Chivas USA opened its first MLS Reserve League slate since 2008 with a late goal Sunday afternoon for a 1-1 draw at Vancouver, a result that means practically nothing to the club in a game with importance that can't be underestimated.
It was first of 10 games for the Goats in a competition of sorts for MLS players deprived of first-team action whether because of injury, form or pecking order, but the Reserve League's larger role is as part of a maturing policy on player development.
It is why rosters have been lengthened to 30 players -- the last six in developmental slots -- and has generated promises that the problems of the previous Reserve League, which ran from 2005 through 2008, will not be repeated this time.
“It means a lot of things,” said Curt Onalfo, the Galaxy assistant coach who will lead L.A.'s reserve side into its league opener next weekend against Portland at Home Depot Center. “It's an opportunity to develop some younger players, to keep guys in form that haven't been getting regular minutes, to help guys back from injury get back in form.
“It's the next step in the right direction, something we look certainly to take very seriously.”
WINNING CULTURE: Teams will be able to use players from its youth academy -- Chivas had had three in its lineup Sunday -- and approved trialists, enabling coaching staffs to observe players in real competition. Standings will be kept, in three self-contained geographic divisions, but no playoffs are planned. Winning does matter.
“Winning is the kind of thing that you want to make it part of your culture, so winning is certainly always the goal,” Chivas head coach Robin Fraser said last week. “But simultaneously, you have a lot of little goals within that that you're trying to achieve.”
Fraser accomplished several against Vancouver. He was able to get goalkeeper Zach Thornton and central defender Michael Umaña, depose starters from last year, some action; bring Mariano Trujillo back from a hamstring injury; give several youngsters, including rising playmaker Gerson Mayen and teen prospect Bryan de la Fuente, extended action; reward a couple of players from the U-18 side, and take a look at a former MLS midfielder who's seeking work.
Former Cal forward Chris Cortez, a Mission Viejo product who has been on trial with the Goats since preseason, scored in the 87th minute from Francisco Mendoza's feed to pull the Goats even. Omar Salgado, the top pick in January's draft, scored for the Whitecaps (0-1-1) in the 37th minute.
The first time around, the Reserve League had its successes and failures. Clubs that took it seriously, such as Colorado and Real Salt Lake, used it to produce players for their first teams. Chivas midfielder Nick LaBrocca first got his chance with Colorado's reserves.
Chris Wondolowski, MLS's scoring champion last year, emerged from San Jose's and Houston's reserve teams. The Galaxy provided experience for Herculez Gomez and Robbie Findley, who played in last year's World Cup.
There also were too many instances of teams bringing in guest players, sometimes from the front office -- then-GM Alexi Lalas suited up for the Galaxy on occasion -- and sometimes guys more or less off the street -- to fill out rosters in games neither team wanted to play. Some matches were repeatedly postponed, then canceled.
EXTRA GAMES: Teams are expected to supplement their Reserve League schedule with games against college teams, pro sides from USL Pro or NASL, and local amateur and semipro clubs.
With so many first-team games, and expecting even young players to see first-team time this summer, the Galaxy plans to schedule only a handful of reserve-team games to supplement the official schedule. They've played one already, beating UCLA, 2-0, almost two weeks ago.
Chivas, which will be led by assistant coach Carlos Llamosa, will be more proactive. Its scheduled Reserve League opener, against Seattle, was postponed, so it started off with a 2-0 win a week ago over L.A. Blues. The Goats play next weekend at San Jose and play their first home May 3 against the Galaxy.
WORTH NOTING: Midfielder Michael Lahoud was diagnosed with a mild concussion following a collision with LaBrocca in Saturday night's MLS match at Vancouver, which almost certainly will knock him out of next week's game in San Jose. … Former UC Irvine midfielder Irving Garcia, who was cut by the New York Red Bulls in preseason, joined Chivas for the trip north and played the final 10 minutes of the reserve game. … U-18 academy players Ian Hines-Ike and Eriq Zavaleta started for the Goats, and Chris Rodriguez came off the bench.
Empire Stadium (Vancouver)
Vancouver Whitecaps 1, Chivas USA 1
V -- Omar Salgado (Alexandre Morfaw) 37
C -- Chris Cortez (Francisco Mendoza) 87
Vancouver Whitecaps: Joe Cannon; Nelson Castillo (Paris Gee, 81), Bilal Duckett, Mouloud Akloul, La'Vere Corbin-Ong; Cornelius Stewart, Philippe Davies, Alexandre Morfaw, Nizar Khalfan; Omar Salgado, Long Tan.
Chivas USA: Zach Thornton (Sergio Arias, 46); Eriq Zavaleta, Michael Umaña, Zarek Valentin (Artur Aghasyan, 69), Bryan de la Fuente (Chris Rodriguez, 69); Ian Hines-Ike, Mariano Trujillo (Irving Garcia, 81), Gerson Mayen, Francisco Mendoza; Victor Estupiñan, Chris Cortez.
Yellow cards: Davies 56. Referee: Alain Ruch.