Los Angeles Soccer: UCLA
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.”
Sporting Kansas City on Monday signed supplemental draft pick Shawn Singh, boosting UCLA's presence in Major League Soccer and adding to the 53 local players already on rosters.
Singh, a left back from Bakersfield, is the fourth Bruin rookie in MLS this season, joining Philadelphia's Chandler Hoffman, Seattle's Andy Rose and New England's Kelyn Rowe.
Other local rookies: Cal State Northridge midfielder Rafael Garcia with the Galaxy, UC Riverside forward Cesar Diaz Pizarro with San Jose, UC Santa Barbara midfielders Luis Silva with Toronto FC and Sam Garza with San Jose.
Two new local signings -- Galaxy midfielder Jose Villarreal and Chivas USA midfielder Marvin Iraheta -- started the season sidelined by injury.
Here is a list of local players in MLS (with hometown/local high school in parentheses, with local college following):
UCLA lost an assistant coach Friday when Kenny Arena, the son of Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, was hired as Florida International University's men's soccer head coach.
Arena, 31, also was coaching in the Galaxy's youth academy and guided its under-16 team to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy U-15/16 national championship last summer.
The former defender starred at the University of Virginia and played in Major League Soccer for the MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls) and D.C. United. He was part of former Galaxy midfielder Jorge Salcedo's staff at UCLA the past four years, helping the Bruins to three conference titles and a NCAA College Cup final four berth last fall. He previously was on staffs at Virginia and George Mason.
Arena replaces Munga Eketebi, who was 27-51-9 in five seasons as Miami-based FIU's head coach. The Golden Panthers were 5-8-2 last year.
Salcedo, a former UCLA standout, and assistant coach Eddie Soto, a former MLS forward who starred at Cal State Fullerton, were childhood friends and teammates from Cerritos. Soto is head coach of the Galaxy Academy's U-18 team.
Rarely, if ever, has there been a day quite so golden for U.S. Soccer -- involving multiple teams -- as was Wednesday.
- The full men's national team beat Italy for the first time -- and in Italy, in Genoa -- as Clint Dempsey finished from Jozy Altidore's finish up top. Also splendid: midfielder Michael Bradley and German-born left back Fabian Johnson.
- The U.S. women's national team won its Algarve Cup opener in Portugal, dominating Denmark, 5-0, as Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan scored two more goals -- her 17th and 18th in 34 international games -- and assisted another by Hermosa Beach's Abby Wambach. UCLA products Sydney Leroux (goal) and Lauren Cheney (assist) also contributed in the scoring.
- The U.S. under-23 national team, preparing for the Olympic qualifiers in March, outclassed Mexico's U-23s, 2-0, in Frisco, Texas, on goals two minutes apart by Juan Agudelo and Freddy Adu.
One more international event to report, from Tuesday night. UCLA looked good in holding Mexico's under-20 national team to a scoreless draw at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys.
The winger from Palos Verdes and Huntington Beach (and Mater Dei High School), who darted to England after five seasons with the Columbus Crew, was taken off the field on a stretcher after knocking heads with Doncaster Rovers defender Tommy Spurr in second-half stoppage of Leeds' 3-2 English Championship victory Saturday.
He was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with a concussion.
Rogers, on his Twitter account, posted Sunday that he was “happy to have made my debut! Didn't know Mike Tyson was out on the field yesterday, out for a good few minutes.” Shortly after, he tweeted: “Concussions are no joke... Laying low for a few days. Thanks for everyone's concern and comments much appreciated!”
On Tuesday, Rogers tweeted that he was “feeling a lot better 2day... .. Lil walk around the city to get some fresh air is much needed.”
Rogers, who joined the second-tier club during the winter transfer window, made his debut in the 79th minute. It was the second time he'd been on the 18-man game roster since signing with the club on Jan. 10.
CARSON -- The expansion Montreal Impact got a lot of work done in a nearly two-week stay at Home Depot Center, a good deal of it away from the field.
They finished this swing of their preseason camp Friday with 90-minute games against UCLA (a 0-0 draw) and Ventura County Fusion (a 3-1 victory), but what's been going on off the field has been far more interesting.
The Impact on Thursday traded veteran striker Brian Ching back to the Houston Impact for a conditional first-round selection in next year's SuperDraft. They topped that Friday, shortly after their games on one of Home Depot Center's training fields, by taking former U.S. national team forward Eddie Johnson through the league's allocation dispersal process, then trading him to Seattle for top young attackers Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle.
It wrapped a wild week that started with Montreal's announcement that Ching, who played last week at HDC against his former Houston teammates, had departed camp for “personal reasons.” Turned out he was in Houston negotiating a new deal, one that would significantly trim his salary -- he'll make $250,000 rather than $450,000, The Houston Chronicle reported -- but allow him an expected final season with the club he's identified with as they open a long-awaited stadium.
