A Few Words With Cal State Dominguez Hills Goalkeeper Miguel Benitez

i-9c69829594ffa2c9efa7da4a0c85d318-WEB_benitez_mug.jpgWhen Cal State Dominguez Hills goalkeeper Derby Carillo left for Division 1 St. John’s the job was up for grabs this year.

Daily Breeze 2004 Player of the Year Miguel Benitez of Gardena transferred over from Loyola Marymount where the former Bishop Montgomery High star played five games in three seasons and CSUDH never missed a beat. Now Cal State Dominguez Hills leaves Tuesday for Tampa, Fla., and a place in the Division II final four.

The Toros will host a pep rally on campus at 11:30 a.m. Monday ahead of their Friday game against Tampa.

Benitez chatted via e-mail:

Question: You came over from Loyola Marymount in search of playing time – and you got it. How has the experience of playing with the Toros been compared to the Lions?
Answer: It has been great. The time I spent with the Lions was a good learning experience for me, but I always lacked that game experience that I needed in order to get better and bring my game up. There was always something that kept me out of the line up at LMU, whether it was the coaches, injuries, or whatever. I needed the opportunity to get out on the pitch and get better. The Toros have given me just that. I feel that all the game experience that I have received here with the Toros has made me a much better goalkeeper, and honestly, I feel that I’m at the best I have ever been in my college career.

Goals actually haunt me now, whether it’s in games or even at practice because I feel that I have gotten to a level now where I can make a save on every shot.

Q: Coach Flanagan called you a “difference maker” in your last game over Midwestern State where you made six saves. How was the game from your perspective? How does that game stack up from both a personal and team point of view with others you have played?
A: The Midwestern game was an incredible game. They had the best two central midfielders that I have seen all year, they were dangerous on the ball and moved it around well. The first half, I feel that we struggled a bit to find a rhythm offensively, but as soon as the second half came, we found it and together with the great support we got off the bench from Scott Mariano and Jordan Rover, we found the back of the net. The last 10 minutes though were honestly the longest 10 minutes I have ever played through.

Midwestern State was playing for their season so they were doing their best to outwork us and dump in as many balls as they could to try and get something. I knew that I was going to have to really stay on my toes mentally and physically, to both organize the team and make saves to keep us in it. But in the end, we really held it together and even though we gave up a goal in the last five minutes, I feel we all put a really great effort in to hold on to the win.

Q: You said in the CSUDH media guide that your goal was to win a national championship. You are now one game away from playing for the national title. Are you surprised that you came over from LMU and are promptly in the Final Four?
A: When I first came to Dominguez Hills last spring to talk to Joe Flanagan about becoming a Toro, I told him that I was tired of losing. I came here to win games. So to me it’s no surprise to me that we’re in the Final Four. At the beginning of the year when we first got together as a team for a pre-game dinner all the players sat together and established what our goals as a team were. We made it clear that we are here to win a championship, and now we’re only two games away, we are where we are suppose to be.

Q: Do you know much about your opponents on Friday? Who are their main threats? What are you going to have to watch closely for?
A: We haven’t really discussed them much as team yet in practice. Usually when we come up against a team we haven’t seen or played before, we focus on the one thing we can control, us. If we go and play our game I feel we’ll be fine. One thing I am worried about is playing Tampa at Tampa. It’s always tough playing on the road but in this case I feel it will be especially hard because of the importance of this game, it’s a national semifinal and Tampa is playing at home.

Q: Can the team win a national title? What’s the mood of the team going into the weekend?
Answer: I definitely feel we can win a national title. Ever since our first game in playoffs, we started counting down the games to the title. Now, there are only two games left until we have that title. All we have to do as a team is get out there and play the way we know how, outwork our opponents, and most importantly finish our chances. Personally, I’m going to have to stay focused throughout both games so that I can come up big when I have to. I’ve had a couple of big saves this year in big games so I just have to keep doing what I have been doing and yell and scream to organize the team and be there to make those big saves when I have to. There’s a huge buzz going around in our team right now, we all know what’s at stake, but we’re confident that we can go to Tampa and bring back an NCAA national title to Dominguez Hills.

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Soccer Sunday Beckham in New Zealand Update

Well, it’s Sunday in New Zealand. And Beckham and the Galaxy aren’t there yet (they leave Monday – and get there Wednesday).

With the Galaxy taking former UCLA player Leonard Griffin (among others) on the club’s one-game trip to New Zealand Monday, game organizers down under have countered with former Dutch international Edgar Davids.

Granted, he hasn’t played in months, but then neither has the Galaxy.

Meanwhile, after two trips to New Zealand in two years perhaps fans down there have a little of the Beckham blahs.

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Black Friday Football: the Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra Celebrity Soccer Challenge.

You know the bloom is off the Beckham rose when his Galaxy replica jersey is on sale at a deep discount this holiday season.

