Los Angeles Soccer: SuperClasico
CARSON -- The Galaxy and Chivas USA face off in one of the most meaningful of SuperClasico showdowns, surely the biggest since the 2009 playoffs, and a rivalry first-timer will be playing the wild-card role.
The measure of Shalrie Joseph's impact in his Chivas debut Sunday night (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 8 p.m.) could determine the final regular-season meeting this season, one which could send the Galaxy streaking toward a top-three spot in Major League Soccer's Western Conference or leave the Goats within striking distance -- with games in hand -- in the battle for the West's final postseason berth.
Joseph, 34, was acquired last week in a trade with the New England Revolution, and although the four-time MLS Best XI selection is on the far side of his professional arc, bringing him to L.A. could be be the pivotal step in Robin Fraser's quest to return Chivas to league-power status.
He figures to solidify the Goats' midfield, combine in the middle with Oswaldo Minda in what surely will be MLS's most intimidating central tandem, and provide the link required to connect a fine possession game with a talented frontline that has starved for appropriate service.
“He's a winner, he's a battler ...,” Fraser said. “He's a very intelligent player at both ends of the field. Very solid in the defensive end, certainly very competent and potent at the attacking end. We've seen many times in the past where New England needs something, so they put him up front and he scores a goal. They need him to play in the back, he prevents goals. You need him to connect through the midfield, he does that.
“Bringing him into the mix is certainly going to help.”
Chivas (7-8-5, 26 points) could use some assistance. It has scored just 14 times in 20 games, by far the worst total in the league, and sits just seven points behind L.A. (10-11-3, 33 points) on the other side of the dividing line for a playoff spot because of defense that has conceded an MLS-low 21 goals.
“It's about me trying to connect the dots, passing forward, trying to get the ball to the talented guys ...,” Joseph said. “I just find it unbelievable they haven't been able to score so many goals. World-class forwards they have here. So I look forward to getting them the balls in [dangerous] situations.”
The Grenada-born, Brooklyn-bred Joseph is certainly a known quantity. He spent nearly a decade with the Revolution, some of that as captain, and led the club to four MLS Cup title games. He likely would have been a starting midfielder for the U.S. in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups had he not impatiently turned out for his native island's national team when he was younger.
The Galaxy, who look to bounce back from last week's 4-0 debacle at Seattle without David Beckham, who is in London for the Olympic Closing Ceremonies, certainly know what Joseph can do. Left back Todd Dunivant calls him “one of the best defensive mids, if not the best, in the history of the league,” and head coach Bruce Arena predicts “in time he's going to be able to reshape their midfield.”
CARSON -- The Galaxy are deep into their transition from woeful underachievers to Major League Soccer title contenders, and although the cast of contributors is steadily growing -- just like last year -- it's the three Designated Players who have made the difference.
It was so again Saturday night, when L.A. pounded archrival Chivas USA, 3-1, as Landon Donovan scored a pair of goals, Robbie Keane added another plus an assist, and David Beckham picked up two assists in front of 25,180 at Home Depot Center.
The Galaxy (9-10-3, 30 points) have won six of nine games since returning in mid-June from Major League Soccer's three-week World Cup qualifying break -- they probably should have won the three they didn't -- to cement their hold on fifth place in the Western Conference, building a seven-point cushion on the Goats (6-8-5, 23 points) and eight on Colorado (7-13-1, 22 points). Fifth place, of course, gets the final playoff berth.
“We're getting there,” said Donovan, who netted his eighth and ninth goals of the season and his sixth and seventh in the past nine games. “We've gotten better and better. ... I think we're getting there. I think we're starting to figure out what combination of guys on the field play well together and work well, and a lot of guys are doing a lot of dirty work to make plays so that the few of us can just focus on getting in front of the goal and scoring.”
The Galaxy has 22 goals in their last eight games after scoring just 16 in their first 14, and Donovan, Keane and Beckham have scored 17 of them (with 12 assists, too). They're more explosive than they were at any point in last year's championship run, and if the defensive lapses can be conquered -- Omar Gonzalez saw his second action of the season, a real plus in this regard -- L.A. might be the team to beat again come November.
