Los Angeles Soccer: Steve Zakuani
CARSON -- The guest of honor stayed home after a small setback in his rehabilition from injury, so it was Juan Pablo Angel who took the spotlight, making his first start since opening day in Monday's MLS Reserve League match at Home Depot Center.
Steve Zakuani, the electrifying Seattle winger who has been sidelined a year since a gruesome tackle shattered his right leg, had targeted this one for his return to Major League Soccer action, but he pulled himself out of training Sunday and was left in Washington when the team traveled to L.A.
The Sounders pulled out a 4-3 victory without him, with Riverside's Sammy Ochoa scoring twice, including the winning goal in the 70th minute.
Angel scored on a penalty kick and assisted a Casey Townsend goal with a nifty pass, but Chivas twice gave away leads in an absorbing match, clearly the most entertaining played at HDC yet this year.
“We've been struggling scoring goals, so we put an emphasis on trying to get goals, create chances,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid, who grew up in Torrance and has won championships, among other places, with the Galaxy and at UCLA. “I think we did a good job, scoring four goals, and I think we had chances to maybe score eight.”
That approach led to end-to-end action. It was 1-1 by the 12th minute, the Sounders hit the post three times in the first 24 minutes, and at least three goals -- by Chivas' Laurent Courtois in the ninth minute, Townsend's go-ahead tally in the 59th, and a blistering first-time blast above the box by Sounders rookie (out of UCLA) Andy Rose to tie the score three minutes later -- featured first-class finishes.
CARSON -- Juan Pablo Angel is training fully again with Chivas USA -- heading the ball and everything -- and could complete Major League Soccer's post-concussion protocol on Thursday, which would make him eligible to play this weekend.
The 36-year-old Colombian striker, who has missed five matches while dealing with concussion symptoms following a preseason collision with Portland Timbers defender Eric Brunner, on Tuesday said the last week “was a very good week,” that “this is an important 2-3 days, the next 2-3 days,” and that “I'm excited and hopeful everything goes to plan.”
Chivas (3-3-0) faces the Philadelphia Union (1-3-1) on Saturday night at Home Depot Center.
The Goats' attack has struggled without Angel, who scored seven goals in nine appearances after arriving in a mid-August trade from the Galaxy, scoring just four goals and losing three times by shutout. Alejandro Moreno, Cesar Romero and rookie Casey Townsend have split time atop a 4-2-3-1 alignment, and Miller Bolaños has played up front in a two-forward formation.
Chivas bolstered its frontline with the acquisition this week of fellow Colombian forward Jose Erick Correa, but he won't be in camp until later this week, perhaps not until next week.
Angel, when game-fit and healthy, is No. 1 on the depth chart.
“He seems to be coming along well,” head coach Robin Fraser said. “I'm sure he kept up with [fitness] pretty well, but I'm sure his game fitness won't be the same. But as long as he's healthy, that's the important thing. And the game fitness will come.”
Angel was hurt after knocking heads with Brunner in a March 1 Timbers tournament match in Portland, Ore. He finished the game, played 63 minutes in the preseason finale three days later against San Jose, then went the distance in the March 11 league opener against Houston.
The veteran midfielder from Pasadena (St. Francis HS/UCLA) joined the Goats' preseason preparations this week and is set to sign with the club, likely on Saturday.
“We told you we were looking for experienced players, right? And Pete's been through the wars,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said after Friday morning's fitness session at Home Depot Center. “He's won championships, he's been a very instrumental part of very good teams in this league. When the opportunity came up to get him, it was something we really had to jump at.”
Vagenas, 33, comes to Chivas after a season with Vancouver, in which he started 13 of the 16 league games in which he appeared. He spent the previous two years with Seattle, making 21 league appearances, after nine seasons with the Galaxy.
He helped L.A. win two MLS Cups, two U.S. Open Cups, a CONCACAF Champions' Cup and the 2002 Supporters' Shield, captaining the Galaxy to a MLS Cup/U.S. Open Cup “double” in 2005. He also was with two U.S. Open Cup-winning sides with Seattle.
