by head coach Robin Fraser or general manager Jose Domene. Owusu is still listed on the team roster on the Goats' website.
Owusu, who can play at left back or in the middle, hasn't made his MLS debut but has played for Chivas in its U.S. Open Cup qualifying loss at Portland in late March and in the MLS Reserve League. He missed more than a month with a knee injury, returning last month to training.
RSL in May signed Armenian midfielder Artur Aghasyan following a brief trial. Aghasyan, who is based in Southern California, was on an extended trial with Chivas before the Utahns invited him in.
Tristan Bowen's return to action after two months away with an ankle injury brought him a new position, a new set of challenges and, best of all, a goal. An important one, too.
The 20-year-old attacker from Van Nuys headed home a Mariano Trujillo feed Sunday as Chivas USA, down to 10 men for more than an hour, rallied for a 3-3 MLS Reserve League draw with the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium.
The strike trimmed the Timbers' advantage to 3-2 in the 63rd minute, and Victor Estupiñan scored from another Trujillo pass five minutes later to deliver a share of the points.
Bowen, who has be sidelined with a sprained ankle since the first week of April, was on the game-day roster Saturday, for the 1-0 victory over the Timbers in MLS play, for the first time since March 26. He played 68 minutes Sunday atop the midfield diamond, just behind Estupiñan and fellow forward Chris Cortez.
“It felt good, getting in there and getting a run with the guys,” said Bowen, who came to Chivas in an offseason trade from the Galaxy. “I was a little bit gassed in the first half, but I caught my second wind going into the second half.”
By then Chivas was down a man -- Cortez, who scored the first goal, was ejected after punching Timbers defender Eric Brunner in the 28th minute -- and behind, 2-1. Eddie Johnson's second goal of the game, two minutes into the second half, made that 3-1.
“We fought hard,” Bowen said. “We went down a man early in the game. It's nothing we don't practice in our regular sessions, so it was more of another exercise.”
So was Bowen's move to central midfield. He's played up top and on the flank and said he was “a bit surprised” when asked to take on the role. Chivas head coach Robin Fraser said it was a move with Bowen's future in mind.
“It's important for Tristan [to be back],” Fraser said, “and he played more in the middle of the field, and he had to make more decisions and that sort of thing, which is important in his growth. I thought he did well.”
A passive performance in the attacking third, at least until Vancouver's monster forward, Eric Hassli, was red-carded with 25 minutes or so to go, cost Chivas another opportunity to pick up three points Wednesday night.
“We missed an opportunity tonight, for sure. I mean, being a man up for [25-plus] minutes at home is certainly a very, very favorable situation, and we are definitely disappointed that we didn't do as well as we would have liked to.”
The Goats (3-4-5), with five starters suspended or away on international duty, surrendered another lead just four days after Columbus rallied three times for a 3-3 draw and struggled, despite a significant advantage in possession, to find paths through a tight and capable defense marshaled by U.S. national team veteran Jay DeMerit.
Nick LaBrocca gave Chivas a lead just 21 seconds into the second half, drilling the ball inside the left post after a 30-yard run from midfield, but the advantage was gone within two minutes, when Camilo latched onto a rebound and sent it into the upper-90.
They were far too passive in the early going -- “We'd done a tremendous job of getting away from that in the last, I don't know, eight games maybe, so tonight really felt like one of the earlier games,” Fraser said -- and not clinical enough at the end, and that's not going to be good enough if Chivas wants to contend for a playoff berth.
“I think we get a little complacent at times,” said center back Heath Pearce, who wore the captain's armband with forward Alejandro Moreno away with Venezuela's national team. “We find ourselves swimming against the current for 90 minutes because we stop moving, we stop being creative, we stop being in the right position, we stop defensively organizing. … We just kind of get complacent, and that's something we have to get away from.”
The game turned on Hassli's 66th-minute dismissal, the French striker's third red card this season, for a late tackle on Ben Zemanski. The Goats had crafted only two reasonable scoring opportunities to that point, to nine by the Whitecaps (1-5-7), but spent the final half-hour -- spurred by Paulo Nagamura's and Michael Lahoud's returns from injury -- on top of the Vancouver goal.
Nagamura and Lahoud, who came on in the 60th minute, were definite bright spots for Chivas.
The Goats will be missing as many as 11 players, nine of them with reasonable starting experience, when they take on the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday night at Home Depot Center, as injury, suspension and international duty carves up their roster.
