PHILADELPHIA - The LA Galaxy got a little deeper at center back on Thursday by drafting New Mexico defender Kyle Venter with the 23rd overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.
I spoke to Venter and Galaxy head coach and general manager Bruce Arena for about the defender's Galaxy connections for LAGalaxy.com. In addition, I spoke to both about where the New Mexico defender fits into LA's system.
Check it out below.
CARSON, Calif. -- On Tuesday, the LA Galaxy made a splash adding Brazilian forward Samuel on a year-long loan from Brazilian side Fluminense.
To learn a bit more about Samuel and his background with Fluminense, I spoke to Jack Lang, a noted Brazilian soccer specialist who has written about the nation's soccer culture for many publications including ESPN, Yahoo and Eurosport.
My conversation with Lang is below.
LA Galaxy Insider: How would you describe Samuel as a player? He tallied just 15 goals in 72 games for the club over a two year period.
LANG: He's a number nine who can lead the line alone or combine with a partner. Much was expected of him after he graduated from youth football, but he hasn't yet hit the heights – as his record illustrates. He did well coming into the Fluminense side as a relative unknown in 2012, netting a few goals, but things were trickier for him in 2013. When Brazil striker Fred picked up an injury midway near the start of the Brazilian season, Samuel was thrust into the frontline and expected to perform a similar role. But he never got to grips with the job, scoring just once after May.
Admittedly he wasn't starting week-in, week-out - but that further underlines the point that he didn't manage to make the position his own. Hopefully the move to LA Galaxy will help him rediscover his confidence and form.
LAGI: During the last year, he's been linked with a number of big clubs in Spain from Espanyol to Real Madrid B, do you feel like this interest may have hindered or aided his professional development?
LANG: It probably didn't help. Brazilian youngsters often have their heads turned by European interest early in their careers, so they begin to dream big before even establishing themselves. Some knuckle down but countless others have drifted into mediocrity on a wave of misplaced ambition. I don't know whether Samuel was one of the latter group, but you'd imagine he will have been brought back to earth by his middling form in 2013.
LAGI: The scuttlebutt on Samuel is that he's been described a talented player but one limited speed wise. Is this a fair assessment?
LANG: I would say so. He's certainly got attributes that will help him plunder goals: he has good anticipation, for instance, and is great in the air. He's also a tidy finisher with both feet. But he's certainly not going to win any prizes for pure athletics; he often looks a touch leaden-footed and isn't one to speed past his marker.
LAGI: Fluminense was nearly relegated a year ago after their poor showing, what's the current state of the club at the moment?
LANG: They had a turbulent 2013, to say the least. Champions in 2012 (their second title in three years), they looked to be ushering in a bright new era on the back of funding from medical insurance giant Unimed. They had invested in proven talent (Fred, Thiago Neves, Deco) new training facilities, while coach Abel Braga was making all the right noises about building a dynasty.
But things went awry. Braga was dismissed in July after five consecutive defeats. His replacement, Vanderlei Luxemburgo, also struggled, leading the side to just seven wins in 26 games. Fred's injury didn't help, while their once-solid defence went missing too often.
They were actually relegated in the final week of the season, only to earn a controversial reprieve in the courtroom. It turned out that Portuguesa had fielded an ineligible player in their last game, and the Brazilians sports tribunal saw fit to dock them just enough points to save Flu's skin. They may have retained their top-flight status, but the side Samuel is leaving behind is unlikely to be too popular among neutrals for the foreseeable future.
LAGI: Several Brazilian players are currently flourishing in MLS, what's the perception of the league in Brazil and the U.S. National Team?
LANG: It's still viewed as something of a novelty by some – a league with the financial power to lure players away (like Middle Eastern leagues often do) but not one with any great footballing gravitas. That's clearly a fairly outmoded view, especially as the MLS trumps the Brasileirão in many ways: bigger attendances (in the last few years at least), better organisation, more advanced commercial streams.
CARSON, Calif. – The U.S. National Team has opened their annual January camp at StubHub Center, but as preparations begin for their match against Korea Republic on Feb. 1, more details are emerging of the camp’s unique schedule.