“We've known Pete ... gosh, his first year was my last year with the Galaxy. So I've known him a long time,” Fraser said. “[Assistant coach] Greg [Vanney] and Jim [Liston, the fitness coach] know him even better than I do. ... Pete's the kind of guy who has been an important part of locker rooms with very successful teams. And we keep coming back to that, looking for guys who have track record of success. And he's been very good.”
Last week's visits to Southern California by D.C. United, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers provided occasion for a mini-reunion among Akron Zips. For Chivas USA defender Zarek Valentin, it was a chance to compare notes with a few other prized rookies produced by the college powerhouse.
Valentin, along with second-year Goats Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski, was able to hang out with Vancouver midfielder Michael Nanchoff, D.C. United defenders Perry Kitchen and Chris Korb, and Portland midfielder Darlington Nagbe.
"There were a good, like, 10 of us in the L.A. area. So it was pretty cool," said Valentin, whom Chivas made the fourth overall selection in January's MLS SuperDraft. "We were all in one hotel room, just kind of laughing about old times and stuff."
New times, too. Valentin has played three positions on Chivas' backline. Kitchen, taken with the No. 3 overall pick, has been a revelation for D.C. United whether in central defense or at right back. Nagbe, the No. 2 selection, is considered can't-miss, although his young pro career has primarily been about rehabbing injuries. Nanchoff, the No. 8 pick, and Korb are starting to find their way with their new clubs.
Two more players from the Akron side that won the NCAA title last December also are in the league -- Houston defender Kofi Sarkodie was taken with the No. 7 pick, and San Jose midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong joined Korb as a second-round pick -- joining a group spearheaded by Seattle winger Steve Zakuani and Sporting Kansas City forward Teal Bunbury.
"It's nice to see that, and it's great to see [the guys from] our program, especially the guys playing," Valentin said. "You love to see two Akron guys in the D.C. game [Friday against the Galaxy], and you see Michael Nanchoff got into his first game -- we watched his touches online."
There's an oddity in all that Akron elegance: Four rookies among the Zips alums -- Valentin, Kitchen, Korb and Sarkodie -- have played at right back in MLS.
No word yet on any additional sanctions for Chivas USA forward Marcos Mondaini, but a report says he'll receive a four-game suspension for breaking, dislocating and tearing ligaments in Real Salt Lake playmaker Javier Morales' left ankle last weekend.
Major League Soccer is expected to announce Mondaini's fine and suspension on Thursday, but Spencer Checketts, the son of RSL owner Dave Checketts, posted on his Twitter account Wednesday that Mondaini, a first-year MLS player from Argentina, would be banned for four games -- eligible to return June 5 against Portland at Home Depot Center -- and fined $1,250.
"Breaking News concerning the breaking news: Mondaini suspension only 3 games, + 1 for Red Card = 4 total games," Checketts tweeted from his ESPN 700 Sports radio account. "Fine stays at $1,250. Weak."
Checketts, who is co-host of a daily show on ESPN radio in Salt Lake City, initially reported the suspension would be for five games.
Major League Soccer, through a spokesman, declined to comment.
Mondaini was red-carded after a clumsy tackle from behind left his countryman Morales' left ankle bent outward at a nearly 90 degree angle late in the first half of Real Salt Lake's 1-0 victory Saturday in Sandy, Utah. Morales, MLS's premier playmaking midfielder, is expected to be sidelined at least four months.
A tackle in March, just as grotesque and far more violent, shattered Seattle Sounders winger Steve Zakuani's right leg. Colorado Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan was suspended 10 games and fined $5,000.
Almost a dozen, if Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman has his way.
“He's one of the best best players in the league, so it’s not only bad for us, it’s bad for the league that he’s not going to be playing,” Beckerman, RSL's captain told the newspaper. “I'm sure [Major League Soccer] will” heavily penalize Mondaini.
