Los Angeles Soccer: Ugo Ihemelu

CHIVAS: No expectations vs. lowly Hoops

June, 22, 2012
Chivas USA spent most of the last month taking points off Major League Soccer's biggest sides, then climbing to within a point of the Western Conference's playoff zone with an impressive victory over a pretty good Montreal side.

Now they get a taste of the American soccer's ghetto.

The Goats (5-7-4, 18 points) are in Texas on Saturday to take on an FC Dallas team that has been decimated by injuries, red cards and suspensions, hasn't won in two months and sits at the bottom of the Western standings.

That doesn't mean a whole lot, says head coach Robin Fraser, whose team has lost just once -- last weekend to Real Salt Lake -- in its last seven games, all competitions.

“For us, it doesn't matter who the next opponent is, we have to improve,” Fraser said. “There are some things that we could he better and sharper at. Regardless of who we play, there's going to be that challenge. Dallas is a very talented team. They've certainly not gotten the results that they're capable of.”

Everything has been tough for the Hoops, who played in the MLS Cup final two seasons ago and reached the playoffs last year. 2010 MVP David Ferreira is still out after last year's injury, and nearly a dozen players have joined him on the bench at one time or another.

They're missing starting center backs George John and Ugo Ihemelu, influential midfielder Ricardo Villar and top scorer Blas Perez with one ailment of another, and star winger Brek Shea is just getting back from a foot injury.

And Jair Benitez is suspended after a red card, for an off-the-ball elbow to Colin Clarke's head, in last weekend's loss at Houston. That's five red cards in 16 games for the Hoops (plus another in a U.S. Open Cup loss), plus a three-game suspension to Shea last month for kicking the ball at a linesman.

The red cards have been largely stupid and costly: Dallas watched a lead turn to a loss following Zach Loyd's second yellow card at Columbus last month, and twice it has given up decisive goals in defeat following dismissals.

The Hoops have lost seven of their last eight games, including the Open Cup, are winless in their last 11 games -- and in five of them, they scored first.

“I think that game is there for the taking,” Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy said after Wednesday's 2-1 win over Montreal. “It's not like they're on fire and unbeatable. When you win, it can become contagious, and you can build momentum with it, so that's what we need to do.”

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Injury ends Justin Braun's U.S. camp

January, 12, 2011

Justin Braun won't be making his international debut next week. The Chivas USA forward was released from the U.S. national team training camp after he was cut near his left Achilles' tendon during a session Tuesday at Home Depot Center.

The wound required four stitches and will sideline Braun for about a week. The big forward from Salt Lake City was in his second national team camp.

FC Dallas defender Ugo Ihemelu, suffering from hip and groin injuries, also was released from camp.

The U.S. meets Chile on Jan. 22 at HDC.

USA: Youngsters dominate HDC roster

December, 21, 2010
It's a young group, younger than usual, that Bob Bradley is bringing into camp next month with the U.S. national team, signaling the start to a new four-year cycle rather than preparation for next summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup.

A.J. DeLaGarza, so impressive during Major League Soccer's stretch run, gets his first call-up to the national team; he'll be joined by Galaxy backline mates Sean Franklin (Palmdale/Highland HS and Cal State Northridge) and Omar Gonzalez in the Jan. 4-22 camp at Home Depot Center.

Chivas USA forward Justin Braun and three players with local ties -- Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando (Montclair/Montclair HS and UCLA) and Colorado Rapids defender Marvell Wynne (UCLA) and midfielder Jeff Larentowicz (born in Pasadena) -- also are on the 24-man roster, from which Bradley will draw his lineup for the Jan. 24 friendly against Chile at HDC.

The annual January camp, always at HDC, usually is used to scout younger players -- including those who emerged during the previous MLS campaign -- and give U.S.- and Scandinavia-based veterans a foundation to build fitness before their seasons begin in the late winter or spring.

