The L.A. Blues, set to play next year in the USL Pro league -- the third tier of American pro soccer -- were formally introduced Tuesday morning at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium, which will serve as the club's primary home field next year.
Here's what we've learned:
The Blues will sit atop a club pyramid that includes two-time USL W-League champion Pali Blues' women's team, with plans to open a youth academy early next year with two boys teams -- either U14 and U16 or U16 and U18. The operating budget for next season is $800,000, but club president Ali Mansouri says it could go higher.
Head coach Charlie Naimo (GM of defunct Women's Professional Soccer club L.A. Sol, which the Blues' backers owned a piece of) will continue as manager of the Pali Blues, although an associate coach will do much of the on-field work. His associate head coach with the Blues is former Azusa Pacific University standout Shayon Jalayer, and longtime Blues coach Salvador "Chava" Moran is the assistant director of player personnel. Former Cal Baptist standout David Adams (who played in reserve games for Chivas USA) is the GM.
Mexican goalkeeper Oscar Dautt, former Galaxy midfielder Josh Tudela and attacking midfielder Cesar Rivera, a veteran of Blues amateur teams with experience in Mexico's lower divisions, are the club's first three players. The Blues are expecting to sign Gareth Evans, an All-USL2 central defender last season with Real Maryland who is playing on loan to England minor-league side Chester FC. There's a Blues-bred striker on trial with Mexico City's Cruz Azul -- Mansouri would not divulge his name -- the club will sign if the Cementeros decline to do so.
Dautt, who was a starter for most of 15 seasons (with Monterrey, Puebla, Toros Neza and UANL Tigres) in Mexico's Primera Division, retired after the 2009 Apertura campaign with Mexican Liga de Ascenso side Lobos BUAP and moved his family to Phoenix, where he has several business interests. He has known Mansouri for several years and suited up for the Blues' amateur team on occasion. His goal, Naimo says, is to "play this year and get one more big contract someplace else."
Rivera (El Monte/Garey HS) was an All-American at Mt. San Antonio College. He played for Union de Cortidores in Leon and for Necaxa's second team in 2006 and 2007. "His technical speed and ability to do things under pressure was really impressive," Naimo said.
Tudela has not been with a club since the Galaxy released him in June 2009. He says he was offered a three-year contract by Romanian power Steaua Bucharest but turned it down because "Romania just wasn't for me." Poland's Cracovia scouted him but did not bring him in on trial. Naimo says his role with the Blues will be moving "all over the fiekld, keep the ball moving and develop a rhythm in our game."
There is a pool of about 50 players that are called in to train with the team, and all of them are potential signings, Naimo said. There will be a player combine Jan. 22-23 at Riverside Community College's Norco campus. And, Naimo says: "We know guys will come out of the Galaxy and Chivas camps who don't make it who are very good players that are going to need a place to play, and they're probably going to want to stay local if they can."
The USL Pro schedule has not yet been determined, but the Blues are slated to play in the league's International Division with three teams from Puerto Rico (Sevilla Puerto Rico, affiliated with the Spanish club; River Plate Puerto Rico, affiliated with the Argentine club; and Puerto Rico United) and another from Antigua & Barbuda (Barracuda FC). Mansouri said several Western teams expected to join the league, including Hollywood United FC, decided not make the move, leaving the Blues as the sole West Coast team in the now-15-team league.
The Blues are planning to play seven games at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium, with other home games spread around the Southland -- with particular attention on points east. A doubleheader with the Pali Blues is planned and the club is looking into a tripleheader with Pali and USL Premier Development League club Southern California Seahorses.
Mansouri, who was involved in failed attempts to bring an MLS club to Cleveland and Las Vegas, has no qualms about bringing a third professional men's club to the region, even if the other two -- the Galaxy and Chivas USA -- play at a higher level. "L.A. is a very big city, and we're not in the same market as Chivas or the Galaxy. Well, maybe Chivas a little bit, because we are going to market [toward the Hispanic audience]. ... I don't think [Chivas is] as fully committed to the Spanish community that we will be, trying to bring the local players up. ... I think our plans and their plans are not going to be the same."
The club hopes to draw 2,000 to 3,000 per game in 2011. "If we get to 5,000 or 6,000," Mansouri said, "I will be very happy."