I notice these things because I’d guess more than half of my casual wear – clothes I don’t wear to work – is soccer-related. (For the record, I do not own a Beckham shirt, although my wife does). That includes free T-shirts the Galaxy and Chivas USA give away at games, promotional items that show up unannounced in my mailbox at work and the like.

i-b5c7b6858263353ed59d406a48e718e0-smallHDC_NAG.JPGIn October for my birthday my geeky GIS-infatuated wife thought it appropriate to present me with a massive 3 1/2 foot X 2 1/2 foot satellite shot of all 125-acres of Home Depot Center. It’s a pretty stadium to be sure, but who knew I would have a massive photo of suburban Carson on our living room wall.

So I know a thing or two about soccer-related gifts and merchandise.

I thought I’d offer a little 100 Percent Soccer Holiday gift guide on an irregular basis (read: whenever I find time) through Dec. 24 if only to give me motivation to actually look at the stack of review copies of soccer DVDs and books that have accumulated on my coffee table throughout the year.

First up, aptly enough for the Thanksgiving weekend, are tickets for a second annual charity event at Home Depot Center Jan. 17: the Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra Celebrity Soccer Challenge.

Attendees for the event have yet to be announced, but last year the charity soccer game included the likes of Landon Donovan, Chris Albright, Brad Guzan, Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones, Kyle Martino, Kristine Lilly, Abby Wambach, Julie Foudy, and Brandi Chastain.

Tickets, priced at $20, went on sale last week.

More about the charitable cause that will benefit from the game is here.

Check out the highlights of last year’s event:

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Turkeyday Updates, Flameouts & Tryouts from Chivas USA, Simi Valley, Brand Beckham & More

First, the flameout:

From the press releases pile-up department:
*Simi Valley-based Los Angeles Futbol Club has become the third youth team in the U.S. to partner with EPL team Chelsea.

What does that mean?

From the (edited) press release:

LAFC will now be LAFC Chelsea and host Chelsea tournaments, training sessions and a player and coach exchange program. As a result of the partnership, LAFC Chelsea will offer more scholarships for young athletes with financial hardship. LAFC provides kids across Southern California and throughout the country the opportunity to play competitive soccer regardless of ability to pay club membership costs.

Chelsea FC Chief Executive Peter Kenyon said: “Our youth super club network is designed to support soccer development in the US. LAFC shares the same goal and has demonstrated rapid growth of their club and talent.

“Since its inception, LAFC has provided young athletes the opportunity to play competitive soccer through financial support. With our new partnership, we hope that the association with Chelsea can attract and leverage additional funding scholarships, helping to further develop the academy and club.

“Providing elite training for young talent is critical to the long-term development of the sport in America.”

The club will make its debut under the new LAFC Chelsea nameplate Saturday when its Under-16 and Under-18 teams take on the U.S. Youth National Teams.

LAFC President Don Sheppard said: “LAFC was created to provide an affordable option for skilled players to play top-tier club soccer. We’ve been able to reach out to economically disadvantaged communities to recruit some of the best talent in the US.

“For a world-renowned club like Chelsea to recognize our mission and be a part of it shows the caliber and quality of their organization and their commitment to develop US soccer.

“We are a young program and a partnership like this allows us to reach the next level on skill development, player participation and overall club exposure. We have a top-tier coaching staff and now with Chelsea our players will receive an international view of the game – something they may not have received otherwise.”

LAFC includes over 50 boys and girls teams with 800 players from ages eight to eighteen. Throughout the last year, the academy has placed seven players on US national team rosters.

LAFC is just three years old. Excellent article on the club by Sports Illustrated here.

The details on Saturday’s event here.

*Staying in Simi Valley for the moment, Chivas USA will host tryouts there Dec. 12 for its pro and youth teams.

*The Ventura County Fusion also has tryouts Dec. 13-14.

*And for those already pining for summer, registration for the Southern California Beach Soccer Championships in May in Oceanside is open.

By the way, if you’re home for the holidays and need a soccer jolt, check out the Women’s Under-20 World Cup: at 1 p.m. it’s Norway-Brazil on ESPNU and Mexico-North Korea at 2 p.m. on Galavision.

The U.S.lost Wednesday 2-0 to China, BTW, although the team had already qualified for the quarterfinals. Next is England on Sunday.

Finally, here’s your gratuitous David Beckham mention of the day.

And here’s a gratuitous new David Beckham commercial (he doesn’t speak, much less rap and that’s really something to be thankful for.) Happy Thanksgiving.

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Rant: End of the All-Quote Team

It’s safe to say many Galaxy fans won’t be sorry to see Pete Vagenas – often derided as “Pass-back Pete” – leave for Seattle.

But journalists will.


Because Vagenas was coherent, articulate and often funny. Not many athletes are. And that’s journalistic gold when you’re on a deadline.

He’s definitely a member of my all-quote team.