This time Bradley called in very few veterans. Sweden-based midfielder Alejandro Bedoya is the only player from the U.S. pre-World Cup training camp on the roster, and none who went to South Africa is involved. A dozen players are uncapped, five more have just one cap, nobody has made more than six international appearances -- across the roster, there are only 28 caps.

A rundown on the two dozen players coming to HDC:

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MLS CUP: Kandji's diagnosis: torn ACL

November, 24, 2010

Turns out the winning goal in Sunday's MLS Cup final was as costly for Macoumba Kandji as it was for FC Dallas.

The Senegal-born forward, who was hurt as he created the winning goal in the 107th minute of the Colorado Rapids' 2-1 overtime victory in Toronto, received his diagnosis Tuesday: torn anterior cruciate ligament. It'll likely sideline him until next July or August.

Kandji came off the bench to lift the Rapids to their first MLS Cup title, beating FC Dallas defender Jair Benitez on the right byline, then outreaching Ugo Ihemelu to toe-poke the ball toward the goalmouth, with championship-game MVP Conor Casey hovering near the far post.

Ihemelu fell onto Kandji as he hit the ball, which ricocheted off Dallas defender George John's thigh and inside the right post. Kandji was helped off the field, and Colorado played with just 10 men for the final 13 minutes.

“He sat on me,” a jouyous Kandji said as his Rapids teammates celebrated around him in their BMO Field locker room Sunday night. “He sat on my leg, so I kind of hyperextended [my left knee]. I really don't know what happened, because I was just trying to reach for the ball to toe it in. … Then I tried to get up, but I couldn't.”

Asked if there was any better way to get injured, he said: “It's the best way ever!”

Kandji, acquired in September from the New York Red Bulls, was on the Rapids' protected list for Wednesday's MLS Expansion Draft.

MLS CUP: Pleasure and pain? Meet Mac Kandji

November, 21, 2010

Harry How/Getty Images
Colorado's Macoumba Kandji is mobbed by teammates -- while FC Dallas' Ugo Ihemelu watches -- after having a hand in the winning goal for the Rapids.

TORONTO -- Macoumba Kandji was hurting. He was on crutches. He'd never felt better in his life.

Ah, pleasure and pain. Not many know the balance between them better than the Senegal-born, Gambia-bred, Georgia-schooled forward, who had plenty to celebrate Sunday night -- and was due for an MRI exam Monday morning to assess damage to his left leg.

Kandji was responsible for the goal that lifted Colorado to the MLS Cup title, an overtime own goal by FC Dallas defender George John that completed a 2-1 turnaround that gave the Rapids their first piece of silverware.

Kandji was on a trainer's table while teammates feted their triumph with bad, smelly champagne. When he finally arose, gingerly stepping forward with a crutch under his left arm, defender Drew Moor wrapped him in his arms. The broad smile wasn't about to leave his face.

“It's fantastic, man,” he said. “I'm just so happy.”

Kandji had come on for Omar Cummings in the 98th minute. It was his second appearance in an MLS Cup final -- he was a late sub for the New York Red Bulls, while on loan from the Atlanta Silverbacks, then a second-tier club, in Columbus' 2008 triumph at Home Depot Center -- and this one was much more fulfilling.

His big moment arrived in the 107th, after FC Dallas failed to clear Conor Casey's cross from the left, and the ball squirted out to Kandji on the right side of the Hoops' box.

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MLS CUP: Perfect finish for Dallas' difference-maker

November, 21, 2010

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
Goalkeeper Kevin Hartman of FC Dallas applauds the fans after the Western Conference Finals of the MLS playoffs against the Galaxy at Home Depot Center.

TORONTO -- Kevin Hartman thought it might be time to go on to something else when the Kansas City Wizards told him as kickoff neared for the new season late last winter that his services no longer were required.

The veteran goalkeeper had few options: The other Major League Soccer clubs' goalkeeping hierarchies were in place, and most weren't looking to make a chance, no matter the former UCLA star's pedigree.

Schellas Hyndman , who had what he believed a title contender after a 21-month rebuild of FC Dallas' roster, was intrigued. And Hartman thought he had more to give.

