Los Angeles Soccer: Ventura County Fusion
Rodrigo Lopez tormented the L.A. Blues while leading Ventura County Fusion to a U.S. Open Cup upset a month and a half ago. Now he has the chance to do it all over again.
The former Chivas USA and Portland Timbers midfielder, one of the foundations of the Fusion's superb Premier Development League campaign this season, signed Friday with USL Pro champion Orlando City SC.
The Lions play tonight and Sunday against the Blues at Cal State Fullerton.
“I always wanted to be in an environment where I can truly improve each day,” Lopez said in a statement. “I believe Orlando City is that place and I look forward to helping the club for the rest of the season.”
The Fusion's run to the third round of the Open Cup, with victories over Fullerton Rangers and L.A. Blues before a tight loss to Chivas USA, was in great part about Lopez and Chivas USA draft pick Daniel Steres' partnership in central midfield. Steres signed with the Seattle Sounders last month.
Lopez, 25, who grew up in Santa Barbara, was with Chivas USA from 2005 through 2007, making eight Major League Soccer appearances. He spent some time in his native Mexico, including a spell with Gallos Blancos, and last year was with the Timbers, although he saw no MLS time.
Orlando City (10-1-4) are atop the USL Pro standings. Tonight's game begins at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday's at 5 p.m., with the Blues (5-6-2) looking to climb back into the third-division league's top six.
Wynalda, a Hall of Fame striker from Westlake Village, replaces head coach Alex Piņeda Chacon and director of soccer Rodrigo Rios, but it's not a permanent move. Wynalda last week told ESPN Los Angeles that he is merely a careholder coach -- he will lead the search for a full-time boss -- but he figures to serve the Silverbacks (1-5-8) as an adviser moving forward.
Wynalda guided Cal FC to the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup -- with a surprise victory over Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers included. He previously lobbied for head-coaching jobs with Chivas USA and Chicago.
“I’m absolutely thrilled for this opportunity with the Silverbacks. It was truly one that I didn’t want to pass up,” Wynalda, also an on-air analyst for Fox Soccer Channel's international coverage, said in a statement. “This is a case of an underperforming team, and I’m honored that the club chose me to take on the challenge of turning things around and helping the Silverbacks fulfill their potential on the field.”
Atlanta, which has played in whichever league served as America's second division all but two years since 1995, has made the playoffs only three times in 15 seasons. It went 4-20-4 last year and is winless at home (0-4-3) this season.
The Silverbacks play Tuesday against Carolina and Saturday at Minnesota. Wynalda will make his debut in a July 14 home game against the Puerto Rico Islanders.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
The Fullerton Rangers took a huge stride toward the National Premier Soccer League playoffs with Sunday's victory over FC Santa Clarita, a showdown for second place in the Western Division's Southern Conference.
Former Chivas USA/New York Red Bulls forward David Arvizu (Santa Ana/Foothill HS) scored two goals as the Rangers avenged a loss two months earlier in Santa Clarita with a 3-0 triumph at Santa Ana Stadium.
The Rangers (7-3-2) have a two-point advantage over the Storm (6-3-3) with two games to play. Both have matches remaining with the San Diego Flash (9-0-2), which has clinched the Southern Conference title.
The Rangers' NPSL team finished second to the Flash and went to the playoffs last year, when they were affiliated with the Santa Ana Winds.
Arvizu scored in the 17th and 60th minutes and Cuban forward Eder Roldan tallied in the 24th for Fullerton, which has won three in a row and scored at least three times in its past four games. Santa Clarita has won just twice in its past five games, over the division's two worst clubs (Phoenix and North Coast, with a combined 2-18-1 record), and could rue a 1-1 draw at home June 9 with San Diego Boca (4-5-3).
Santa Clarita is likely to vault back to second next weekend, when it faces fading Conejo Valley side FC Hasental (3-7-2), but getting a resullt against the Flash on July 7 is critical to the Storm' playoff hopes. Fullerton plays the Flash in San Diego this weekend, then closes July 8 at home against Boca.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
The Premier Development League expansion side rallied for a 1-1 draw although down a man in a showdown of the Southwest Division's Nos. 1 and 2 clubs at Ventura College, an intense clash that ended with a little postgame dustup in the parking lot, the Arizona club reported on its website.
Francisco Lopez gave Ventura the lead five minutes into the second half, but Danny Toia -- Real Salt Lake's first Home Grown Player, released by the Major League Soccer club in February -- netted the 61st-minute equalizer. Tucson was down to 10 players after Eli Galbrath-Knapp's dismissal in the 30th minute.