The U.S. will train at StubHub Center for a total of 13 days before departing for Brazil where they will train at the facility of Sao Paulo FC from Jan. 13-25 where they will play a series of closed-door scrimmages against Sao Paulo’s first team. U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is expected to take 23 players to Brazil, but could take more depending on the players’ fitness levels. Any player that does not travel to South America is expected to continue training in Carson prior to the Feb. 1 match.
“We'll try things out there. We want to get to know the people. We want to build relationships, if it's at the hotel, at the training ground. We want to get a feel for how things work there – for the Brazilian lifestyle, in a certain way – and this is a good opportunity,” Klinsmann told reporters on Tuesday. “So we connected it because no other [World Cup] team really has that January camp happening. It's because of the schedule that MLS has gives us that opportunity.”
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi noted on Tuesday that the competition between players for a spot on plane to Brazil “makes it all real” for all players involved in the January camp, a sentiment that was echoed by LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez.
“I don’t know if I’m going to Brazil so I have to keep on working hard and not give Jurgen a reason to say no to me,” said Gonzalez. “I have to keep on working hard and everyone is in the same boat here because no one is penciled in. It’ll help everyone work that much harder and increase everyone’s game.”
Former LA Galaxy Academy player Paul Arriola’s career path could have taken him to MLS, but instead he opted for Liga MX side Club Tijuana, and the one-time LA Academy forward isn’t at all surprised that young players like LA’s Jose Villarreal are heading south of the border.
Villarreal is the latest in a slew of players who have left MLS for Mexico after he joined Cruz Azul last month on a year-long loan. Although Villarreal left LA on a loan, Arriola opted to sign with Tijuana last May after spurning a Homegrown contract from the Galaxy.
Arriola and Xolos will take on the LA Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal on March 12 at StubHub Center before the return leg on March 18 in Tijuana. Although hypothetically, Arriola could have been lining up for LA in the CCL quarterfinals if things had gone differently, he applauds players opting to play in Mexico.
“It’s good for American players who want to take a different route. Sometimes in [the United States] we’re not given the opportunity so there are other options and places to go,” Arriola told LAGalaxy.com. “Luckily for myself, my opportunity came and I was able to take it. Now here I am [with the first team].”
While Villarreal’s status with the Cruz Azul first team remains in question at the moment as he finds his feet in Mexico, Arriola is already in new head coach César Farías’ plans after making the game day roster for the club’s scoreless draw with Atlas on Saturday.
“It was a bit different last season because I went from a wing player to a second striker who sometimes switches out wide,” said Arriola. “It’s been different and I’m getting the opportunity to play so I’m thankful for that."
LA Galaxy product Haji Wright is fresh off his five goal Golden Boot performance helping the U.S. Under-17's win the Nike International Friendlies.
Wright, Christian Pulisic, U-17 head coach Richie Williams, and goalkeeper Kevin Silva reacted to the U.S. performance following the Americans' 4-1 victory over Brazil in this video by U.S. Soccer.
Check it out below.
According to ESPN FC's Jeffrey Carisle, Chivas USA is targeting current LA Galaxy assistant coach Curt Onalfo for their head coaching vacancy.
Carisle cites multiple sources stating that Onalfo is Chivas' first choice for the job should he get a full commitment from the Rojiblancos' organization. The ESPN FC writer also notes, however, that Onalfo would stay with the Galaxy if he is unble to get the Chivas USA gig. In addition to his role as assistant, he's also led the Galaxy reserve league team to back to back West Division titles.
The report comes amid another report in the Miami Herald stating that Kenny Arena is returning to the Galaxy from the head coaching job at Florida International University.
Matt Reis is ready for the latest chapter in his life.
During my conversation with Reis, I asked about his opinion of LA's current goalkeeping situation and the 38-year-old provided a glowing recommendation of the team's goalkeeper corps.
"I’ve seen Jaime Penedo play and I’ve liked him for a long time. I remember watching him in the Gold Cup final when the U.S. played Panama. I think our styles are very similar," said Reis. "The other two goalkeepers Brian Perk and Brian Rowe are both from UCLA and are both going to be exceptional goalkeepers. Perk came from the same [youth] club that I grew up in and went through some minor setbacks last year while Rowe was able to help earn the team get some tough results over the course of the season … They are three guys who have shown that they can compete at this level so it’ll be exciting competition. "
It bares mentioning that Reis did not mention goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini who is expected to depart the club.