Keane scored in the 14th minute from a Beckham through ball, netted another six minutes later from Donovan's through ball -- that one was waved off by an offside call that replays suggested was in error -- then fed Donovan's sprint for the second goal three minutes into the second half. Donovan, who twice hit posts, secured all three points from a scramble following a Beckham corner kick in the 78th minute.
“I think [Keane and Donovan] combined for a number of opportunities tonight and were outstanding, and certainly David as well with that group ...” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “We're scoring an awful lot of goals [with Donovan partnering Keane at forward], right? It's been pretty damn good. It really has.”
Former Galaxy midfielder Paolo Cardozo scored his first MLS goal in the 52nd minute for Chivas, firing just inside the right post from the top of the box with L.A. goalkeeper Josh Saunders screened from the shot. Chivas had more chances, but none of them particularly dangerous.
CARSON -- Chivas USA has had its share of legends and big stars, most of them -- Claudio Suarez, Ramon Ramirez, even Francisco Palencia and John O'Brien -- near or at the ends of their careers.
Juan Agudelo is something else: a superstar in the making, and his Goats debut in Saturday night's SuperClasico victory over the Galaxy could go down as one of the signpost events in club annals.
The tall, talented teen with bearing beyond his years did nothing spectacular and a whole lot of things really well in his first start with his new club, playing a key role setting up Jose Erik Correa's penalty kick and showing flashes of what he, Correa and Miller Bolaņos -- and Juan Pablo Angel, too, perhaps -- can achieve once they're all on the same page.
“I think Juan had a good debut,” coach Robin Fraser said after Chivas (4-6-1) ended a 12-game winless streak against their cross-stadium rival. “He’s a player that wants to be on the ball, he’s a very attack-minded player, he’s got very solid feet. You can see there are times when he wanted the ball, he wants to run at people, he wants to make things happen, and I thought his impact was immediate.
“We’re extremely excited to have him, and we’re extremely excited to watch him develop. He’s very special.”
Agudelo, whose excitement was such that he experienced “probably one of the most anxious feelings that I’ve had before a game ever,” was happy with how things went:
- “I felt great, and at times I wasn't able to find the spacing [with teammates] that I wanted, but I think that it's something that over time I'll improve, knowing the positions and holes with this team.”
- “[My chemistry with Correa] is going great. We're both Colombian, so we speak Spanish to each other, and I think that connection of South America is working.”
- “[Fraser's system] suits me really well. Just with my height [6-foot-1], I felt like crosses to the far post, I was dangerous then, and I think that moving forward that could be something that could help us get some goals. I feel like sometimes with my heading that I’ve got more power on it, and in this type of system, I love it that the coach encourages freedom.”
The 19-year-old, Colombian born striker, who departed Sunday to join the U.S. national team's Florida preparations for next month's start to its World Cup qualifying campaign, has impressed in international play but didn't fit into the New York Red Bulls' Eurocentric approach, and his trade Thursday to Chivas has rejuventated his young career. The Goats are a far better fit stylistically, culturally and in terms of opportunities to grow.
CARSON -- David Beckham noted a couple of weeks ago that there was no need for the Galaxy to panic yet, but if things didn't turn soon, that time would quickly arrive.
After Saturday night's SuperClasico loss to Chivas USA, perhaps it is time for panic.
The Galaxy (3-6-2) haven't won in their last five games, and all three of their losses in that span have been by shutout. They still don't have a clean sheet in 13 games, including the CONCACAF Champions League, after posting 22 in 46 competitive matches last year. They've surrendered the first goal 10 times and in seven of their last eight games. By the end of the day, they could be in the Western Conference cellar.
We've seen too little from Robbie Keane, Edson Buddle, Landon Donovan and Juninho -- and Keane and Donovan are leaving for awhile -- and although team defense has improved following a horrid start to the season, there remain problems -- and likely will until Omar Gonzalez returns hopefully sometime this summer.
And now the defending MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield champion has fallen behind its hated rivals in the battle for SoCal supremacy. Chivas is hotter (especially with Juan Agudelo's arrival), better defensively and steadily moving forward toward something potentially very grand.
