CARSON -- Chivas USA has been looking to tap into Southern California's rich pool of young talent, and the first real foray was on display as the club opened its preseason camp Monday morning at Home Depot Center.
Salvadoran midfielder Marvin Iraheta, who came to Chivas' academy in last year's merger with Cosmos West, was presented, sort of, as the Goats' newest signing. He was the U.S. Developmental Academy's U-17/18 Player of the Year for the 2009-10 season and played at Old Trafford last year with a Cosmos side constructed for Paul Scholes' testimonial match.
Iraheta, just 19, is looking for more.
“I'm very happy about the opportunity I'm being given,” Iraheta, who moved from El Salvador to Pasadena when he was 17 and holds a green card, said through a translator. “This is something new for me, and I'm going to work as hard as I can so I can reach the top.”
Fraser, who Monday also welcomed English midfielder Ryan Smith, right back James Riley, goalkeeper Tim Melia and rookie forward Casey Townsend to the club, not only likes Iraheta, but also what he represents.
“Marvin is a tremendous product of Southern California soccer,” the Goats' head coach said. “He's a kid who was the Development Academy's Player of the Year a couple year back, certainly highly sought-after, well-recognized for his achievements. He's a non-nonsense, hard-working midfielder. He's a battler. He's a true competitor.
“It's great. This is what we've talked about since we got here [a year ago]: to be able to find and unearth some of the local talent that's here, and Marvin is a good example of that. he's a kid who's excelled as a youth player and is certainly moving into this next stage of his career.”
Another local talent, former Chivas Academy defender Mario Ledezma, is on trial with the Goats. The El Camino Real High School grad had been in Guadalajara's system.
“Greg [Vanney, Fraser's chief assistant] saw him in Mexico, liked some of his attributes ...,” Fraser said. “He's a player we're curious to take a look at. Greg has seen things out of him we think are interesting, and certainly it's very well worthwhile to look in, especially being a player from the area.”
The club hasn't yet announced Iraheta, nor Melia, who was a backup goalkeeper the past two seasons at Real Salt Lake, nor Colombian defender John Alexander Valencia, who is in South America awaiting his visa.
Valencia, 30, is a major signing who just helped Barranquilla-based Junior win the Colombian first-division title. Fraser describes him as “big, strong, very engaged when you watch him play, very switched on. Good with the ball.”
OTHERS IN CAMP: Two players with MLS experience are on trial with the club: former Real Salt Lake/Kansas City center back Rauwshan McKenzie, one of Jamison Olave's and Nat Borchers' backups the past two years in Utah, and former Colorado midfielder Ciaran O'Brien (UC Santa Barbara), who has played in the lower U.S. divisions after three seasons on the Rapids' books.
Also on trial are veteran MLS pool goalkeeper Kevin Guppy (Chino Hills/Chino Hills HS and Cal State Northridge), teenage Mexican midfielder Pablo Sandoval (who played in an MLS Reserve League game for the Goats in October) and a goalkeeper whose identity the club is shielding until after Tuesday's MLS Supplemental Draft.
Five Chivas USA Academy players are training with the first team, and they are options for Home Grown Player contracts. U.S. under-17 national team standout Esteban Rodriguez (Palmdale/Bell Gardens HS), a midfielder, is the most prominent. The others are midfielders Marco Delgado (Glendora/Glendora HS) and Eric Gonzalez (Corona/Santiago HS), goalkeeper Jake McGuire (Chino/Damien HS) and forward Ben Spencer.
MISSING IN ACTION: Brazilian defender David Junior Lopes and all three incoming South Americans -- Valencia and Ecuadoran midfielders Oswaldo Minda and Miller Bolaños -- aren't expected to join preparations until next week at the earliest. All are awaiting visas.
Midfielder Blair Gavin has been given a personal leave of absence, and defenders Heath Pearce and Jorge Villafaña are with U.S. national teams -- Villafaña the U-23s -- until near the end of the month. The Goats have opted not to re-sign midfielder/defender Bryan de la Fuente (Bell/Bell HS), a Home Grown Player signing who made one competitive appearance for the first team in two seasons.
PRESEASON PLAN: A ticketed friendly against Club Tijuana highlights the Southern California portion of the Goats' preseason schedule, and the Goats will be facing three MLS clubs in Southern California games and two more in Portland, Ore.
Chivas and Tijuana will meet Feb. 22 at Torero Stadium on the University of San Diego campus, the Goats' first game against the nearest Mexican Primera Division side. The Galaxy and Tijuana drew in a USD friendly last year.
The Goats, who are working primarily on fitness this week at HDC, head Saturday to Oxnard College, where they'll train through a Feb. 27 match against the Ventura County Fusion. They'll face Colorado and Chicago at a Southern California site to be determined, have a tentative date set with the Galaxy, and wrap up preparations at a previously announced four-team event staged by the Portland Timbers.
Here's the preseason schedule (subject to change):
Jan. 27 vs. Ventura County Fusion at Oxnard College
Feb. 3 vs. FC Hasental at Home Depot Center
Feb. 7 vs. Colorado Rapids at site TBA
Feb. 11 vs. Chicago Fire at site TBA
Feb. 16 vs. Galaxy at Home Depot Center
Feb. 22 vs. Club Tijuana (Mexico) at University of San Diego
Feb. 27 vs. AIK (Sweden) at Portland, Ore.
March 1 at Portland Timbers
March 4 vs. San Jose Earthquakes at Portland, Ore.