“This is where I want to be, where I want to retire ...,” Ching told The Chronicle. “I know how old I am, and I've been around the league long enough to know my value. I have no problem. I just want this team to be successful, and I'll do what it takes. If that means less money, that means less money. Me taking less money allows me to be here where I want to be, allows me to open up a stadium that I've always dreamed of doing. That's rewarding enough for me.”
Ching, 33, considered retirement after Montreal surprisingly took him in November's expansion draft. Trade talks between the Dynamo and Montreal began almost immediately, and the Hawaii-born forward reported to the Impact's camp last month and last week said the idea of playing for Canada's third Major League Soccer franchise was “definitely growing on me. Obviously, it was a very emotional time when it all happened. But I've been with the team for about a month now and enjoy playing with the guys, enjoy the project of trying to build a competitive team here.”
Impact coach Jesse Marsch was asked if the Impact had received enough in the trade with Houston.
“I don't think it went the way we all thought it was going to go, whether he was going to stay or go. But in the end, it was just so difficult,” the former Chivas USA captain told ESPN Los Angeles. “He committed himself wholly, professionally to being here, but you also could see that his mind was still in Houston.
CARSON -- Eder Arreola is something of a sponge right now, soaking up every bit of knowledge and understanding he can find as he fights to make the Houston Dynamo's roster.
The winger from Chino Hills and UCLA, who went to the MLS Cup runner-up in last month's supplemental draft, is off to a good start, impressing with his touch and instincts, but he knows nothing is guaranteed. Arreola has not been offered a contract by the Dynamo, but if he keeps up his effort and performance the next couple of weeks or so, he could have something to sign before Houston's season kicks off March 11 against Chivas USA at Home Depot Center.
“We still have a little bit of time to go here. We have one more game [in Southern California] before we head back to Houston,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said after Arreola played the first 45 minutes in a 2-0 loss Sunday to the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center. “We'll see what the roster's looking like. He's put himself in a good position to be talked about in a good way.”
Arreola, 20, a natural left-sided flank player, is looking to provide cover for star winger Brad Davis, who is pretty far along in rehabbing the torn quadriceps muscle that forced him out of the MLS Cup loss to the Galaxy. Colin Clark can do so, but he's looking to win the job on the right side.
There's plenty of mentors around, including Davis -- Major League Soccer's best winger and a league MVP finalist last season -- and Clark. Kinnear was a U.S. national team attacking midfielder, and assistant coach Steve Ralston, MLS's all-time assists leader, is among the finest flank players in league history.
“It's been a great experience getting together with the guys and playing against other MLS teams,” said Arreola, who started two of Houston's three HDC preseason matches. “I feel like I've taken a lot of information from coaches. They've been helping me, and the other players have really helped me out, just knowing my movements and little things like that.”
Kinnear likes what he's seen.
“Good feet. He's got a real nice first touch,” said the two-time MLS Cup-winning coach. “The level of competition has been a good test for him. I think he's good when he's getting [opposing] players one-on-one -- he can go at them, he can come inside. And he has a real good soccer brain, I think.”
The Blues will face Mexico's under-20 national team on Feb. 25 and Mexican second-tier club Irapuato on March 10, both of them 7 p.m. starts at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium.
El Tri's U-20s include Cruz Azul's Martin Galvan, who has attracted interest in Europe after making his first-team debut 40 days shy of his 15th birthday, Monterrey forwards Jesus Manuel Corona and Luis Madrigal, and UANL Tigres defender Juan Pablo Ocegueda (Riverside/Saddleback HS).
The U-20s also will face UCLA on Feb. 28 at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys.
Irapuato features goalkeeper Sergio Arias, who was No. 3 on Chivas USA's depth chart last year.
Tickets for each game are $20 ($10 for 12-under) and available from the Blues at 714-738-8011 or on the team's Facebook page.
“It was nerve-racking, just watching on my computer, and every five seconds a pick was coming up,” he said. “So I was just watching, and my heart was beating. I was very happy to land on Chivas. I had no idea they were interested in me, that they had an opening, but as I started to think about and talking with coaches, I'm very glad with this.”
Rowe was a second-team All-American after posting a dozen shutouts in UCLA's final-four run last fall, but he's in no way assured of a roster spot. Two keepers have contracts -- starter Dan Kennedy and newcomer Tim Melia -- and Rowe is among three on trial in the Goats' preseason camp, along with academy goalkeeper Jake McGuire.