The Arizonans (6-1-3) surged into first place, one point ahead of the Fusion (6-1-2), with Monday's 1-1 draw against L.A. Misioneros.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
USL PRO: Bright Dike is the third-division league's Player of the Week after scoring the goals in the L.A. Blues' 1-0 wins Friday and Sunday over Dayton, which sent them from seventh to fifth in the table. Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh made the PDL Team of the Week. Only first-place Orlando City (9-1-2, 2.4167) and second-place Charleston (8-3-0, 2.1818) have more points per game than do the Blues (5-3-2, 1.7000).
Swansea City will be the Ventura County Fusion's British opponent this year, the club announced Tuesday, with an Oxnard College friendly set for July 28.
The Welsh club, which plays in England's Premier League, follows in the footsteps of Everton, Burnley, Portsmouth and, last year, West Bromwich Albion, who have visited Ventura County for preseason work since 2007.
The Fusion, an amateur club which is one point out of the lead in the USL Premier Development League's Southwest Division, also played Manchester City in a closed-door match last summer at Loyola Marymount. They have lost all five games against English opposition.
The game will kick off at 5 p.m., and advance tickets ($15 for adults, $8 ages 16 and under) are available through the Fusion's website or by calling (805) 277-9742. Tickets at the gate will be $20 and $12.
Swansea City, which last season debuted in the EPL with a 12-15-11 record to finish 11th, on Friday appointed former Danish star Michael Laudrup as manager. The Swans will train for a week in Oxnard as part of a 12-day U.S. trip, which includes matches against Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids on July 24 and San Jose Earthquakes on July 31.
The Fusion, which annually plays preseason games against MLS clubs, last year in a two-week stretch played West Brom, New Zealand's under-20 national team, Argentine club Independiente and Man City. They beat New Zealand and lost the others.
Now he's back with the Sounders, taking the next step in his journey to being a full-fledged professional.
Steres (Calabasas/Calabasas HS), who starred at San Diego State, was taken by Seattle in last week's college-waiver draft and headed over the weekend to Washington.
“We're getting the contract [sorted out], and then working my way up to get a starting role, obviously,” Steres told ESPN Los Angeles after the Fusion's 2-1 victory Friday evening over Orange County Blue Star. “Sounds like they're excited to have me come in. I'm excited to go in.”
Steres, probably a center back or right back in MLS, lost out in numbers games during preseason at Chivas and, after his release by the Goats, in Seattle. He's been superb for the Fusion, bolstering the backline next to Mickey Daly (Cal State L.A.) or Tim Pontius (Yorba Linda/Servite HS and UC Santa Barbara) or teaming with former Chivas USA/Portland Timbers midfielder Rodrigo Lopez (Santa Barbara/Santa Barbara HS) in central midfield.
The Fusion (6-1-1) are atop the Southwest Division after rallying for a 2-1 win against Blue Star at Concordia University. Travis Bowen (Van Nuys/Chatsworth HS), the older brother of Chivas USA forward Tristan Bowen, scored both goals -- his fourth and division-best fifth of the season -- with the winner coming in the 76th minute.
Ventura is one point ahead of FC Tucson, which visits the Fusion next weekend.
Pontius, the younger brother of D.C. United midfielder Chris Pontius, also is getting some MLS attention. The big center back, a Sounders draft pick, has been in camp the past week with the Galaxy. He says playing with the Fusion has helped prepare him.
“College is one thing,” he said. “College prepares you for the next step. This is kind of the in-between phase between college and pros. You've got a lot of players here who can make the next step.”
He said his time with Sounders in preseason was “spectacular.”
“Unfortunately, it didn't work out for me, but at the end, I gained a lot of experience out of that opportunity,” Pontius said. “Spots were tight there, so there's only so much you can do. You play your game, if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. You try the next one.”
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
The W-League's Western Conference title appears to be headed the Pali Blues' way or to the Seattle Sounders. They're the chief contenders just four weeks into the campaign.
Pali completed sweeps of its Southern California rivals, both of them one-goal home wins, to improve to 4-0-0. The Sounders, also 4-0-0, won three games last week with U.S. national team stars Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe and Stephanie Cox on hand.
Morgan (Diamond Bar/Diamond Bar HS) scored and assisted Lyndsey Patterson's goal in the 3-0 romp Monday night over Colorado Rapids' women's team. Leroux (UCLA) had an assist in a 2-1 win Thursday over the third-place Colorado Rush (3-1-0), a match that sold out the Starfire Sports Complex's 4,500-seat stadium in Tukwila, Wash.