The Chivas forward's awkward tackle from behind on Morales, in the 37th minute of RSL's 1-0 victory Saturday in Sandy, Utah, left the his countryman's left ankle gruesomely bent outward at a nearly 90-degree angle. Morales, 31, was to undergo surgery Monday, and his club says he will sidelined four months, but The Tribune reported that most players in RSL's locker room do not expect him back until next season.
Zakuani's injury was considered season-ending.
MLS's disciplinary committee will determine whether to extend Mondaini's suspension (currently at one game, for the red card) and increase his fine (the standard $250), and if it does so, the sanctions likely would be announced Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.
RSL coach Jason Kreis said after the game he “didn’t think it was the most flagrant of fouls” nor particularly “egregious,” and Chivas coach Robin Fraser, a former RSL assistant coach, termed the tackle “clumsy” but “not malicious.” But Will Johnson, who scored the Utahns' goal, says he thinks Morales' stature -- he's MLS's premier playmaking midfielder -- should carry some weight with the committee.
“Obviously, I don’t think the guy meant to break the leg, and there wasn’t malicious retaliation …,” Johnson told The Tribune. “But you’ve broken the leg of one of the best players in the league. Maybe that shouldn’t matter. But for me, it does.”
It's the longest suspension in MLS history, exceeding by one game the 2007 penalty to former Houston Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark for kicking a fallen Carlos Ruiz, then with FC Dallas. Mullan will not, according to the Rapids, appeal the suspension. He would be eligible to return to the field June 26 at Columbus.
Mullan, who was described as too distraught to train this week with the Rapids, broke Zakuani's right tibia and fibula with a petulant tackle early in Friday's game in Commerce City, Colo. Zakuani, Seattle's most influential attacking player, underwent emergency surgery, was hospitalized for three and a half days and is expected to miss the remainder of the Major League Soccer season. Mullan was red-carded for the foul
MLS's disciplinary committee called Mullan's challenge "reckless, egregious, and showed utter disregard for the safety of his opponent."
Two tackles, four broken bones, and two of Major League Soccer's most important players are facing significant time away.
It was a dire weekend in Major League Soccer, with Seattle's Steve Zakuani, the league's premier winger, and FC Dallas' David Ferreira, the reigning MLS MVP, suffering major injuries that could cripple their clubs.
Zakuani's broken leg has received more attention -- it came in a ghastlier confrontation, and on a national telecast -- but Ferreira's is more damaging.
Zakuani's right leg was demolished in a rash, brutal tackle by Colorado's Brian Mullan's just moments into Friday's game. Zakuani, one of MLS's most explosive and exciting talents, underwent emergency surgery to repair a broken tibia and fibula, remained hospitalized for four days and is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Mullan, one of MLS's most aggressive midfielder (but in no way considered dirty) leapt into Zakuani's leg in frustration after he didn't draw a foul moments earlier. As Zakuani flew in the air, replays showed, his lower right leg flopping unnaturally.
Mullan, who was red-carded, first called it a "tackle that I’ve done hundreds of times and would probably do again," then backtracked after seeing the replay and withstanding withering criticism from all sides. He pulled out of training with the Rapids this week, too distraught to take the field, and is awaiting news of punishment, expected sometime Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Mullan released an official statement through his agent: "It is with regret that my tackle resulted in the injury of Steve, and I am deeply sorry to Steve and all those impacted by his injury."
The speedy, skillful Zakuani's absence takes away the most devastating dimension of the Sounders' multifaceted attack. They're a different team without the Congolese-born, London-raised, Akron-educated midfielder, but Ferreira's injury -- two fractured bones in his right ankle -- ought to be more costly to FC Dallas.