Saturday's loss -- with Chivas dominating play in the first half but not creating much out of it, the Galaxy responding nicely in the second half, and a penalty kick with 20 minutes to go making the difference -- was another backward step for L.A.
“On the season, our record is probably not real precise in therms of how we've played,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “I think we've played better than our record indicates, but tonight the difference in the game is taking a chance. We didn't do it, and give [Chivas] credit.”
The Galaxy has played well in spurts this season, early on against Real Salt Lake, the rout of D.C. United, the second half in last week's draw at Montreal. They were swell to start the second half Saturday, creating far more dangerous chances than Chivas could -- Miller Bolaņos' shot off the post and the play leading to the PK aside. If not for Dan Kennedy's 50th-minute stops on Pat Noonan's blistering shot across the face of the net and Kyle Nakazawa's rebound, L.A. wins.
CARSON -- Things always are a little more intense around Home Depot Center when the SuperClasico nears, but given all that's occurred this week -- on both sides -- Saturday night's showdown might provide a respite from all the madness. Imagine that.
Ninety minutes on a patch of green, no matter how heated the atmosphere, has to be simpler than everything the Galaxy and Chivas USA are going through, what with middling form, poor results, blockbuster trades, White House visits, international call-ups and the biggest star in town's jaunts across Europe carrying a flame.
It has made for hectic preparations for a match that, rivalry aside, is vital for both teams. The Galaxy are 3-5-2, have already matched last year's loss total and are looking to end a four-game winless streak while buoyed by their performance of the second half of last week's 1-1 tie at Montreal.
Chivas is 3-6-1, has scored just six goals in 10 games, given away five points by conceding end-of-game goals, and is 0-5-0 in home matches with just one goal, on a penalty kick. The Goats are the home team for the first of three meetings this season.
“It's a little different than in some years past, because we're both struggling a little bit,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan noted. “So there's probably added meaning in that way, because we both need the points.”
L.A., a preseason favorite to repeat as champion, has only 11 points, 15 behind Western Conference (and Supporters' Shield) leader Real Salt Lake and 11 out of third place. Chivas is only a point behind, but it's also only a point out of the Western cellar.
“It's an important game in a number of ways,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said. “Both teams are definitely looking for points. It's the rivalry, it's where we are in the table. There's a lot riding on this game.”
Fraser and the Chivas technical staff has been working overtime this week, engineering a pair of trades that, together, offer a major statement of purpose. They brought in 19-year-old striker Juan Agudelo, the most prized young player in America, and then to replace defender Heath Pearce -- who went to New York for Agudelo -- they acquired veteran center back Danny Califf from Philadelphia (for winger Michael Lahoud). It appears to be a move forward up front and in the back.
It will be the first Clasico for Califf, who spent his first five seasons with the Galaxy but was gone before Chivas debuted. First Clasico on the Goats side for his former L.A. teammate, former Galaxy captain Peter Vagenas, too.
“I peaked my head in [the Galaxy locker room] today and told them I'm excited,” said Vagenas, who signed with Chivas during preseason. “This is obviously a special game for me. I've never hidden my emotion for the [Galaxy] and everything that goes on there, but nobody wants to beat the Galaxy more than I do Saturday night.”
If Chivas pulls it out, there will be blame to go around.
CARSON -- The Galaxy and Chivas USA renew their SuperClasico rivalry Saturday night at Home Depot Center, so what better time to weigh in on the best rivalries in soccer -- in MLS and around the world.
We asked a handful of players and coaches with both teams their thoughts on what matchups are the real Clasicos. Here's what they said.
- BEST WORLD RIVALRY
What's the best?
Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy: “The Real Madrid-Barįa match has been pretty special the past few years. You don't want it to get diluted, because they play each other 12 times a year. Now that Manchester City is having their way in the English Premier League, them with Manchester City is pretty special. And I always like watching Tim Howard and Everton play against Liverpool.”
Galaxy midfielder Juninho: “Brazil-Argentina.”
Chivas forward Juan Pablo Angel: “Boca-River.”
Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza: “There's so many out there, man. Barcelona-Real is a pretty good one, I think. I think that one's got to be the top one.”
Chivas defender Ante Jazic: “Barįa-Real.”
Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan: “Barcelona-Madrid.”
Chivas defender James Riley: “Ooh, that's a tough one. I think Celtic-Rangers has the best history, and Boca-River Plate. I would go with Celtic-Rangers.”
That's the focus for everyone, except David Beckham.
The English star has Olympic duty to complete first, so he'll miss training Thursday and the news conference home team Chivas is trying to put together for Friday to help deliver to the U.K. the Olympic flame.
Beckham, who played an ambassadorial role as London pursued the 2012 Summer Games, has traveled to Athens, Greece, to join dignitaries for a torch handoff ceremony Thursday. He will join other Olympic officials, including Princess Anne, in flying the torch to Britain on Friday. A 70-day relay involving some 8,000 people will carry the flame from Cornwall, in the south of England, to the Shetland Islands, off Scotland's north coast.
Beckham, whose jaunt was unveiled Wednesday, will then fly home to Los Angeles for Saturday's game against the Goats. It's the first of three games in eight days for the Galaxy, and he rarely plays in all three matches in such situation, so he could be held out of the Chivas match after so much travel. He has played following long trips before, and if he was going to miss a match in the tight span, the May 26 clash at Houston seems likeliest.
CARSON -- Chivas USA's offensive problems, Robin Fraser believes, come down to mindset. The Goats need players willing to “go for it” if they're going to score goals and win games.
Cesar Romero has a message for Fraser: He can be that guy.
The first-year forward from San Diego scored a second-half hat trick Monday to lead Chivas past the Galaxy, 4-2, in an MLS Reserve League opener on L.A.'s training field at Home Depot Center, and after humbly noting that it “feels very good to win” and that he needs to “keep working hard to win my spot, try to win my time,” a little of his swagger crept through.
“When I'm coming into the game, in my head I'm like, 'When I'm going to score?' ” Romero said. “And if I get a chance, in my head, you know what? It's going to be in the back of the net. That's my confidence.”
He sparked the Goats to a 3-0 lead, crossing for Miller Bolaņos' header in the 54th minute, finishing from Bolaņos' feed five minutes later, then volleying a Blair Gavin cross in the 64th. He scored his third in the 86th after Chad Barrett had pulled two back for L.A.
“Cesar, he's a dangerous player,” Fraser said. “He makes good runs in behind, and if he continues to do that, I think he'll score goals in this league.”
Chivas (1-3-0) could use goals. They've scored just one (from just eight real chances) in their first four Major League Soccer outings, wasting outstanding defensive performances in three 1-0 losses.
“Are we producing enough opportunities? Absolutely not. Absolutely not,” Fraser said. “But a little bit of it, I think, is a shift in our mindset. To create goalscoring chances, you've got to just go, you've got to go for it. And I felt like today we did a decent job of that. We did a decent job of looking to play in behind, guys running in behind, and we have talented players. So we put ourselves into position where we can make plays, where we can make half-opportunities into whole opportunities.
“So I think the lesson to be learned for us is we've talked about being aggressive -- for a long time we've talked about it -- but really when you see it in practice and you just go for it, you just create more chances and you have to be willing to do it.”
He finally got it right on his fifth chance, nodding home an Adam Cristman cross in the 53rd minute, and the Galaxy captured the SuperClasico for the sixth time in seven seasons -- and fourth year in a row -- with a 1-0 triumph over cross-stadium rival Chivas USA in front of a capacity crowd at Home Depot Center.
Both sides welcomed back star central defenders -- Gregg Berhalter going the full 90 while wearing the captain's armband for L.A., Heath Pearce coming on at halftime for the Goats -- and the Galaxy didn't bother suiting up Landon Donovan, whose quad injury, coach Bruce Arena said, was accentuated by a “knock” sustained in training.
It's far more important that Donovan, who was honored after the game as L.A.'s team MVP, be ready for Thursday night's CONCACAF Champions League group finale against Motagua in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, a must-win game for the Galaxy to advance to next year's quarterfinals in the regional club championship.