Pali, which is affiliated with the L.A. Blues' men's team (both are coached by Charlie Naimo), got goals from Nikki Washington and Liz Bogus to beat the L.A. Strikers, 2-1, then pulled out a 1-0 triumph over Santa Clarita Blue Heat on Australian national-teamer Servet Uzunlar's goal three minutes into second-half stoppage.
The Blues and Sounders meet twice this season: June 20 in Tukwila and in the July 15 regular-season finale at Palisades High School.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
VENTURA -- The way its Major League Soccer brethren were dropping games left and right, Chivas USA couldn't be too disappointed after capturing its U.S. Open Cup opener Tuesday night, even if the performance left plenty to be desired.
The Goats got an early goal, from Cesar Romero, and withstood heavy pressure at times to pull out a 1-0 victory over the Ventura County Fusion and advance to a fourth-round meeting next week in North Carolina.
The Fusion, an amateur powerhouse from the Premier Development League -- and featuring former Chivas midfielder Rodrigo Lopez and two players, Kennedy Chongo and Daniel Steres, who were with the Goats during preseason -- were the better side much of the night but couldn't beat Tim Melia, the No. 2 goalkeeper, despite creating more opportunities than Chivas.
“In a single-elimination tournament, the most important thing is to win, and these games are tough,” Goats coach Robin Fraser said. “The 'underdog' really treats it like it's a huge game, and certainly we need to as well, but as you can tell by tonight with seven teams losing in the MLS, these are difficult games.
“So to come out and win and move onto the next round is the most important thing.”
An expected SuperClasico showdown with the Galaxy was dead before kickoff -- L.A. was one of seven MLS clubs to lose against lower-division competition -- so Chivas has a date next Tuesday in Cary, N.C., with the Carolina RailHawks.
“[Playing the Galaxy] is what we expected,” said Chivas winger Ryan Smith, an Englishman, “but this is like the F.A. Cup back home. You don't know who's going to win because it's who turns up on the day. I'm glad L.A. are out.”
Chivas managed only a couple of chances and tested Ventura's goalkeeper, UCLA's Earl Edwards, only once, on Romero's 13th-minute goal. He took a through ball from Juan Agudelo, and his low shot nutmegged Edwards from right of the net.
It was Romero's first goal for Chivas' first team, but his 12th in all for Chivas, including preseason, MLS Reserve League and reserve friendlies.
“I’ve been knocking on the door [of the first team],” said Romero, who has played sparingly the past six week. “Every day is a new day for me, and every day I train and work hard for the main goal which is to start on the first team.”
Orange County Blue Star sits atop the Southwest Division standings in the Premier Development League following last week's 3-2 win at archrival Southern California Seahorses, and another victory in Tuesday night's rematch would put a little space between them and Fresno Fuego.
The sides are even on points and have virtually identical goal totals -- Blue Star's 12 for-7 against just above Fresno's 12-8 -- but Blue Star (3-0-3) have a game in hand and are on a three-game winning streak, scoring three times in each victory. Kyle O'Brien (Garden Grove/Marina HS and Vanguard University), Floridian Nico Olsak and U.S. youth national-teamer Miles Byass (Highland/Redlands HS), a junior at San Diego State, scored the goals against the Seahorses.
Fresno (3-1-3) has won just one of its last six games, and that against the U.S. Club Soccer's rep in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup. The Fuego were on the road last week, getting bombed in the Open Cup's second round by second-division Fort Lauderdale Strikers, then managing only draws against the PDL's Utah clubs, who have never been in contention for playoff berths.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
As much as the Ventura County Fusion want to beat Chivas USA in their U.S. Open Cup clash, impressing their guest might be more important.
A berth in the fourth round of America's oldest soccer competition, possibly against the Galaxy, awaits the winner of Tuesday night's showdown at Ventura College, but the Fusion's stars are looking for something more.
A strong showing against Major League Soccer competition could mean opportunities to play in the top league, perhaps for Chivas, and the Fusion's top players -- many of them with pro experience -- are looking to show what they can do.
“Not just for me, but for all the guys playing PDL,” Rodrigo Lopez, the former Chivas/Portland Timbers midfielder who runs the Fusion's attack, told ESPN Los Angeles after Ventura's second-round upset last week over the L.A. Blues. “I think in our situation, it's a good opportunity to show something and to get looked at. Not just to win and keep going -- that's our main goal -- but a lot of guys, that's the way to the main teams, to the MLS teams.”