Ferreira, a Colombian forward/playmaker who was hurt on a challenge by Vancouver defender Jonathan Leathers -- no foul was called -- makes everything click for the Hoops' attack, and there's nobody available who can do what he does. The Hoops will have to alter how they attack more so than Seattle, which will rely more on Designated Player Fredy Montero and rising forward O'Brian White.
This week's rankings:
1. REAL SALT LAKE (4-0-0, 12 points), Last week: 1
Week 6: Idle in league after the 2-2 midweek draw at Monterrey to prepare for the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final
Remark: Win over Monterrey, CCL title would be MLS's greatest result
Trophies: MLS Cup 2009
Next: Wednesday vs. Monterrey (Mexico) in second leg of the Champions League final, 7 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel); Saturday at Portland, 7:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick)
Week 6: Landon Donovan ends 11-game goal skid, nets two in 3-0 romp over Portland
Remark: Sure they were spotted two goals, but dominance was complete
Trophies: MLS Cup 2002, 2005; CONCACAF Champions Cup 2000, MLS Supporters' Shield 1998, 2002, 2010, U.S. Open Cup 2001, 2005
Next: Sunday at FC Dallas, 4 p.m. (Galavision)
Juninho scored a fine goal in the 58th minute and Josh Saunders came up big in the nets as the Galaxy, much better in the second half, won their fifth in a row against Seattle, beating the Sounders, 1-0, in Major League Soccer's season opener at Qwest Field.
A quick look at L.A.'s victory:
BEST PLAYER: Saunders, pressed into service with starting keeper Donovan Ricketts injured, was superb in the shutout, making three big saves on Fredy Montero -- including a 32nd-minute chest stop after a corner kick deflected off Sean Franklin.
Also impressive: Todd Dunivant, solid on the left flank; Franklin, who put behind him a poor first 45 minutes and made a key defensive play to save a goal; and Chris Birchall, who was in the middle of things all night and twice challenged Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
Seattle's best: winger Steve Zakuani, who caused havoc on both flanks.
BEST GOAL: There was just one, and it was nice. Dunivant stepped up to pick off an Erik Friberg pass, carried the ball forward and squared it to Juninho, who took a touch and blasted a knuckler off diving Keller's hands and into the net. Juninho was aided by the Sounders' failure to close space when he received the ball.
BIGGEST STRUGGLES: David Beckham never really looked comfortable, , but he's no fan of Qwest's artificial surface, which was made more difficult by the steady rainfall. He had one good chance, a 32-yard free kick in first-half stoppage that landed on the goal's roof.
Very little going on up top for the Galaxy, and Juan Pablo Angel's absence (with flu) really wasn't an issue. Mike Magee and Chad Barrett rarely linked with each other or with the midfielders, but there was a disconnect in L.A.'s attack most of the first half. An emphasis after halftime to tried-and-true counterattacking tactics, along with more precise defensive play, fueled the Galaxy's second-half surge.
College soccer's top team? It's Akron, regardless of what the rankings say. (And the rankings say the mighty Zips are No. 2, so close enough.) And college soccer's best team is seeking a return to the the NCAA Division I College Cup final -- and its first championship -- at this weekend's final four at UC Santa Barbara.
Chivas USA midfielders Blair Gavin and Ben Zemanski are the resident experts on the Zips (20-1-2), and they're doing all they can to be in Goleta for Friday night's semifinal against Michigan (17-4-3) -- or at least, they hope, a title-game clash Sunday against No. 1 Louisville (19-0-3) or North Carolina (16-3-4).
Gavin (who arrived in Akron from Phoenix via the U.S. U-17 residency in Bradenton, Fla.) and Zemanski (a hometown boy) wrapped up their college careers in last year's title game, in which Akron -- No. 1 and unbeaten -- was toppled by Virginia on penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw.
The Zips have soccer pedigree. They went to the 1986 final and have been in the NCAA Tournament 10 of the past 13 seasons. But they've been something else since Caleb Porter (an Indiana University product who played in four MLS games in three seasons with San Jose and Tampa Bay in the late '90s) took charge in 2006, going 88-12-11 the past five seasons -- and they're 43-1-2 the past two years and 60-3-8 the past three.