This SuperClasico showdown meant virtually nothing. L.A., which also was without injured forward Robbie Keane and right-sided midfielder/defender Sean Franklin, has clinched its second straight Supporters' Shield as regular-season champion, and Chivas' playoff hopes died a dozen days earlier.
Nonetheless, there on the whiteboard in the Galaxy locker room was a list of priorities, arranged chronologically: Chivas, Motagua, MLS Cup title. A big check was next to “Chivas” afterward.
The victory completed an unbeaten regular season at home for L.A. (19-4-10), provided a share of the league single-season shutout record -- the Galaxy can claim sole ownership with an 18th clean sheet next Sunday in Houston -- and left them one point away (with 67) from MLS's points record, set by the Galaxy in 1998.
Had that team played under current rules, it would have amassed 70 points. A victory in Houston will leave L.A. with 70 points.
This triumph came down to two big defensive plays -- Omar Gonzalez blocking a shot by former teammate Juan Pablo Angel in the L.A. box in the 72nd minute, and Todd Dunivant's sliding stop to keep Angel from shooting after a spin move juked Berhalter out of position in the 87th -- and Barrett, who with better fortune and more clinical finishing could have erased former Galaxy star Clint Mathis' league record for goals in a game: five, set Aug. 26, 2000, for the MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls) in a 6-4 win over Dallas.
Barrett could have scored six. Maybe Barrett should have scored six.
“We just told him [at halftime] to score a goal, simple as that ...,” David Beckham said. “He had a few to choose from. It was good to see [him score]. Shows character: You have a few chances you don't score -- goal scorers are like that. Another one comes along straightaway, so it was great to see him put one away.
“It could definitely be a hat trick. It could have been probably more, but, you know, one will do. He'll take one, we'll take one, and it's three points.”
CARSON -- The Galaxy already has won the Supporters' Shield, is nursing injuries with the playoffs two weeks away, and has a far more important match coming Thursday. Chivas USA's elimination from the playoff race nearly two weeks ago wasn't a surprise.
Nothing that happens Sunday will have any bearing on anything -- injuries aside, but let's not go there -- so the matchup at Home Depot Center might just be the most meaningless of SuperClasico clashes.
Galaxy captain Landon Donovan touched on that this week, noting that once the Shield was in hand, “your mind kind of turns a little bit, and you think, 'OK, those last two games, against Chivas and Houston, don't mean anything.' But as this week comes around, you see [the Chivas] guys in the tunnel -- and I did a [fan] appearance [the other] night, and you can see what it means to all the people, all the fans. It makes you realize this game is still important.
“It doesn't mean anything in the standings for either team, but it's going to be exciting. We don't want to lose to these guys.”
Figure the Galaxy to field as close to a first team as Bruce Arena can, with injuries -- Donovan's included -- having a say in the lineup and roster choices with Thursday's CONCACAF Champions League group finale against Motagua looming.
That's the real priority for the Galaxy, which is off to next year's quarterfinals with a win in Honduras -- and likely done without one.
“Our team is pretty good at being singularly focused,” said Donovan, who is uncertain in his return from a minor quad injury that kept him out of last week's U.S. national team's friendlies. “I'm sure Bruce is thinking ahead, and I'm sure some lineup decisions play into that. For us, it's all about playing on Sunday.
“For me personally, I haven't played in a couple weeks. A couple guys have been off a while. We definitely need some time in a real game to get yourself going and get sharp again” before the Champions League showdown.
“There's no question [which games means the most],” he said. “It's no question if we have to choose a game to win, we'd choose the Motagua game. But I've learned that you can't go into any game cautious or passive, or thinking not to get hurt, or you don't want to wear yourself out, because then bad things can happen. We're going to take this game the right way, we're going to approach it the right way, and once it's Sunday at 8 o'clock, we'll start preparing for Motagua.”
CARSON -- His biggest fans Sunday are hoping Juan Pablo Angel cools off, that the goals he's been pouring in for Chivas USA dry up, that he comes out and has a real stinker.
That's because his biggest fans Sunday will be the guys in the other shirts.