"We're definitely stretched," head coach Robin Fraser said Tuesday, "and I think this is the time of year where that happens, [with the CONCACAF] Gold Cup, Copa America, what have you ... international dates. And I think all the teams are going through it, for the most part.
"Yeah, we are going to be stretched on our roster, but thats why we have a roster."
Everyone is going through it, to some degree -- Vancouver is missing three players because of international call-ups -- but the few are feeling the impact quite like the Goats (3-4-4). Moreno is off with Venezuela's national team, Boyens and Elliott are with New Zealand's, and Mondaini and Flores are serving red-card suspensions.
Then there's that six-man injured list, with everyone closer to returning to the field -- and midfielder Paulo Nagamura and defender Michael Lahoud possible for Wednesday's game or, if not, for Saturday's against the Portland Timbers. Midfielder Blair Gavin, forward Tristan Bowen and defender Seth Owusu also are nearing the end of injury layoffs, Fraser said.
Just another day in Chivatown.
But there is good news on the injury front. Conrad is asymptomatic following his concussion last month and was scheduled to meet with a neurologist Wednesday, the next step in MLS's post-concussion protocol.
He could be ready to go April 30 against New England at Home Depot Center.
“I'm getting closer. I'm on the mend, but I still need to do the due process and talk to this guy,” Conrad said Wednesday. “I mean, if he sees there's a little hitch in my giddyup, then I have to step back and go from there. …
“I don't think there's any rush to get me back -- it's a long season. I'd assume the safe bet is a week from this weekend.”
GAVIN IN GERMANY: Gavin, sidelined by a recurring hamstring injury (and thought to be far off in his return), also is targeting the New England game -- or May 7 at Real San Jose -- after making great progress since spending a week in Konstanz, Germany, with Dr. Kurt Mosetter, originator of “myoreflex” therapy.
“It taught me a lot about my body, and just how the body is a big muscle chain, and if one of the chains is weak, that could lead to [problems in] another part ...,” Gavin said. “It's a lot of stuff, where they're pushing -- they don't call it pressure points, but it's spots in your body that have a lot of tension.”
The transfer window closes Friday, after which Major League Soccer clubs will be unable to bring in players under contract to foreign clubs until the summer window opens July 15. Banton's rights are owned by Liverpool FC, and the Goats likely will bring him in on loan, if they bring him in.
"It's a big puzzle (building a team)," Fraser said after training Thursday at Home Depot Center. "You never really feel like you've seen enough, but you've got to go with your gut feeling at some point, and like I said [last weekend], it's how the money, everything fits into the puzzle."
Fellow trialist Kerry Baptiste, a 29-year-old Trinidadian forward, is not under contract, so Chivas can take its time in determining whether he's a good fit for its goal-lite attack. He also played in the game against the Blues.
"Kerry's done all right this week," Fraser said. "He did pretty well in our 11-v-11 yesterday. He's a forward who likes to be in front of the goal, which is good, and we'll have to make a decison on him shortly as well."
INJURY UPDATE: Central defender Jimmy Conrad is still trying to get through a week without symptoms following his concussion sustained March 26 against Colorado. That's the first step in MLS's post-concussion protocol.
With three central defenders away on international duty -- Zarek Valentin, Michael Umaña and Andy Boyens -- head coach Robin Fraser and top assistant coach Greg Vanney stepped onto the field for the Goats in a 5-0 thrashing of Loyola Marymount University at Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium.
Vanney went the full 90, and Fraser came on in the 67th minute, joining Vanney in the middle for the final 25 minutes or so.
Vanney, 36, a two-time MLS Best XI selection who retired following the 2008 season with the Galaxy, said he had last played 90 minutes last year, in preseason games against MLS teams visiting Arizona, where he was based. Fraser, 44, a five-time Best XI pick and two-time MLS Defender of the Year, retired in 2005.
Any chance they'll follow in the footsteps of goalkeeper Pat Onstad, who retired after last season, became an assistant coach with D.C. United, then came out of retirement when D.C. needed help in the nets?
Uh ... no.
Fraser said being on the field again was "like the other 5,000 games I've played in my life" and that he had "no desire whatsoever" to play competitively again. Said Vanney: "No returning for me."