Our view: It's a combination of talent -- MLSers Steve Zakuani (Seattle) and Sinisa Ubiparipovic (New York) are Akron products, too, and watch for Anthony Ampaipitakwong, junior Kofi Sarkodie and freshman Darren Mattocks soon -- and Porter's superb guidance that has made Akron into a powerhouse. But we went to Chivas' rookie stars for the real scoop.
1. WHAT MAKES AKRON SOCCER SO SPECIAL?
ZEMANSKI: "I think Caleb has everyone believing that they are the best team in the country and that at the end of the day, they'll find a way to win and achieve their goals. ... It means a lot to the community. The whole community is behind Akron soccer, doing everything they can to support Caleb and bring Akron it's first team national championship. We're not a BCS school. We're a small school that's not recognized a lot for their sports, but Akron has earned the tight to be recognized as a powerhouse in soccer. We're not just a small school when it comes to soccer."
With the Major League Soccer season more or less behind us -- more trades to come from the expansion draft perhaps, and there's the re-entry draft coming up, and the Galaxy still has the friendly in Australia, but other than that -- here's one man's All-Major League Soccer 2010 selections:MVP
David Ferreira (FC Dallas)
The most important player in the league couldn't quite get his club to the MLS Cup title, but he came close. The Colombian playmaker was at the heart of everything the Hoops accomplished.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Schellas Hyndman (FC Dallas)
I was all for New York's Hans Backe until the Red Bulls choked at home against San Jose and Hyndman unveiled a perfect game plan to beat the Galaxy in the Western Conference final. His 2½-year rebuild of FC Dallas was absolutely masterful.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Kevin Hartman (FC Dallas)
The Palos Verdes product (Peninsula HS/UCLA) had the greatest goalkeeping season in league history, his record 0.62 goals-against average merely hints at how good he was. Nobody made bigger, more brilliant saves.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake)
The Costa Rican forward added dimensions to RSL's attack, turning MLS's champion into, arguably, its best team. He netted a dozen goals in MLS play, plus another six to prod the Utahns to next year's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Andy Najar (D.C. United)
The most electrifying player in MLS is a 17-year-old Honduran winger who might soon be starring for the U.S. national team. Oh, we hope so.
SOPHOMORE OF THE YEAR
Steve Zakuani (Seattle Sounders FC)
The Congo-born, London-raised, Akron-educated winger needed one full season to get his bearings in MLS, but he took over in year two, scoring 11 goals to lead the Sounders' attack. A rare blend of speed, power, skill, brains and incomparable self-confidence.
GK Kevin Hartman (FC Dallas): For all Ferreira did, with no Hartman, Dallas doesn't come near MLS Cup.
D Heath Pearce (FC Dallas): Turned his disappointment over missing the World Cup into a stellar season -- and on the right rather than at his usual spot at left back.
D Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake): Smart, regal center back provided the foundation that enables the MLS Defender of the Year next to him to do all the risky stuff that attracts so much attention.
D Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake): Tremendous athlete willing to try things other defenders won't. When it doesn't work, it's ugly; when it does, glorious.
D Jair Benitez (FC Dallas): Hoops' right back was the best attacking back in the league.
M Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes): Won the Golden Boot with 18 goals to carry, almost single-handedly, the Quakes into the postseason for the first time since the relaunch.
M Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids): His partnership in the middle with Pablo Mastoeni provided the foundation for Colorado's success. And nobody was better in the MLS Cup final.
M David Ferreira (FC Dallas): The league's premier playmaker wonderfully orchestrated the Hoops' dynamic attack. Virtually unstoppable.
M Landon Donovan (L.A. Galaxy): Played provider more than scorer and led the league in assists (with 16), but more impressive: His defensive play and his peerless ability to turn the transition.