Angel takes on his former Galaxy teammates for the first time since he moved down the hall in August's transfer-window-deadline trade, and they took the opportunity to express how much they're enjoying his terrific run of form.
The 35-year-old Colombian striker, who struggled to find chemistry with teammates and scored scored just three goals in 22 games with L.A., has six goals in his last four games with Chivas USA -- and seven in seven games since arriving.
“I talk to Juan almost every day,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who in 2007, when he was New York's coach, brought Angel to MLS, then signed him for the Galaxy during the offseason and dealt him so L.A. could acquire Irish forward Robbie Keane. “I'm real happy for him, because when that whole thing went down, I said two teams are going to benefit -- both teams are going to benefit. And Chivas certainly has, and I know we have, and I'm elated with the fact that Juan keeps his head up high [and] can walk away from this season knowing he once again demonstrated the quality striker he is and the kind of quality person he is.
“There's no one happier for Juan than I am. Now come Sunday, I hope he's the worst player on the field, but that's just the competitive nature of things.”
Galaxy captain Landon Donovan thinks Angel has benefited from Chivas' tactics.
“He's been fantastic. I don't think it's been a surprise,” said Donovan, who is uncertain for the SuperClasico with a quad injury. “Sometimes, not just in soccer but in sports, you see it everywhere where a guy doesn't fit in with somewhere and then flourishes elsewhere.
“My personal opinion is it's probably a stylistic thing. Chivas is a team that plays with some proper wide players and does a better job of putting balls in front of the goal and crossing the ball. Juan's dangerous in those areas. We tend to play more with midfielders that are more inside, and we combine differently that way.
CARSON -- The Galaxy's dominance of Chivas USA in the first half of Saturday night's SuperClasico at Home Depot Center ought not have surprised anyone, no matter how good the Goats have looked in recent weeks.
Chivas USA is a team still finding itself, and although it's clear Robin Fraser and his staff are building a strong foundation that should carry the club for years, it has been less than five months since he took charge, and nothing in this sport happens instantly.
The Galaxy are one of the three reigning superpowers in MLS at the moment -- along with Real Salt Lake and the New York Red Bulls -- and they flexed their muscle in the 1-0 triumph, outpossessing the Goats for the first 45 minutes and playing an agile absorb-and-counter game in the second half that let Chivas hold onto the ball but provided little space for it to do anything with it.
Here are three reasons the Galaxy came away winners:
1. BIG BROTHER
Chivas USA arrived on a real high after winning last week at New York, and it has been among MLS's best possession teams. But the Goats couldn't hang with the Galaxy through most of the first half -- they were overrun in midfield and couldn't possess against L.A.'s heavy pressure -- and couldn't do much once they had more of the ball after falling behind.
In short, the Galaxy beat Chivas at their own game, then walloped them with theirs.
“We were a bit naīve to think we were going to go out there and jogo bonito, I guess you should say, and not have to work for it,” said Chivas defender Heath Pearce. “What's made us successful this year is that we've high-pressured teams, we've set the energy level really high, we press teams and make it really difficult for them, and that's when the game opens up for us and we start to play.
“I don't think we came out with the same energy from the start and forced them to play on our terms.”
The Galaxy set the terms, expertly moving the ball around then forcing turnovers when Chivas took possession.
Said Fraser, when asked what Chivas could learn from the Galaxy's performance: “We need to possess the ball better and not turn it over as much. Seriously. When you turn the ball over, you put yourself under a lot of pressure. A fair number of their dangerous opportunities in the first half came off our turnovers.”
The Galaxy conquered their cross-stadium rival in Saturday night's SuperClasico, using another superb David Beckham free kick for a 1-0 triumph in front of a sellout crowd of 27,000 at Home Depot Center.
A quick look at the Galaxy's victory:
BEST PLAYER: Landon Donovan has been in MVP form the past month or so, and -- forget that his five-game scoring streak was halted -- he was again terrific, setting the pulse for the Galaxy attack while roaming both flanks and interchanging capably with Beckham.
Greg Vanney served the Galaxy more than admirably in two stints, the first as a young player evolving into a national team-caliber defender and the second in the twilight of his on-field career.