“It's a friendly competition,” Rowe reports. “We're not at each other's throats trying to make each other look bad. We're trying to push each other, support each other, trying to help each other out, tweak things here and there, trying to make each other better.”
He's loved the approach, especially from goalkeeper coach Daniel Gonzalez.
The New England Revolution thought so much of Kelyn Rowe, they thought they'd won the SuperDraft when they snagged him with the No. 3 overall selection earlier this month.
Maybe they did.
Rowe, who signed a Generation adidas contract with MLS after his sophomore season at UCLA, enjoyed a sensational debut in the Revs' preseason opener Saturday night in Casa Grande, Ariz. His cross set up Sainey Nyassi's 38th-minute goal to start a 2-1 victory over Premier Development League side FC Tucson.
Rowe's service from the flank was outstanding all game, and the opportunity to play -- in two 35-minute periods that opened the 115-minute game -- provided a real introduction to the MLS game.
“It was definitely hard,” Rowe, who started the match, told the league's website. “We’re playing with a bunch of new guys, we haven’t played together that much, this is the first time the starting lineup played together. So the first 35, we just kind of got used to each other, found spacing in between, and you saw it work together in the second half. I’ve been working on my crossing, and definitely it’s been something I’ve showed that I can do well here.”
MANHATTAN BEACH -- Sydney Leroux was a little girl with a big dream that, following many years of hard work and sacrifice, is starting to come true.
Don't mistake her story for a fairytale.
The three-time UCLA All-American is taking her place among the stars on the U.S. women's national team -- her five-goal extravaganza the other night at the regional Olympic qualifiers is, by all accounts, just the beginning -- but the journey hasn't been simple.
Whether it has been worth it might be open to debate, but the only opinion that matters is Leroux's, and she's in a good place. Some six years after leaving her native Canada in pursuit of soccer stardom -- enduring catcalls of “Judas!” and “Traitor!” from her countrymen, battling depression during a brutal high school existence in Arizona, following astonishing international success with defeat more devastating -- the 21-year-old striker has, just like that, crossed a chasm from promising could-be to genuine contributor.
It's rather fittingly the product of more turbulence, she reports -- the end of a relationship with Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie -- and it's had an immediate payoff: A victory in Friday's CONCACAF semifinal against Costa Rica (in, of all places, Vancouver, British Columbia, her hometown) sent the U.S., and likely Leroux, to next summer's London Games. (The U.S. faces Canada in Sunday's regional final.)
It's what she has been dreaming about since she was 6, not long after she'd kicked her first ball. She had the genes -- her father was a former major-league pitcher, her mom a standout on Canada's national softball team -- and she had the drive, and as she developed into a strong, fast, athletic attacker, she got noticed.
Leroux was the youngest player, just 14, at FIFA's 2004 Under-19 Women's World Cup, getting into two games as Canada made it to the quarterfinals. A year later, she was off to America, and nothing would ever be the same.
“It's crazy to me. It was not easy,” Leroux said earlier this month as the U.S. was finalizing preparations for the Olympic qualifiers. “It was probably one of the most difficult things I ever had to do, move away from everything that I knew and was comfortable with to something that I had no idea about. Not having any family around. Doing it on my own. As a 15-year-old, that's kind of hard.
“I had to grow up really fast. I look back at it now, and I'm like, wow, I cannot believe I did that. It was hard. It was very hard. And I don't think I realized how hard it was. But I guess it's all worth it. Now I have a chance to prove myself, and that's what I enjoy, and that's why I did what I did.”
TWELVE HUNDRED MILES: Leroux grew up more baseball player than soccer star. It was in the blood -- her dad, never really in the picture, was former Angels right-hander Ray Chadwick -- and she was a center fielder with great speed who matched or surpassed the boys, at least until adolescence.
“I thought I was actually going to be the first girl in the MLB,” Leroux said. “And then everyone, like, grew up, and I didn't. I stayed at my height and size, and I said, 'Maybe this isn't going to work.' ”
She had soccer to fall back on, fortunately, and it was clear very early that she was a special player, one who might spur Canada to unprecedented success. Leroux had other ideas. She was going to play for the U.S. Because her father was American, so was she.
Wambach, who scored four goals at last summer's Women's World Cup and was a finalist for FIFA's Ballon d'Or women's player-of-the-year award, won the Female Athlete of the Year honor for the fifth time and second time in succession. Only Mia Hamm also has won five times.
Leroux, which was draft first overall by the Atlanta Beat in Women's Professional Soccer's draft last week, won the Young Female Athlete of the Year award.
Fulham star Clint Dempsey capured the Male Athlete honor for the second time -- Landon Donovan had won the previous two years -- and FC Dallas winger Brek Shea was the Young Male Athlete winner.