Theirs turned out to be the perfect partnership, and it's led to Sunday night's MLS Cup in Toronto (ESPN and Galavision, 5:30 p.m. PT), where the Hoops or Colorado Rapids will claim their first league title in what could be the most dynamic of the league's 15 championship games.

Hartman could be -- should be -- the difference.

The Palos Verdes product, who played at Palos Verdes and Peninsula high schools and started his college career at Cal State Dominguez Hills, was the final, and perhaps most important, piece of Hyndman's remake. He rewarded the coach with often spectacular play that sparked a league single-season record 19-game unbeaten streak, saw FC Dallas lose just four times -- tying an MLS mark -- and took the club into its first MLS Cup final, the last of the surviving remaining original clubs to do so.

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GALAXY: A disappointing (but most deserved) end

November, 15, 2010

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Former Galaxy goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, now the starter in Dallas, is a major reason why L.A. lost Sunday at home.

CARSON, Calif. -- It's fair to say that had Kevin Hartman not been so spectacular Sunday night, the Galaxy would be packing right now for an MLS Cup trek to Toronto.

The Palos Verdes product made four huge first-half saves -- on Mike Magee, Juninho, David Beckham and Landon Donovan -- and had half of them found the net, the Western Conference final would have turned out very differently.

But Hartman is just one of several reasons FC Dallas dumped the Galaxy, 3-0, at the Home Depot Center to snare a spot in its first MLS Cup final, next Sunday against the Colorado Rapids in Toronto.

Here's what made the difference:


The Galaxy wasn't all that bad. They limited Dallas to eight shots, just five on target, created some outstanding chances in the first half-hour or so, and battled hard from start to finish.

But they couldn't match the Hoops.

“We have no excuses ...” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said to open his postgame news conference. “We were outplayed. We were beat on most matchups on the field, and we were outcoached. Dallas deserved the victory.”

The Hoops utilized space better than L.A. did, using a quick transition and its speed on the flanks -- with both Marvin Chavez and Brek Shea making big imprints -- to stretch the Galaxy, especially after David Ferreira's 26th-minute opener against the run of play.

From that point on, it was FC Dallas' game.

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Galaxy-FC Dallas: In praise of the Hoops' stars

November, 14, 2010
Galaxy fans know all about Kevin Hartman, who manned L.A.'s nets for a decade and had a tremendous year this season for FC Dallas. The goalkeeper from Palos Verdes was the difference for the Hoops this year, bringing stability to a defense that needed it -- no coincidence that the 19-game unbeaten streak started shortly after he became the No. 1 goalkeeper.

On the field, the most important players are 5-foot-5 playmaker David Ferreira, a 31-year-old Colombian who is expected to pick up Major League Soccer's MVP award this week, and central midfielder Daniel Hernandez, a 34-year-old Texan who started his pro career with the Galaxy (back in 1998) and played in Mexico for Necaxa, Puebla and Jaguares before joining FC Dallas last season.

Here's the best of what was said about Ferreira and Hernandez heading into Sunday's Western Conference final between the Galaxy at FC Dallas (Home Depot Center, 6 p.m., ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes):

On David Ferreira“Good quickness, good endurance. He's tough. I think he's the heart of the team. I think he inspires them. I think his performance [in the second leg of the first-round series at Real] Salt Lake was outstanding, his performance when they beat [RSL] in the first leg was impressive, and he's the player who set up the winning goal.

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena:

“He's really an impressive player and a player that you can't lose your concentration against, because if you do, he'll take advantage of that.”

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Galaxy-FC Dallas: Positional analysis

November, 12, 2010

The Galaxy is seeking their record seventh MLS Cup title-game appearance, and FC Dallas is aiming to reach the final for the first time. Who has the advantage in Sunday night's Western Conference final at Home Depot Center (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 6 p.m.)?

Let's take it piece by piece.


