CARSON -- Jorge Villafaña celebrated his call-up to the U.S. Olympic qualifying roster Monday with 90 solid minutes in a friendly against the L.A. Blues. The Goats' 1-0 defeat at Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium couldn't knock the smile from his face.
“I'm happy to be called up for the qualifiers,” said Villafaña, who as Jorge Flores (he legally adopted his mother's name last fall) made Chivas' roster five years ago after winning a television competition for the chance. “Can't wait to be there with my teammates and the national team. It's going to be a great experience and a good opportunity for all the players who will be there.”
Villafaña was among 19 players on University of Akron coach Caleb Porter's U.S. under-23 national team roster for the March 22-April 2 qualifying tournament, which will determine CONCACAF's two entrants for the men's soccer tournament at this summer's London Games. Home Depot Center will stage one of the first-round groups, but the U.S. will play in Nashville, Tenn., with the all-important semifinals and the title game in Kansas City, Kan.
Galaxy midfielder Michael Stephens, former UCLA midfielder Amoki Okugo (with Philadelphia), former Chivas defender Zarek Valentin (with Montreal) and San Diego's Joe Corona (with Club Tijuana) are part of the group set to convene Tuesday in Nashville. Porter has one player to add before the 20-man tournament roster must be finalized March 20.
Villafaña, who in the last year has been converted from left-sided midfielder to left back, grew immensely the past two seasons and impressed the U.S. staff during a January camp with the U.S. U-23s and last month's stint in Frisco, Texas, before a Feb. 29 victory over Mexico's U-23s. He's the first-choice backup for Ante Jazic with Chivas, and Goats coach Robin Fraser likes how he's developing.
“You get picked for a national team, you're obviously doing something right,” said Fraser, who made 26 international appearances for the full U.S. national team from 1988 to 2001. “I think he's a determined player who wants to play well wherever he's put on the field. An opportunity arose for him [at left back], and he's taken in and run with it. … I just think his confidence and understanding has grown greatly.”
It's about hard work, Villafaña says, and Fraser agrees: “He's a very honest worker, a very standup guy. What you see is what you get, and you're going to get it most every day.”
Said Villafaña: “At this age, you have to work hard. You're growing, you're still learning. The players who are hungry and ready to compete, I think everyone who got called up did that.”
OWOERI'S IMPRESSION: Former Nigerian youth international John Owoeri, who arrived last week on trial, made his game debut for Chivas, and the withdrawn forward impressed with his energy and drive. The finish needs some work.
Owoeri, 25, found himself in or on top of the box on several occasions, and all he managed to win was a free kick in the semicircle -- from a gorgeous through ball by Academy midfielder Eric Gonzalez -- that Ryan Smith chipped at the goalkeeper.
“I think if you get the opportunity, you have to be able to score some,” Fraser said. “Certainly as a trialist, as an attacking trialist, one of the things you want to do is get opportunities. The way you solidify coaches' decision is putting the chances away. I thought he was active, he was dangerous, he got into dangerous spots, but, certainly, we'd like to see him score more.”
Monday's game, a replacement for the postponed MLS Reserve League opener against the Galaxy, and another next weekend against UC Riverside, are designed in part to take final looks at the remaining trialists before deciding who stays.
Owoeri was one of four trialists to see action. Scott Gordon and Matt Dallman were on the right side of the backline, and Mario Ledesma took over when Dallman sustained an apparent hamstring injury not quite a half-hour in. That injury, Fraser acknowledged, “may factor into a decision, but you're still looking into long-term investment in a player.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Both sides defended well, and although Chivas had more of the ball, more shots and more dangerous opportunities, it rarely tested the Blues' goalkeepers. Goats keeper Tim Melia had to make one big save -- on former Galaxy winger Israel Sesay in the 53rd minutes -- and could do nothing on Matt Fondy's header, from Sesay's cross after a Ricardo Balderas chip, for the goal in the 76th minute.
Fondy also scored against the Galaxy, in the 7-2 loss to the MLS club in early February.
“It feels good,” he said. “I just try to get in when Coach calls my name, work hard and try to change the game a little bit. Playing against MLS teams, and the title of MLS, helps prepare us for playing against USL teams. Not that the level's much different, but just mentally, I think it will help.”
Fraser rued the turnover near midfield that led to the sequence.
“We see that so many times where at times we play well and at times we created our own problems,” he said. “Certainly as a group, we're looking to move past that.”
WORTH NOTING: Chivas, which gave up a stoppage-time goal Sunday to lose to Houston, 1-0, takes on Vancouver in a Major League Soccer match Saturday night at Home Depot Center. … The Blues, who open their second USL Pro season April 14 against the Rochester Rhinos at Cal State Fullerton, featured three players with MLS experience: Sesay, former Chivas USA defender Carlos Borja and former New York Red Bulls midfielder Irving Garcia.
Home Depot Center Track and Field Stadium (Carson)
Chivas USA 0, L.A. Blues 1
LA -- Matt Fondy (Israel Sesay, Ricardo Balderas) 76
Chivas USA: Tim Melia; Matt Dallman (Mario Ledesma, 29), Scott Gordon, David Junior Lopes, Jorge Villafaña; Marco Delgado (Eric Gonzalez, 80), Alejandro Moreno; Ryan Smith, Cesar Romero (John Owoeri, 46), Miller Bolaños, Casey Townsend.
L.A. Blues: Jose Miranda (Dominik Jakubek, 64), Bryan Burke (Matheau Hall, 46), Ebrima Jatta, Carlos Borja (Ladislas Bushiri, 70), Cho Suhyung (Jimmy Turner, 66), Park Cheunyong (Luis Gonzalez, 46), Erlys Garcia (Mike Lopez, 46; Irving Garcia, 85), Chad Bond (Ricardo Balderas, 64), Israel Sesay, Irving Garcia (Omid Shokoufandeh, 64), Allan Russell (Matt Fondy, 66).
Yellow cards: Bond 13, Moreno 15, Lopez 62, 85. Red card: Lopez 85.
Referee: Daniel Radford. Att.: c. 40.