Rose was an early pick in the MLS Supplemental Draft, taken at No. 6 by Real Salt Lake, which promptly dealt UCLA's captain to the Seattle Sounders.
The Englishman, one of the most prominent players remaining on the board after 38 picks last week, was the first of four Bruins to go in quick succession in the supplemental, with left back Shawn Singh going to Sporting Kansas City with the 16th pick, winger Eder Arreola (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS) to Houston at No. 18 and goalkeeper Brian Rowe to Chivas USA early in the second round.
That's six players drafted from UCLA's NCAA semifinal team -- New England's Kelyn Rowe and Philadelphia's Chandler Hoffman were first-round picks -- and there are several underclassmen likely to take the step in the next few years.
Rose was one of the real prizes available Tuesday.
“He's a player that we really like,” Seattle technical director Chris Henderson, a former UCLA star, told his team's website. “He's a two-way midfielder. He can also sit in as a holding midfielder, so he's pretty versatile. He seems, at a young age, to be a student of the game.”
He should be. He grew up in one of the most intense soccer cultures on the planet, and he can compare notes with former U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley, whose daughter dates Rose.
To get him, the Sounders gave up the rights to defender Leone Cruz, a former SMU standout drafted last year who failed to make the team.
Seattle draft selections included UC Santa Barbara defender Tim Pontius (Yorba Linda/Servite HS), the brother of D.C. United standout Chris Pontius, and Cal Poly defender Wes Feighner (Los Alamitos/Los Alamitos HS).
The Goats, all five of their selections in the first two rounds, also took UCLA goalkeeper Brian Rowe, who was in the MLS combine, and Cal State Fullerton midfielder Kevin Venegas (Lakewood/Los Alamitos HS), who attended a Chivas combine last weekend.
Chivas used its first pick, fifth overall, on Monmouth right back R.J. Allen, a two-time All-American who attended the league's pre-draft combine and was on Chivas' list of possibles for last week's SuperDraft.
San Diego State's Daniel Steres (Calabasas/Calabasas HS) was expected to be drafted, and the other center back, 6-foot-3 Fabian Kling from NCAA Division II champion Fort Lewis, is among the most intriguing picks of the draft season.
“[Kling is] a guy, we got an email, a recommendation from someone,” Chivas general manager Jose Domene said. “He's a big dude. A big fella. An international player, from Germany.”
He's from Augsburg and is a two-time D2 All-American and the division's player of the year last season, but more compelling are his numbers: 28 goals, half of them game-winners, in four seasons. That suggests he's a force on set pieces, a quality Chivas could use at both ends.
Allen, Domene said, was “on our board last week, but we didn't have a second-round pick -- not that we would have [necessarily] picked him. He's a guy we valued high, and we're lucky he fell to us.”
Rowe, a second-team All-American from Eugene, Ore., shut out 12 foes as the Bruins marched to the NCAA Final Four. He's one of five goalkeepers in camp battling for two jobs backing up Dan Kennedy.
Leroux, a fast, athletic striker from UCLA with an extensive international background, was on a field at Home Depot Center with the U.S. women's national team when word arrived that the Atlanta Beat had, as expected, used the first selection on her in Friday's draft at the Kansas City Convention Center.
“[I was] told in the middle of practice,” Leroux said. “Abby [Wambach] had a water bottle, and she sprayed me in the face with it, and I kind of choked.”
Stanford's Camille Levin (Newport Coast/Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School) and UC Irvine's CoCo Goodson were the other local players selected -- they were the first two defenders taken. Levin went to New Jersey's Sky Blue FC with the fourth overall pick and Goodson joined Philadelphia in the second round, with the 12th pick.
Leroux's new Beat teammates on the national team -- defenders Rachel Buehler, Stephanie Cox and Amy LePeilbet, and midfielders Carli Lloyd and Kelley O'Hara -- welcomed her with high-fives. She was halfway expecting to be headed to Atlanta.
“I talked to them a little bit [before the draft],” Leroux said. “They said they had their eye on me. Just the usual, kind of. I didn't really know what was going to happen. ...
“Everyone asked me who had the No. 1 pick, and I would say Atlanta, and they would say, 'OK, so you're going to be playing in Atlanta,' and I was like, 'You know, anything can happen,' so I didn't really say anything.”
Leroux was easily the most prominent player on the board. She played in three FIFA U-19 or U-20 Women's World Cups -- the first at 14 for her native Canada -- winning the Golden Ball as MVP and Golden Boot as top scorer with the U.S. captured the 2008 title. She was a three-time All-American at UCLA, scoring 57 goals in four years at UCLA, 16 as a senior and a school record-tying 23 as a sophomore.