Los Angeles Soccer: Southern California Seahorses
The local clubs in the USL's Premier Development League take the league's name to heart. The objective is developing talent, far more so than winning trophies, although those are nice, too.
There are five L.A.-area teams in the PDL's Southwest Division, including 2009 national champion Ventura County Fusion, which figures to battle defending division titlist Fresno Fuego for the top spot this season, which kicks off in earnest this weekend after Fresno-L.A. Misioneros games the past two weekends.
Most of the clubs are loaded with college players, a few amateurs looking to showcase their talents for the next level and, in some circumstances, pros hoping to step up into one of the country's three fully professional leagues or to a club to the south or overseas. The Southwest Division, along with its conference partner in the Northwest, is a standard-bearer for the PDL, in terms of competition and development.
“First and foremost, [the priority] is to prepare players for the next level,” said Fusion coach Ole Mikkelsen, a 1978 UCLA All-American who played in the old North American Soccer League. “We select players primarily on whether or not we think they have the tools to play at the MLS level. We prepare the players first, and win second. It's hard to disconnect the two -- winning gives visibility to get you exposed.”
The Fusion and fellow PDL power Orange County Blue Star have sent scores of players on to Major League Soccer and other pro leagues. So has the La Mirada-based Southern California Seahorses, a Christian club that expects to battle the Fusion, Blue Star and Fuego for the division title and two postseason berths.
“All the guys who come to our team are interested in that development part of the league and the team,” Seahorses coach Todd Elkins said. “They know they get better. The level is consistently good. Just making the team -- making a team in our region -- you're going to be challenged. We take that very seriously. We want to maximize their time during the summer, making sure [a player] gets everything he can from us.
“We look at it as being a bit of a testing ground. If progressing the ranks is a goal for you, this is a good test to see if that's realistic or not.”
There are two playoff berths available in the Premier Development League's Southwest Division and enough showdowns among the four contenders to make for a spirited final month in the regular season.
Fresno Fuego (7-0-3) and 2009 PDL champ Ventura County Fusion (6-0-4) are in the best position with six games to play, but the La Mirada-based Southern California Seahorses (6-2-2) and Orange County Blue Star (6-3-1) are will have opportunities to make their moves into the top spots.
The Fusion have the simplest schedule, with just one game remaining against the other three (July 15 at Blue Star), and the Seahorses and Blue Star each have four home games. Both also have a home-and-home remaining with Fresno.
Blue Star plays Wednesday against the Seahorses at Biola University.
The Fuego kept a two-point cushion as Milton Blanco scored his eighth and ninth goals in a 4-2 victory over the L.A. Legends in last week's action. A strike by Danny Barrera (Thousand Oaks/Westlake HS and UC Santa Barbara) lifted the Fusion past Ogden, 1-0, their first win in four league games. UCLA's Chandler Hoffman scored two more goals -- giving him a division-best 12 -- as Blue Star won its fourth in a row. The Seahorses were held to a scoreless draw by BYU.
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Hollywood United's move to the National Premier Soccer League has been successful if perhaps a mite or two too easy.
The Hitmen (10-0-1), bolstered by new signing Carlos Carrillo (from Salvadoran power Isidro Metapan) and the return of Nick Blanco (from ousted USL Pro side Puerto Rico United), clinched the Northwest Division title last weekend with a 4-1 drilling of the Sonoma County Sol. Blanco scored, and Jose Miranda netted his league-best 10th goal of the campaign.
That gives HUFC a 13-point lead on reigning league champ Sacramento Gold (5-3-3) with three regular-season games to go. The competition was surely better in the USL Premier Development League; the Hitmen are averaging four goals per game in the lower-cost NPSL and have won four games by at least four goals and two more by three.
The Southwest Division race tightened with one very unexpected result: San Diego Boca 3, San Diego Flash 2.
The Flash (7-3-0) came in perfect on the field (they forfeited two victories, one over Hollywood United, for using an ineligible player), and they rallied from a two-goal deficit on Larry Emeanua's eighth and ninth goals, the equalizer on a bicycle kick three minutes into stoppage. Boca (5-5-1) prevailed on Juan Perez's strike with virtually the final touch of the game.