"The important thing for us today certainly was not us playing," Fraser said. "It was getting guys some experience and being able to move guys in certain positions, and that was really the reason we played, to look at players in different positions. Given how thin we are at the moment, looking around, it was either me or Carlos [Llamosa, an assistant coach and former national team defender], and I think Carlos had full warmups on, so I figured it was me."
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.
Chivas USA on Friday bid farewell to Alan Gordon, who spent most of his professional career down the hall with the Galaxy, sending the big forward to Toronto FC in a trade for veteran midfielder Nick LaBrocca.
The move brings in a two-way central midfielder, which Chivas needs with Blair Gavin (hamstring strain), Michael Lahoud (knee laceration) and Paulo Nagamura (calf strain) almost certain to miss the March 19 opener against Sporting Club Kansas City and Simon Elliott, 36, still feeling the effects of a minor knee injury sustained early in preseason.
“Nick is an extremely intelligent, efficient player who will give us options and depth in the midfield,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said in a statement. “He’s proven himself in this league, and we’re excited to welcome him into the team.”
The Goats also made official that they have declined the option on forward/midfielder Jesus Padilla's contract. They are awaiting word from the league office that Ghanaian defender Seth Owusu's contract has been approved.
Gordon, 29, played in nine games with a goal and three assists after he was acquired in an Aug. 5 trade from the Galaxy. The 6-foot-3 striker started 58 of 106 MLS regular-season and playoff games he played for L.A. after joining the club late in the 2004 season, scoring 16 goals with 12 assists.
La Brocca, 26, emerged with the Colorado Rapids, playing a key role in its 2007 title-winning reserve team, then taking a starting role in 2008. He played in 59 games, with 56 starts and four goals, in 2008-09, was traded to Toronto FC last March in the deal that sent former UCLA defender Marvell Wynne to the Rapids, and played in 28 games, with 24 starts, a goal and six assists, last season for the Reds.
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."
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."
Ah. Trinidadian striker Stern John, probably the finest forward to play in Major League Soccer's first half-decade, when he netted 44 goals over the 1998 and 1999 seasons for the Columbus Crew. John, now 34, took off for England after the '99 campaign and has suited up for nine clubs there, mostly below the Premier League, and scoring at a decent rate in stints with Nottingham Forest, Birmingham City, Coventry City and Southampton.
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.
The Goats are finalizing a loan agreement to bring in rising Ghanaian left back Seth Owusu, and head coach Robin Fraser expects him in camp sometime this week.
Owusu, who will be 22 next week, has been playing for Kessben FC in Ghana's Glo Premier League. The club's license was purchased in December by Medeama SC, and the defender has since been on trials in France and Poland without attracting a contract offer.
“He's also a very capable central defender, so I think he adds some athleticism and experience. … I feel like physically he's going to be another strong defender for us.”
Owusu appears on the fringe of Ghana's national team. He was called into the Black Stars' camp before an African Cup of Nations qualifier against Sudan in October but did not play in the match.
The deal would expire in December; no word whether there will be options to extend to loan or purchase the contract. It sounds like Medeama will be holding out for bigger bucks than MLS will spend.
“We are confident this will help the young chap gain experience for a bigger move to Europe,” Medeama president Moses Armah said on his club’s Web site. “This is only the beginning, and we will to wish him well at his new club. He has the experience and knows what is ahead of him, so he can’t disappoint. We expect him to come back better than he’s leaving us.”
Chivas just acquired Heath Pearce, a left-footed outside back (who can play on the right or in midfield, too), a week ago, and it signed center back Andrew Boyens about a week before that. Center back Jimmy Conrad, of course, arrived in December's re-entry draft, and Zarek Valentin, who can play inside or on the right, was the Goats' top pick in last month's draft. Colombian right back Jimmy Asprilla is in camp, and there's a good chance he'll be signed, too. Three backline starters return, although Mariano Trujillo likely will play, when he plays, in midfield.
“At the end of the day, we're trying to bring in as many good players as we can,” Fraser said. “And we're not Chelsea or Real Madrid, where we have the luxury of plucking every single player we want. So when we get good players, we have to bring them in.”
ACROSS THE BACK?: What might Chivas' starting backline look like? Maybe … Asprilla on the right, Conrad and Owusu in the middle, Pearce on the left. Or Owusu on the left with Valentin in the middle with Conrad, and Pearce in midfield. Or Valentin on the right, with Conrad and Michael Umaña in the middle. Or Conrad and Owusu in the middle and Ante Jazic on the left flank.