The fight most anticipated as Chivas USA kicked off preseason preparations last month -- rookie Zarek Valentin vs. veteran Mariano Trujillo, with the job at right back awaiting the winner -- is a battle no more. Neither has won. Nor lost.
Serious defensive depth, in great contrast to last year, has left new coach Robin Fraser a lot of options, and when the Goats trot onto Home Depot Center's field March 19 against Sporting Kansas City, it could be new arrival Heath Pearce or trialist Jimmy Asprilla on the right flank. Or Valentin.
That's some of what Fraser is considering after the Goats' return from Arizona, where they played three scrimmages in a week-long camp considered productive despite injuries that kept two veteran midfielders -- Paulo Nagamura and Simon Elliott -- and top returning scorer Justin Braun out of action.
"I think Arizona was about solidifying some team concepts, and I think in a lot of ways they improved," Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles on Saturday, after the team's return to L.A. "Things they did well prior to Arizona, they did better. Now it's a matter of being consistent at it."
Fraser says he is beginning to get a feel for a starting XI, that he and his staff are "starting to narrow things down, but nothing is etched in stone." He isn't sure how Valentin or Trujillo (or Pearce and Asprilla) fit in, but he's not unhappy with what each brings to the team.
Valentin, taken with the fourth overall pick in last month's draft, has played on the right and at center back during camp. Pearce, acquired Tuesday in a trade from FC Dallas, can play at right back or left back -- or in midfield. Asprilla is a veteran right back, with more than a decade of experience in his native Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.
"Everything is up for grabs at the moment," Fraser said of Valentin. "He's a good young player who can play outside and inside, so [starting in the middle] is a possibility, sure."
Pearce was among the league's elite right backs last season, and he played there for the first half-hour of Friday's 1-0 victory over Vancouver in Casa Grande, Ariz. "He showed moments of real composure," Fraser said. "I think it's also a little early for him, coming off his [hamstring] injury, and he's not nearly as good as he's going to be, but I still think we saw what makes him very valuable."
Asprilla, who joined Chivas' camp in Arizona, could win a roster spot.
"He carries himself with the savvy of a veteran," Fraser said, "and at this point for us it's a matter of is he going to fit into our idea of what we might need."
Trujillo also is in the running for a starting job, just not on the backline. He played in midfield in two of the Arizona games -- he was on the left side Friday -- and his skill set and attacking instincts are a better fit there than at right back.
"At this point, that's where he's playing mostly for us," Fraser said. "He's a very intelligent player, good feet and ideas, plays with a lot of composure. At the moment, he fits more into the midfield mix."
INJURY UPDATE: Three potential starting midfielders are sidelined. Fraser said Blair Gavin, who has been the primary midfield creator in the preseason games, hurt a hamstring in Friday's win over Vancouver in Arizona but that "we don't think it's anything serious. ... The impression I got is that it's probably not as bad as it could have been." Gavin's rookie season was cut short last year by a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the final two months.
Nagamura, who didn't play in the Arizona games after tweaking a calf injury, will be out for another couple of weeks, Fraser said. And Elliott also didn't play in the Arizona games after suffering a minor knee sprain almost two weeks ago against San Jose. Braun, with an ankle injury, hopes to be practicing fully in the next week or so.
Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who hasn't played since tearing a biceps last summer, got some training in in Arizona, "and he looked pretty good to me," Fraser said.
LOAN POSSIBILITY: Fraser acknowledged that Chivas will consider loan deals for midfielders Bryan de la Fuente, 18, and Cesar Zamora, 19 -- "young players we want to see develop [and] the time is probably right to to go out and get some games" -- but he's not certain about defender Carlos Borja, 23, and whether he might go elsewhere to get some on-field time this season.
WORTH NOTING: Fraser said he'd "like to look at" Asprilla and fellow trialist Guillermo Torres, a midfielder and U.S. national-teamer Jose Francisco Torres' brother, for another week before making a decision on them. Torres was at less than full strength, with a minor knee injury, during part of the Arizona camp. ... Trialists Chris Cortez, a forward, and Akira Fitzgerald, a goalkeeper, have left camp. ... Fitzgerald's departure, following Kevin Guppy's before the Arizona trek, confirms that the three netminders on the roster -- starter Zach Thornton, backup Kennedy and Mexican newcomer Sergio Arias (whose loan deal from Guadalajara has not yet been officially announced) -- will be the three keepers Chivas takes into the season, barring injuries. Absolutely nothing of a surprise there. ... Chivas returns to training Tuesday at Home Depot Center and face D.C. United in a scrimmage Friday.