Lopez (Santa Barbara/Santa Barbara HS) has the most extensive MLS experience among the Fusion -- he spent two seasons with the Goats, was with Portland last year and in March played for Chivas in a reserve friendly-- but it's a roster filled with prospects.
Holding midfielder Daniel Steres (Calabasas/Calabasas HS), a supplemental draft pick, and winger Kennedy Chongo (Biola University) spent preseason with the Goats. Center back Tim Pontius (Yorba Linda/Servite HS and UC Santa Barbara) was a Seattle Sounders draft pick; his older brother, Chris, is a D.C. United star.
Travis Bowen (Van Nuys/Chatsworth HS), Chivas forward Tristan Bowen's older brother, has been pursuing the pro game around the world. He's coming off a hat trick in the Fusion's Premier Development League victory Saturday over La Mirada's Southern California Seahorses.
“He deserves it more than anybody ...,” said Tristan Bowen, who can't play in the game -- his loan deal to Belgium doesn't officially end until the summer transfer window opens June 27 -- but will be there to watch. “The only reason I started playing was because of him. He wandered off after school one day into a playground, and he was playing soccer, and it just kind of stuck. I wasn't very good. He was always better than me, but sometime around 12 or 13 I started scoring a lot of goals.”
Travis, 22, is “talking a little bit already” about the game, but Tristan, 21, has so far declined to respond. “I don't want him to do bad,” Tristan said, “but I'm in a weird position, you know? ... That would be nice if it's like a 4-3 game where Chivas wins and Travis scores another hat trick. That's an ideal world.”
The Fusion went unbeaten against MLS clubs during preseason, with a 1-0 win over Chivas and scoreless draws with Houston and Chicago.
Ready for another Galaxy-Chivas USA showdown? If both clubs win their U.S. Open Cup openers next week, it will happen.
U.S. Soccer's fourth-round pairings are out, and the Galaxy and Chivas are set to meet June 5 at Home Depot Center, as long as both advance. Chivas faces Premier Development League power Ventura County Fusion in a third-round game Tuesday night at Ventura College, and the Galaxy meet the Carolina RailHawks, from the second-division North American Soccer League, in Cary, N.C.
If it's the Galaxy against the Fusion, it will be played at HDC. If Carolina beats L.A., the fourth-round game will be in Cary.
Major League Soccer clubs enter the country's oldest soccer competition -- the initial games were played in 1913 -- in the third round. Ventura County has won twice in overtime, ousting USL Pro side L.A. Blues on Tuesday evening, to advance to the final 32.
The Galaxy and Chivas have played once before in the Open Cup, with L.A. cruising to a 5-2 fourth-round victory at HDC's Track and Field Stadium en route to the 2005 title. Goal scorers for the Galaxy included Cobi Jones, Landon Donovan and Herculez Gomez.
The pairing was expected. Rather than a blind draw, U.S. Soccer regionalizes pairings to cut down on travel costs.
Thousand Oaks' Cal FC, a U.S. Adult Soccer Association side coached by Eric Wynalda, would play three-time defending champion Seattle Sounders in Tukwila, Wash., if it beats the Portland Timbers in the third round. No site has been determined if Cal FC and the Atlanta Silverbacks, who meet the Sounders next week, both pull off upsets.
After scoring four goals in overtime to win their U.S. Open Cup opener last week over the Fullerton Rangers, the Premier Development League powerhouse netted two on Tuesday, dispensing with the L.A. Blues in a second-round clash.
Francisco Lopez scored his second goal of the game in the 107th minute -- 17 minutes into the extra period -- and Travis Bowen, Chivas USA forward Tristan Bowen's brother, added another with four minutes to go, and the Fusion stunned the USL Pro club, 3-1, before a sparse crowd at Fullerton College's Sherbeck Field.
Their reward: a third-round showdown next Tuesday night against Chivas USA at Ventura College, pending expected U.S. Soccer approval of the site.
Francisco Lopez converted an extremely iffy penalty kick to force overtime, and UCLA goalkeeper Earl Edwards made a save on Allan Russell's penalty kick for a Blues win in the 85th minute, but there was no doubt which side was more deserving.
With Rodrigo Lopez, a former Chivas USA and the Portland Timbers midfield, running the field, the Fusion absorbed heavy early pressure, gave up an own goal after just 13 minutes, and spent the rest of the game outbattling the Blues all over the field.