F Edson Buddle (L.A. Galaxy): Big, strong, fast and technical, Buddle was the best finisher in the league, scoring 19 goals (playoffs included) and winning a role at the World Cup in South Africa.
F Omar Cummings (Colorado Rapids): The Jamaican forward's pace made him the most feared attacker in MLS, and his connection with Conor Casey was pivotal in the Rapids' stunning championship run.
Others we liked ... a lot:
Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: Sean Franklin (L.A. Galaxy), Ugo Ihemelu (FC Dallas)
Midfielders: Daniel Hernandez (FC Dallas), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia), Joel Lindpere (New York), Steve Zakuani (Seattle), Bobby Convey (San Jose)
Forwards: Fredy Montero (Seattle), Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake), Conor Casey (Colorado)
Sunday's 15th MLS Cup, which kicks off at BMO Field a little after 5:30 p.m. (ESPN and Galavision), could be a classic. Dallas and Colorado are fast, athletic, attacking sides capable of producing scintillating stuff.
There will be abundant goal opportunities, but with Palos Verdes' Kevin Hartman (Peninsula HS/UCLA) in the FC Dallas nets, there's no certainty of scoring. At least at one end.
Both teams attack so well, especially off the counter, that defensive approaches ought to be decisive. The team that does the best job closing space and preventing its opponent's attacking speed from making a difference is likely going to prevail.
Three keys to victory:
TORONTO -- This is where the Galaxy wanted to be, planned to be: In Canada's largest city, preparing for Sunday's MLS Cup title game, 90 minutes from the club's first Major League Soccer championship in five years.
The disappointment from last weekend's loss to FC Dallas in the Western Conference final slowly is ebbing away, replaced by a broader perspective of what the Galaxy accomplished over eight months and what will be required to reach next year's goal: winning the MLS Cup title, of course.
L.A. posted the best record during MLS's regular season (18-7-5) -- that would have meant the championship in most leagues on the planet -- it won the Western Conference title, claimed the Supporters' Shield for the third time (gaining entry to the group stage of next season's CONCACAF Champions League) and came just a handful of miraculous Kevin Hartman saves of reaching an MLS-record seventh title game.
All in all, not bad. Just not good enough.
“It hurts. There's only one team that's happy at the end of the year,” defender Todd Dunivant said a few days after FC Dallas' 3-0 triumph ended the Galaxy campaign. “It was a tough ending for us. We had every intention to get back to the Cup [after losing on penalties to Real Salt Lake in last year's final] and win it this year. But we've looked at the positives, too. We won the Supporters' Shield and qualified for the Champions League, so there are a lot of positives to take out of it.”
Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts acknowledges “it means a lot to lead the regular season. It's good. But in this league, it means nothing. Ultimately, you have to play the playoffs and get to MLS Cup. So the Supporters' Shield is only a consolation for me, personally.
“It's not bad we got some silverware. But that's not what I play for. I play for MLS Cup.”
AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam
U.S. players celebrate after Juan Agudelo's goal lift them to a 1-0 victory over South Africa.
The best thing about the U.S. national team's trek to South Africa wasn't Wednesday's 1-0 triumph in the Nelson Mandela Challenge at Cape Town -- although that certainly was nice and was rewarded with a sweet trophy -- nor any of the philanthropic activities, and not even Thursday's scheduled sit down with Mandela himself.
It was the way in which a young U.S. side asserted itself, and what that might mean going forward.
Four players 20 or younger debuted in the triumph over Bafana Bafana, and all fared well as the Yanks, missing nearly all of their first-choice players, had the better of play against an experienced side playing at home in front of 52,000 vuvuzela-blowing fanatics.
Big props especially to Colombia-born forward Juan Agudelo, who six days shy of his 18th birthday became the youngest player ever to score for the U.S., and Norway-born and -bred midfielder Mikkel Diskerud, who combined with Agudelo on the goal and repeatedly made mature, important defensive decisions.
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.