Los Angeles Soccer: Troy Roberts
If you're looking for a local team to support in the USL Pro, the third-division league in American soccer's pyramid, the L.A. Blues aren't your only option.
There's also the Wilmington Hammerheads.
The North Carolina club, which will visit the Blues for a couple of games next month at Cal State Fullerton, have the largest collection of Southern California talent in the league: seven players from the area, another who played college ball here, and one more -- not sure he really counts -- who was with the Blues for a short spell last year.
They're among 32 players from Greater Los Angeles in USL Pro, which heads into its third weekend of games with Friday night's Blues-Rochester match at Fullerton.
The Blues, who featured a heavily local roster in their first season, have three players from the area (Anaheim's Carlos Borja, Newport Beach's Bryan Burke and Long Beach's Luis Gonzalez), four more from local colleges (UC Irvine's Irving Garcia, Cal State Fullerton's Shay Spitz and Bethesda Christian's Sun-Hyung Cho and Cheun-Yong Park), plus a former Galaxy winger who has called SoCal home since signing with MLS at 16 nearly five years ago (Israel Sesay).
The Rochester Rhinos, who won a league opener over the Blues last weekend, also have a decent contingent led by former UCLA star Mike Zaher and UC Santa Barbara products Conor Chinn and Tyler Rosenlund. All three, plus former Galaxy defenders Quavas Kirk and Troy Roberts, have MLS experience.
Orlando City has Palmdale's Maxwell Griffin, a UCLA alum whose performance for the champs last year led to a late-season loan deal to the San Jose Earthquakes. Pittsburgh has Long Beach's Tino Nuņez, from UC Santa Barbara, who spent a couple seasons with Real Salt Lake. Three goalkeepers are in the group: L.A.'s Kevin Klasila at Charlotte, Huntington Beach's Kyle Polak with Wilmington, and Laguna Hills' Eric Reed at Charlotte.
Wilmington's So Cal group includes former Chivas USA forward Chukwudi Chijindu, a Fontana product who spent last season with the Blues on loan from the Goats, plus Hollywood's Jack Avesyan and Hagop Chirishian, Laguna Hills' Trey Cole, Lakewood's Manny Guzman and Thousand Oaks' Dylan Riley.
Here's a full list of players with local ties in the USL Pro (with hometown and local high school/college in parenthesis, with local adult club following):
Backline leader Nelson Akwari, a former Major League Soccer player who fell into the L.A. Blues' lap when he returned to Southern California to complete his degree at UCLA, is part of the USL Pro's all-league team.
So is fellow Bruins product Maxwell Griffin, star goalscorer for Orlando City.
That's it for locals on the third-division's list of the top 22 players, released Tuesday, four days before Orlando City meets the Harrisburg City Islanders in the title game. Both are first-team selections.
Akwari, 29, who spent five seasons with the MetroStars, Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake before moving into the USL's minor leagues, was a calming presence in central defense for the Blues, who went 8-8-9 and reached the USL Pro quarterfinals in their first season.
Griffin (Palmdale/Littlerock HS) scored 10 goals for Orlando City (17-3-6), which won the Commissioner's Cup as regular-season champion and looks to complete the double Saturday at the Orlando Citrus Bowl (Fox Soccer Channel, 4 p.m.).
Defender Gareth Evans, a repeat first-teamer for the Wilmington Hammerheads, was with the Blues during preseason but was released before their first game. Former Galaxy defender Troy Roberts, with the Rochester Rhinos, is a second-team pick.
Chukwudi Chijindu's two-goal-plus-assist performance in the L.A. Blues' 3-0 victory Sunday at Pittsburgh was honored with the USL Pro's Player of the Week award.
The forward from Fontana, on loan from Chivas USA, netted his second and third goals of the campaign as the Blues (5-2-2) opened a seven-point lead atop the third-tier league's National Division.
Forward Jhonatan Bravo, who scored in Friday's 1-1 draw at Dayton, also made the USL Pro Team of the Week. Orlando City's Max Griffin, from Palmdale; former Galaxy defender Troy Roberts, with Rochester; and short-lived Blues defender Gareth Evans, with Wilmington, also made the week's-best team.