That leaves the Flash and the Santa Ana Winds (7-3-0) even on points with four games to play and set to meet Sunday in San Diego. The Winds were clobbered, 4-0, in the first meeting June 4, and they dropped another last weekend against Sacramento.
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PDL: Big weeks for UCLA's Chandler Hoffman and Fernando Monge with Orange County Blue Star and La Caņada Flintridge's Ryan Shaw with Southern California Seahorses.
The Seahorses (3-2-0) are coming off back-to-back Premier Development League wins over longtime power Orange County Blues Star, winning 2-0 last week in Irvine and 2-1 on Wednesday night in La Mirada. Ryan Shaw (La Caņada Flintridge/St. Francis HS) scored three goals -- giving him five in five games -- in the victories.
Now the club, part of a Christian organization that includes the USL Pro league's Charlotte Eagles, looks to bounce back from the 4-0 home loss last weekend to Southwest Division leader Ventura County Fusion (5-0-2). They meet Sunday evening at Ventura College.
The Blue Heat (2-0-1) last week played two-time W-League champ Pali Blues to a scoreless draw, then destroyed archrival L.A. Strikers, 7-2, after scoring three goals -- by Hannah Beard, Portuguese star Edite Fernandes and Cal State Fullerton's Ann Marie Tangorra (Arcadia/Arcadia HS and Cal State L.A.) -- in the first 25 minutes.
Santa Clarita returns home, The Master's College on this occasion, to take on reigning Western Conference champ Vancouver Whitecaps (3-0-1), who have conceded just one goal this season.
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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.
The good news for the L.A. Blues: They're atop their new division and have an opportunity next weekend to build on that lead with road games against the USL Pro's only two winless sides.
The bad news: The Charlotte Eagles were winless before coming to So Cal, and, after Saturday's finale of a two-game series with the Blues, they're winless no more.
Jorge Herrera's stoppage-time penalty kick lifted the Eagles to a 2-1 victory at Cal State Fullerton. L.A. won Thursday's encounter, 2-1, at Centennial High School in Corona.
Cheyne Roberts' half-volley from a Herrera corner kick gave Charlotte (1-4-1) a 22nd-minute advantage, but Walter Gaitan knocked home a loose ball after a 75th-minute corner to pull the Blues (4-2-1) even. Herrera's penalty winner followed a Leonard Griffin hand ball.
The Blues played short a man after central defender Erlys Garcia was sent off in the 42nd for a studs-up tackle on Alan Sanchez. Chivas USA loaner Chukwudi Chijindu, who netted the winner Thursday, hit the crossbar, and a Garcia header was cleared off the Charlotte goal line.
L.A. is 0-2 on its primary home field, and the crowd again was a disappointment. Only 623 were in the stands for a tripleheader that featured La Mirada's Southern California Seahorses, a Charlotte affiliate, and the Pali Blues, the Blues' championship women's team. Three home games have drawn 1,993.
Orange County Blue Star should be pleased.
The Rattlers' departure leaves eight teams in the Southwest Division -- five of them in the L.A. area -- with an unbalanced, 16-game schedule. Everyone must play two division rivals three times, and, wouldn't you know it, two of the most prominent sides must square off more than twice.
And Orange County, expected to battle 2009 PDL champ Ventura County Fusion and Hollywood United FC for the Southwest title and one of the division's two postseason berths, isn't one of them.
The three Ventura County-Hollywood United showdowns is the biggest news from the PDL schedule released Thursday by the Tampa-based USL. Hollywood United visits Fresno Fuego for the league opener on April 29, and the L.A. Legends are home July 24 against Fresno in the final regular-season game.
The Southern California Seahorses will open in a tripleheader May 14 at Cal State Fullerton, playing the Legends at 4:30, between W-League and USL Pro games. The other local teams' seasons begin at least 13 days earlier.
Blue Star, which opens its season May 1 against the Legends at Huntington Park High School, will play three games against L.A. and the Seahorses. The Fusion gets an extra match with the Seahorses and HUFC plays Fresno a third time.
Lancaster, rebranded as Rattlers FC, have moved to the 37-team National Premier Soccer League, another national amateur/semipro outfit. Among the NPSL's 10 new clubs are Santa Ana Winds FC, which will play at Santa Ana Stadium, and FC Hasental, based in the Conejo Valley, in and around Thousand Oaks.