GALAXY: Donovan Ricketts
FC DALLAS: Kevin Hartman

Edson Buddle
Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesEdson Buddle of the Los Angeles Galaxy passes the ball on the counterattack against D.C. United during the MLS match at The Home Depot Center on Sept. 18. The Galaxy defeated United 2-1.

Ricketts was MLS's Goalkeeper of the Year. Hartman probably deserved the honor, and had he not missed the final six weeks of the regular season with a sprained right medial collateral ligament -- product of that dumb Thierry Henry celebration -- he surely would have won. Ricketts is the more athletic, and he was sensational against Seattle, the most important figure in the victory up north.

Hartman (Palos Verdes/Peninsula HS and UCLA), still revered in L.A. for his decade of service to the Galaxy, has had a career resurrection in North Texas, and he bears most of the credit for the Hoops' magical campaign. There are few better shot-stoppers in American soccer, and nobody commands his box better than Hartman.

Both prefer to parry than catch in tight situations, and both make the mind-boggling saves that make a difference. Hartman might be a better decision-maker, but there's no denying Ricketts' form.

Advantage: Push


Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza/Gregg Berhalter and Eddie Lewis/Todd Dunivant
FC DALLAS: Jackson Goncalves/Zach Loyd, Ugo Ihemelu, George John and Jair Benitez

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GALAXY: Titles on the line in finale

October, 23, 2010

It sure looked like the Galaxy’s game Sunday at Home Depot Center (FSN West, 5 p.m.) against FC Dallas wasn’t going to mean a thing.

Colorado took a 2-0 lead over Real Salt Lake into second-half stoppage Monday night, a result that would hand the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield titles to L.A. and send the locals to Denver for a playoff opener Thursday against the Rapids.

There’s a reason RSL’s Alvaro Saborio is an MVP candidate and the overwhelming favorite for the league’s Newcomer of the Year honor. He scored twice in the dying minutes -- taking advantage of Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens’ error in the 91st minute and converting a penalty kick four minutes later -- to deliver a 2-2 draw to the Utahns, and suddenly Sunday’s encounter means everything.

RSL (15-4-11) pulled even with the Galaxy (17-7-5) on points, and the second tiebreaker -- goal difference -- favors the defending MLS Cup champs.

Here’s where everything stands heading into Major League Soccer’s regular-season finale:

If the Galaxy wins or ties, they’re No. 1 in the West, collect their third Supporters’ Shield (as regular-season champions) and head to Seattle for Sunday’s opener in a tough home-and-home first-round playoff series.

If the Galaxy loses, they finish second to RSL, in the West and Supporters’ Shield standings, and have two more games against FC Dallas, the opener probably next Saturday at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.

What else is worth knowing:
  • Edson Buddle needs a goal to win the Golden Boot. Chris Wondolowski netted his 18th in San Jose’s 4-1 loss at Kansas City, so the Galaxy striker, who has tallied in his past three games, needs one to match “Wondo.” That would give him the trophy -- the first tiebreaker is assists, as Buddle has a 2-1 advantage.
  • FC Dallas faces a tough first-round playoff series no matter what occurs. If the Hoops win, they get the Galaxy. If they lose, it’s Real Salt Lake. They clinched third in the West when Seattle lost Saturday at Houston.
  • FC Dallas’ 19-game unbeaten streak ended in a 2-0 loss last week at Real Salt Lake, and coach Schellas Hyndman wants to start a new one before the playoffs begin. He’s planning to use a first-choice lineup, and he’s able to do so, more or less, for the first time in nearly six weeks. Captain (and former Galaxy midfielder) Daniel Hernandez and central defenders George John and (former Galaxy back) Ugo Ihemelu returned from injury last week -- Ihemelu strained his hamstring and won’t play Sunday -- and (former Galaxy) goalkeeper Kevin Hartman (Palos Verdes/Peninsula HS and UCLA) is expected to be back in the nets for the first time since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his right knee Sept. 16 against New York. Hartman, who was hurt on a post-goal act of stupidity by Red Bulls star Thierry Henry, should be a shoo-in for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.