The guy hammering balls to the upper-V in Chivas USA's postgame training session Friday afternoon looked vaguely familiar, but putting a name with a face wasn't so simple. Good thing Goats coach Robin Fraser was around.
"You joking?" Fraser said when asked the identity of the club's newest trialist. "None of you [media] guys know? ... Uh, helluva goal scorer in this league 12 years ago."
Ah. Trinidadian striker Stern John, probably the finest forward to play in Major League Soccer's first half-decade, when he netted 44 goals over the 1998 and 1999 seasons for the Columbus Crew. John, now 34, took off for England after the '99 campaign and has suited up for nine clubs there, mostly below the Premier League, and scoring at a decent rate in stints with Nottingham Forest, Birmingham City, Coventry City and Southampton.
John, who played last season for Crystal Palace and on loan for Ipswich Town, is coming off a knee injury and not yet ready for game action, but there was no questioning the power and accuracy of his shot.
"He was really looking for an opportunity to get in with a club," Fraser said. "As you can tell, he doesn't look like he's necessarily quite ready, but when a guy who's scored goals in places he has [comes along], you take a look at him."
John, who as a young MLS player impressed with his quickness, power and knack in front of the net, was just fantastic in 1998, scoring an MLS-best 26 goals. He then tied for the league lead with 18 in 1999.
"One of [MLS's best]. Absolutely one of them," said Fraser, who was a center back for the Galaxy when John was in the league. "I know I had my battles with him, and it was funny: Carlos [Llamosa, a Chivas USA assistant coach and former MLS defender] said the same thing, and then Jimmy [Conrad] afterwards said the same thing. We've all had to deal with him for sure."
Also new in camp is Argentine midfielder Marcos Mondaini, 26, who came out of Boca Juniors' academy and has played, on loan from the Buenos Aires giant, for Ecuadoran clubs Emelec and Barcelona, for Nacional in Uruguay and most recently for Colombia's Atletico Nacional. He played the final 29 minutes on the right flank in Friday's 0-0 draw with D.C. United at Home Depot Center.
"He's just a player I've kind of watched for a while," Fraser said. "Quick, crafty ... definitely an interesting player who's done pretty well in a couple different countries. We're just going to see where it goes and see how it is and see how he fits into the group and how he does."
A club official said Friday night that Mondaini likely will be signed in the next few days.
John's and Mondaini's arrivals make five trialists in camp -- defender Jimmy Asprilla and midfielders Guillermo Torres and Artur Aghasyan are the others -- plus University of Indiana-bound defender Eriq Zavaleta, a U.S. under-20 national-teamer, assistant coach Greg Vanney's nephew and a Chivas USA Academy player who trained with the first team in Arizona.
Asprilla, a Colombian right back, played in central defense in the second half Friday, teaming with Conrad and then Andrew Boyens. It was his fourth appearance in preseason matches.
"Decision will have to be made pretty soon on him," Fraser said. "He's done pretty well. It will come down to a couple things: foreign spot, roster spots -- in terms of positionally. So that decision will be made pretty soon. I think he's done pretty well."
Chivas has 29 players on its roster, including Ghanaian left/center back Seth Owusu, and is likely to carry 28. There ought to be enough foreign-player slots if Chivas wants to use one on Asprilla.
Torres, brother of U.S. national-teamer Jose Francisco Torres, hasn't had much opportunity to show.
"Poor kid. He's been hurt half the time he's been with us," Fraser said. "Certainly, he's shown very brightly at certain moments. He's a young player, not someone we would expect to make an impact for us right away, but certainly a player we have some interest in. I would love to see him get healthy."
Aghasyan, cousin of former MLS forward Yura Movsisyan (Pasadena/Pasadena HS and Pasadena City College) joined camp earlier this week.
SCORELESS: Rookie defender Zarek Valentin went 90 minutes Friday, the first Chivas USA player to do so this preseason, and backup goalkeeper Dan Kennedy (Yorba Linda/El Dorado HS and UC Santa Barbara) made his first game appearance since he suffered a torn long head tendon of his left biceps Aug. 7, playing the final 29 minutes in relief of starter Zach Thornton. That was pretty much the extent of highlights for the Goats, who were outfought and outplayed most of the way in a tedious clash with few real scoring chances.
Fraser was so distraught afterward that he proclaimed dissatisfaction with where Chivas stands 22 days before its MLS opener.
"Based on today, I'm not really happy at all," he said. "But having said that, I've been really happy with our progress up to today. ... We weren't as good as we needed to be in pretty much every aspect of the game today, which is extremely unusual because they've been, I think, steadily progressing and getting better and improving really in every aspect of the game. So today for me was just, hopefully, an aberration.
"They've given everything we've asked of them. They've worked so hard, and I think for them it's as much disappointment as it is for me. It's not where they want to be right now. It's obviously not where I want them to be right now."
Kennedy made one fine save, going to the ground in the 67th to stop a Josh Wolff shot.
"It's great, isn't it?" Fraser said. "He's doing very well. He's been nursing some injuries and trying to get better and coming along, and over the last probably week to 10 days, we've seen more and more of him, and he's done well."