Now he's on staff at Chivas USA, as former Galaxy teammate Robin Fraser's top assistant, and so Saturday's SuperClasico against his former club might stir some emotions, right?
“I think from my side, it's another one that we got to win,” Vanney said. “The Galaxy holds a special place in my heart for my playing career, but now I'm on the other side of things -- I'm a coach, and I'm here, and ouir objective is to try to improve this team so that we're somewhere in the end trying to compete when the playoffs come around and the championship comes around.
“The Galaxy is another opponent that stands in our way and a team that, quite frankly, we get to measure ourselves against now. I can't say it's too incredibly, overly special, though it would be nice to win to win the game, obviously.”
Vanney, 36, was a rookie left back out of UCLA on the inaugural Galaxy team, on which he was taken under the wings of the backline veterans -- most of all Fraser, with whom he found a kinship based on approach and philosophy that led to a reunion with the Goats.
Vanney, who transitioned into a center back, played for the Galaxy from 1996 through 2001 -- missing out on the club's first MLS Cup title the following season -- and wrapped up his career in L.A. in 2008 after stints in France (with Bastia), FC Dallas, Colorado and D.C. United. He would have been on the 2002 World Cup team but tore knee ligaments in the buildup to the tournament.
He has warm memories of his first stint with the Galaxy, which played in the Rose Bowl and was more like a family, with former general manager Danny Villanueva the friendly patriarch.
“A lot of [the memories] have to do with friendships,” Vanney said. “Robin and I met with the Galaxy, and here we are now. With Cobi [Jones] and [first captain Dan] Calichman and all the guys, especially in those first six years, that was just a really, really tight-knit group. We went through a lot of battles together, competed together, were successful together, and that always brings people a little bit closer. And those are, for sure, the fondest memories of the Galaxy.”
When he “came back the second time, the year was a little bit of a circus.” That was the season Ruud Gullit was in charge, and there was tension in the locker room and little organization on the field until the Dutchman stepped down/was forced out in August and Bruce Arena took command.
Robin Fraser, one of the finest defenders ever to play in Major League Soccer, might one day be considered one of American soccer's most influential and outstanding coaches.
The former U.S. national team center back, who anchored the Galaxy's backline in MLS's first five seasons, played a pivotal role as Jason Kreis' top assistant in making Real Salt Lake into the league's best club before taking charge at Chivas USA in January, and he's got the Goats playing some of the nicest soccer in the league after just a few months.
We sat down with Fraser to talk about his career, his coaching philosophy and how things are going with Chivas.
What were your expectations taking this job, and how have those been tested?My expectations were that we could implement a system and be good in no time. And the fact of the matter is it takes some time.
I was looking at Real Salt Lake's record. We were 0-2-3, so we were five games in without a win, but I knew we're playing well. A lot was being made of the fact that we're the only team in the league without a result. But I went back and I looked at Real Salt Lake for the first seven games I was there in 2007, and we lost our first seven games when I was there. And it's funny to look back at that now and say this is the best team in the league.
So it was good perspective for me, and it just kind of made me realize this is going to be a process. I've been saying that all along, but I think you want the process over yesterday, and the truth is that the process takes a long time. ...
I think the surprises are, having been through kind of a rebuilding process with Salt Lake, you have certain things in your mind that you know work, so you come in and start applying them, and then you realize it's an entirely new group of players, and the exact same things that were the cause of success there maybe aren't going to be the exact same things here. It's an interesting challenge to figure out what buttons to push and how to tweak things to get them exactly how you want them.
The fact is you want it to be perfect, but it takes a long time.
Does the process ever really end?No, never. It's a never-ending process. You're never satisfied. If you think the process is over, then you may as well retire and be done, because you've stopped being open-minded and you've stopped looking for answers, and I think you can never get to that point, because there's always somewhere someone else can be doing it better. Unless you're Pep Guardiola and you're Barcelona, maybe.
What must you do to get it right?It's interesting, because I think the right mix of players is so much more than a talented group. It's the personalities, it's the leadership, it's attacking- vs. defensive-minded players, and how they mesh and how many you have on the field of each. There's so many different things.