The departure of Vagenas breaks the last tie with the Sigi Schmid era of players who were smart, chatty and downright fun to talk to.

Chris Albright? Gone. Kevin Hartman? Ditto. Tyrone Marshall. Done.

Those were players journalists flocked around when they held court in front of their locker after a game. They had something to say and a way of saying it.

Edson Buddle is a nice guy, but he is terminally shy and downplays his achievements. Nobody wants another “I just stuck my leg out and got lucky” quote.

Landon Donovan (apparently all but gone from these parts) is valued by the press precisely for his openness. He takes his sweet time emerging to talk after a game (that’s fine, he’s doing the things he needs to do as a top class athlete such as dipping in a whirlpool and getting a massage), but when he does he’ll talk until you have no more questions.

I can’t count the times an interview has ended with a flock of journalists looking at each other going “got anything else?”

So Pete’s gone. Seattle-area journalists don’t know how good they have it.

Message to Chris Klein: do not leave.

Or we’ll have no-one to talk to.

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Galaxy Waive Pires, Franchino and Barlow; Chivas USA Waives Zotinca

Brazilian Alvaro Pires, veteran Joey Franchino and youngster Jeremy Barlow were waived by the Galaxy today.

Franchino started 10 games for the Galaxy this season, but did not appear to be part of Coach Bruce Arena’s plans; Pires, another hold-over from the Lalas-Gullit era, had also fallen out of favor under Arena.

They will be available for other clubs to pick up in the waiver draft later today.

The Galaxy also announced their travel roster for the trip to New Zealand. It includes UCLA product Leonard Griffin, who was originally drafted by the Chicago Fire and played this year with the USL Portland Timbers.

Landon Donovan, eyeing a move to Germany, will not make the trip.

Neither will goalkeeper Steve Cronin (scheduled to receive surgery to remove a plate in his right hand after injuring it in August), Charles Alamo, Edson Buddle, Ante Jazic, Vardan Adzemian, Eduardo Dominguez and Israel Sesay .

The travel roster: goalkeepers Josh Saunders and Josh Wicks; defenders Sean Franklin, Michael Gavin, Leonard Griffin, Chris Klein, Mike Randolph, Troy Roberts and Julian Valentin; midfielders Ely Allen, David Beckham, Eddie Lewis, Brandon McDonald, Mike Muoz and Josh Tudela; forwards Tristan Bowen, Alan Gordon, Bryan Jordan and Jovan Kirovski.

The Galaxy plays against an all-star squad Dec. 6 in a 10:30 p.m. game the club announced today Fox Soccer Channel will show live.

Updated: Chivas USA announced today they have waived defender Alex Zotinca.

He had played in just four games this after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery following a preseason injury. Chivas USA signed Zotinca from the Kansas City wizards in february 2007.

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Galaxy Veteran Vagenas Taken by Seattle in Expansion Draft

i-7f68f968b2443ac8ce7006a1225bc3c6-petev,jpg.jpgThe longest-tenured member of the Galaxy, UCLA product Pete Vagenas, was picked today by Seattle in the Expansion Draft.

Vagenas, 30, joined the Galaxy in 2000 and played more than 180 games for the club. His best season came in 2005 when he captained the club to the MLS Cup-U.S. Open Cup double, appearing in 29 of the club’s 32 games that season and scoring a career-high five goals.

But he struggled with injury problems this year – he was not scheduled to go on the club’s trip to New Zealand that begins Monday – and with a $138,0000 a year salary, Vagenas’ move will clear cap room for Coach Bruce Arena as he seeks to rebuild the team.

“Pete’s a champion,” said Seattle Technical Director Chris Henderson. “He’s a guy who has been in the battles. … He’s among the best passers of the ball in the league and probably in the history of the league. … He’s a great competitor. I think his veteran leadership is going to be very important to us.”

His move also adds further fuel to the fire that former Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid could be reunited with Vagenas in Seattle. Another indicator: Seattle also chose Brad Evans in today’s draft.

Chivas USA was one of four teams not to lose a player.

The full list of players taken by Seattle:
Nate Jaqua (Houston Dynamo)
Nathan Sturgis (Real Salt Lake)
Jeff Parke (New York Red Bulls)
Jarrod Smith (Toronto FC)
Khano Smith (New England Revolution)
Peter Vagenas (Los Angeles Galaxy)
Tyson Wahl (Kansas City Wizards)
James Riley (New England Revolution)
Stephen King (Chicago Fire)
Brad Evans (Columbus Crew)

Seattle has another chance to add players at 1 p.m. today in a waiver draft.

BTW, Sounders FC selection Nate Jaqua will be available to play for the Dynamo in tonight’s CONCACAF Champions League game.

Also: the Galaxy announced today that Fox Soccer Channel will air live at 10:30 p.m. Dec. 5 their exhibition against the Oceania All-Stars.

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