“And now we have a home game against Chivas, which we really relish,” said Fusion head coach Ole Mikkelsen, who watched the final 23 minutes of overtime from just outside Ventura County's locker room after he was sent off for angrily protesting a call. “I have to say, I thought we were [the better team]. We came out slow, which is to be expected: They're a pro team, they play together every day, they're more comfortable with each other.
“Unfortunately, a miscommunication led to that own goal -- those things happen. It could have buried us, but we kept battling, we added some rhythm, and as soon as we got that first goal, I knew that we were in it, and I knew we had a chance to take it from them.”
Five weeks in and things are starting to fall into place in the Premier Development League's Southwest Division, and that's with one side yet to open its season.
Longtime powers Orange County Blue Star and Ventura County Fusion took big steps forward, both them shaking off slow starts to their seasons with a pair of impressive victories.
Blue Star (2-0-3) clobbered first-place Fresno Fuego, 3-1, in the Central Valley, rolling to a three-goal lead through two Andrew Riemer goals and another by Adrian Avila, then headed home to handle the Ogden Outlaws, also by a 3-1 tally. Nico Olsak scored and assisted goals in that one.
Orange County, one of two unbeaten teams in the Southwest Division, climbed within a point of the Fuego (5-1-1), who are in Florida for a U.S. Open Cup second-round match against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers from the second-tier North American Soccer League. The other unbeaten: BYU Cougars, who open their season this weekend.
The Fusion (2-1-1), coming off a U.S. Open Cup victory over the NPSL's Fullerton Rangers (and in advance of Tuesday's Open Cup second-rounder against the L.A. Blues) posted shutouts over the Ogden Outlaws (2-0) and Pali Blues (3-0), both second-tier sides at best within the division.
Victor Chavez (Fontana/A.B. Miller and UCLA) scored in both games for the third-place Fusion. Francisco Lopez played a role in all three goals against Pali.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
Proceeding in the U.S. Open Cup is a priority for the L.A. Blues, who enter the competition Tuesday against the Ventura County Fusion, and they'd love to take a shot next week at Chivas USA if they win.
Getting there won't be easy. The Blues (3-2-1), if they beat the Fusion in the in a second-round game at Fullerton College, face four games in eight days on two coasts. The USL Pro contests between the Open Cup dates are against two of the third-division league's best clubs, defending champion Orlando City SC (6-0-1) and Charleston Battery (4-2-0).
Something's got to give.
“I'd like a different schedule, let's leave it at that ...,” Blues head coach/general manager Charlie Naimo told ESPN Los Angeles on Monday. “Really, it is out of my control. Out of the organization's control. You can't worry about what you don't control, you just have to go out and do it. I have to decide based on what happens [Tuesday] how I want to play Thursday and Saturday. I have to choose.”
Orlando City's situation is the same as the Blues', with four games in eight days if it wins its Open Cup opener Tuesday, but the Lions would sit at home until next week's third-round game at Sporting Kansas City, provided they beat K.C. Athletics, a U.S. Adult Soccer Association side. Charleston also has an Open Cup game but plays just once on the weekend.
Naimo's approach will be fairly straightforward. Beating the Fusion is important, but it likely won't require a first-choice lineup -- Ventura, amateurs from the USL's Premier Development League is playing its fourth game in eight days -- and the goal is victory in Orlando.
“I'm thinking our guys will be up to play the defending champions,” Naimo said. “We're going after that game. We're not going in to try to steal a point. We want to win that game.”
Do so and, if the date with Chivas is on for May, the Blues “might not put in guys who won't be able to play against Charleston and Chivas. It's tough to do that. ... My goal is winning [Tuesday], have a good result against Orlando. Can't think much beyond that point.”
U.S. Soccer on Wednesday announced pairings for the May 29 U.S. Open Cup games, and the regionalized matchups has Chivas USA staying local, although it's uncertain where the Goats will be playing, and the Galaxy's awaiting next Tuesday's second-round results to know where it will play.
Chivas was matched with the winner of the L.A. Blues-Ventura County Fusion game. If the Blues win next week's encounter, they'll be home against the Goats, playing at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium. No word on a site, or a home team, if Chivas faces the Fusion.
The Galaxy either will be home against Irvine's PSA Elite, a U.S. Adult Soccer Association team with several professional players, or in Cary, N.C., to take on the Carolina RailHawks, the second-tier North American Soccer League's only winless team.
Eric Wynalda's Cal FC, another USASA side with pro representation, would visit the the Portland Timbers if it beats the USL Pro's Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads next week.