The Los Angeles Strikers are one of two new Western teams, bulking the conference to eight sides (and 14 games on the home-and-home slate), and will play their home games at Pasadena City College.
The club, formed by former Santa Clarita Blue Heat director of operations Debbie Caracciolo and her husband, Joe, will debut against the Pali Blues in a tripleheader May 14 in Fullerton and play its home opener four days later against fellow expansion club Victoria Highlanders, from British Columbia.
Two-time W-League champ Pali, which is affiliated with USL Pro men's team L.A. Blues, will open the May 14 “festival” at 1 p.m., with La Mirada-based Premier Development League team Southern California Seahorses playing at 4 and the L.A. Blues taking on the Charlotte Eagles -- a partner with the Seahorses, their fellow Christian club -- at 7:30.
Pali also will play a CSUF doubleheader with the L.A. Blues on July 2; the club's opener at Palisades High School in May 20 against Victoria.
Blue Heat, a second-year outfit based at Valencia High School, opens its campaign at home May 22 against Victoria.
The USL will release its PDL schedule Thursday. Six local teams played in the national amateur/semipro league last year.
Here are the local W-League teams' home schedules. (For their full schedules, click on the team name; for the full USL W-League schedule, go here.)LOS ANGELES STRIKERS
Home: Pasadena City College
May 18 Victoria, 7 p.m.
May 29 Santa Clarita, 7 p.m.
June 1 Seattle, 7 p.m.
June 3 Vancouver, 7 p.m.
June 28 Colorado Rush, 7 p.m.
July 2 Colorado Force, 7 p.m.
July 9 Pali, 7 p.m.
Home: Palisades High School (Pacific Palisades)
May 14 Los Angeles, 1 p.m. (at Cal State Fullerton)
May 20 Victoria, 7 p.m.
May 26 Santa Clarita, 7 p.m.
June 1 Vancouver, 7 p.m.
June 5 Seattle, 3 p.m.
June 30 Colorado Force, 7 p.m.
July 2 Colorado Rush, 4 p.m.
SANTA CLARITA BLUE HEAT
Home: Valencia High School (Valencia/Santa Clarita)
May 22 Victoria, 7 p.m.
June 3 Seattle, 7 p.m.
June 5 Vancouver, 1 p.m.
June 28 Colorado Force, 7 p.m.
June 30 Colorado Rush, 7 p.m.
July 13 Los Angeles, 7 p.m.
July 17 Pali, 7 p.m.
Two local Premier Development League clubs -- Orange County Blue Star and the Southern California Seahorses -- are being recognized for their longevity by the United Soccer Leagues.
They're among six USL clubs, and three from the PDL, receiving “10+” honors at the organization's Hall of Fame banquet Friday in Tampa, Fla.
Blue Star joined the PDL in 2001 and has helped develop former Chivas USA captain Sacha Kljestan (Huntington Beach/Huntington Beach HS), now with Belgium's RSC Anderlecht, as well as Columbus Crew winger Robbie Rogers (Palos Verdes and Huntington Beach/Mater Dei HS), Kansas City Wizards wing-forward Kei Kamara (Lawndale/Leuzinger HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills), Seattle Sounders midfielder Brad Evans (UC Irvine) and Chivas USA midfielder Sal Zizzo (UCLA). The biggest name to play for the OC team: Juergen Klinsmann, who used the pseudonym Jay Goeppingen, taking the last name from the town of his birth.
The Seahorses, who are based in La Mirada, also debuted in 2001 and are affiliated with Missionary Athletes International, a Christian sports ministry, and a sister club to USL Second Division power Charlotte Eagles. Alumni include Columbus Crew forward Steven Lenhart (Yorba Linda/Esperanza HS and Azusa Pacific), Seattle Sounders defender Patrick Ianni (UCLA) and former Galaxy defender Adam Frye (UCLA) and midfielder Josh Hansen, who plays for USSF D2 Pro League champion Puerto Rico Islanders.
Three clubs with Major League Soccer connections -- the Chicago Fire's PDL side and the Seattle Sounders' and Vancouver Whitecaps' women's teams -- also are being recognized. So is USL Pro club Pittsburgh Riverhounds.