WHO WAS WHERE?: Simon Elliott wore a brace on his right knee but made his first game appearance since he was hurt Feb 7. against San Jose. He was again in the holding midfielder role in the 4-1-4-1 alignment, with Michael Lahoud taking over for the second half. The guess here is that they'll split the starting role. ... Fraser's starting backline (from right, Valentin, Conrad, Michael Umaña, Heath Pearce) might be his best option. We'll have a better idea once Owusu arrives. He's awaiting his visa, and the club hopes he'll be in camp sometime next week. ... Alan Gordon and Mariano Trujillo were in the middle of the midfield 4, with Alejandro Moreno in front of them. The attack will need better support from the wings: Neither Tristan Bowen nor fellow starter Francisco Mendoza (nor subs Jesus Padilla and Mondaini) offered much offensively.
GAVIN'S RETURN?: No update on Blair Gavin's hamstring injury, and although Fraser says it "shouldn't be a long-term thing," he acknowledges that he isn't sure the second-year midfielder will be ready for the March 21 opener against Sporting Kansas City at HDC.
"I don't know. I hope so. To be honest, I hope so," Fraser said. "With muscles, it's nothing definitive. If it's a sprain, it's a little bit different story. But with muscle injuries, I think it's harder to be a little bit more exact."
FAMILY AFFAIR: Charlie Davies, who has joined D.C. United on loan from French club Sochaux in an effort to resurrect his career 16 months after he was badly hurt in a deadly car accident, played the first half in his most meaningful encounter since the accident.
Why so meaningful? His family, which lives in San Diego, drove up to catch the match, and got an earful from his father, Kofi, a former Gambian pro, after the game.
"They were really excited and anxious to see me play," Davies said. "My dad's probably the toughest critic. And he gave me a good vote of confidence today."
Davies also caught up with U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley, one of three U.S. coaches (along with Zak Abdel and Jesse Marsch) who watched at HDC's Field 4.
"Coach Bradley had a big influence on my move here," Davies said. "I called him before I made the decvision to come to MLS, and he told me it's a no-brainer, because at this point in my ongoing process to get back to the player I used to be, he says I need matches, and not only 15, 20 minutes, I need 90-minute matches, and that's the only way I'll get back to full fitness.
"Once I heard that, that's all I needed to hear to make that move, and now hes going to keep an eye on me, so it's good to know he's right there and he's rooting me on as well."
WORTH NOTING: Third-round draft choice Jon Okafor, a midfielder/defender from Brown University, did not travel to Arizona with the club and has left camp. Defender Carlos Borja (Anaheim/Loara HS) is not training with the team and could be released. ... Three reasonable opportunities for the Goats: An Elliott through ball for Trujillo just before halftime rolled a little too fast and far; D.C. goalkeeper Pat Onstad stuffed Padilla one-on-one in the 55th minute; and, best of all, Gerson Mayen's chip from the left side of the box in the 69th sailed just past the top-right corner. ... Yorba Linda's Chris Pontius (Servite HS/UC Santa Barbara) played up front for D.C. in the second half. ... Chivas has added to its schedule a scrimmage Tuesday against Canada's under-23 national team at HDC. ... A lot of Galaxy reps in the crowd: coaches Bruce Arena and Dave Sarachan were on hand, president of business operations Tom Payne (with his brother Kevin, D.C.'s president/CEO), plus forward Adam Cristman, who played for D.C. last season. Former Galaxy GM Alexi Lalas, an analyst for ESPN's soccer coverage, also watched.
LINEUPSZach Thornton (Dan Kennedy, 62); Zarek Valentin, Jimmy Conrad (Andrew Boyens, 70), Michael Umaña (Jimmy Asprilla, 46), Heath Pearce (Jorge Flores, 46); Simon Elliott (Michael Lahoud, 46); Francisco Mendoza (Marcos Mondaini, 62), Alan Gordon (Gerson Mayen, 57), Mariano Trujillo (Chukwudi Chijindu, 70), Tristan Bowen (Jesus Padilla, 46); Alejandro Moreno (Victor Estupiñan, 70).
D.C. United: Pat Onstad (Joe Willis, 71); Jed Zayner (Chris Korb, 71), Dejan Jakovic (Ethan White, 60), Perry Kitchen (Rodrigo Brasesco, 46), Daniel Woolard (Marc Burch, 71); Santino Quaranta (Andy Najar, 71), Clyde Simms (Kurt Morsink, 71), Dax McCarty (Fred, 75), Branko Boskovic (Brandon Barklage, 71); Joseph Ngwenya (Chris Pontius, 46), Charlie Davies (Josh Wolff, 46).
CHIVAS USA 2011 PRESEASON (3-2-1)
Feb. 1 vs. Fresno Fuego (PDL) at Templeton, Calif.: W 2-0 (goals by Gordon, Estupiñan)
Feb. 7 vs. San Jose Earthquakes at HDC: W 1-0 (Gordon)
Feb. 12 vs. Seattle Sounders at Casa Grande, Ariz.: L 0-1
Feb. 15 vs. Real Salt Lake at Casa Grande, Ariz.: L 0-2
Feb. 18 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps at Casa Grande, Ariz.: W 1-0 (Padilla)
Feb. 25 vs. D.C. United at HDC: T 0-0
March 1: vs. Canada U-23 at HDC
March 12: vs. FC Dallas at Frisco, Texas