Final 16 UEFA Champions League Matchups Announced

I like to keep this blog as Southern California focused as possible, but is there any soccer fan locally not looking forward to the beginning of the knockout rounds of the best club competition in the world?

Thought not. Purists will tell you that this is when the real competition begins anyway.

Today’s draw.

It means Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and Inter Milan’s Jose Mourinho will resume hostilities.

It means Liverpool’s Spanish Coach Rafael Benitez faces former club Real Madrid, who are now coached, of course, by former Tottenham gaffer Juande Ramos (and yes, I just like writing gaffer).

And former Chelsea Manager Claudio Ranieri returns to his old club as Inter Milan coach.

Landon Donovan may also be interested to know Bayern Munich got Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon.

Who drew the short straw? French club Lyon, which faces Barcelona.

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Chivas USA’s Kljestan Named U.S. Soccer Young Athlete of the Year

i-a4a9f98b420e8a0455738b3d32a36813-TS06-Chivas.SV-233.jpgCapping a breakout year, Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan was named U.S. Young Soccer Athlete of the Year Thursday, He scored a team-leading two goals in three games at the Olympics and played an increasingly influential role for Chivas USA directing traffic and sparking offensive assaults from midfield. He also scored the U.S. Soccer Goal of the Year.

More on the other award winners here.

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So You Want to Play in the EPL…

Here’s your chance. USL expansion team Austin Aztex, which is under the same ownership as newly-promoted EPL team Stoke City, will hold open tryouts in Oxnard in January. Be quick, because registration closes Friday.

Aztex Coach Adrian Heath, a former player with Everton and Stoke City, is the coach of the Aztex and explained why the team is coming to Southern California to scout for players:

“From our point of view it’s simpler us going there than trying to get 20-30 players over to Austin. We know it’s a hotbed of talent over there in California, it’s one of the hotbeds of talent in terms of football. We think we can look around and get some good players.

“The owner and myself are both Stoke people and we’re both born there … obviously we’ve got a very, very close relationship with them – and they’ll be coming over to see us in the preseason to play an exhibition game. So if we see a player that’s got the talent and has the mindset of going over to Europe, this would be a real advantage.

If we were to get two or three (players) from the tryouts over there and a similar number from the tryouts in Austin in February, that’s six players for your roster and we’d be very very pleased with it. You don’t really know beforehand so it would be a pleasant surprise to get that sort of number.

We’ve (also) got a relationship now with (Mexican club) Monterrey. If that’s the road (a player) would like to go it would be a good opportunity for them. We’ve got very, very close links with Monterrey. Maybe for Hispanic players if they want to start their career in soccer this would be a perfect opportunity for them and if we felt they were good enough we could let them go down to Monterrey and let them have a look as well.”

Register here.

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Wednesday Wrap: U.S. Women Win, Donovan Transfer Hype & More

In Detroit tonight, it was U.S. 1 China 0. Attendance: 11,933 (in economically depressed Michigan on a freezing night, a far better attendance than at the HDC).

Game story.

Gratuitous list of the week.

Sacha Kljestan’s Olympic goal against Holland was the U.S. Soccer Goal of the Year. (Click on day 3).

And thanks to everyone who participated in the annual Daily Breeze ball drive. The final score was 3,500 – a record.

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Chivas USA’s Mike Matkovich Named U.S. Under-18 Coach

Remember when Chivas USA said, um yesterday, that no changes in the coaching staff were imminent?

Strike that.

Assistant Coach Mike Matkovich has joined the U.S. Men’s Under-18 National Team as head coach.

“Mike Matkovich was a key contributor to our coaching staff this past season. While we are sorry to see him go, we know the U.S. Under-18 head coaching position represents a great opportunity for Mike and we wish him the best of luck,” said Chivas USA Vice President of Soccer Stephen Hamilton. “We will now begin the process of searching for a replacement to be named to Preki’s technical staff in the weeks ahead.”

Matkovich, 46, was named Chivas USA assistant coach Feb. 12, joining from Toronto, where he had served in the same role during that club’s inaugural MLS season.

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Holiday Gift Guide: InterLiga Tickets on Sale

They actually went on sale Friday at Home Depot Center, but I neglected to mention it.

The highly recommended tournament, with doubleheaders at the HDC set for Jan. 8,9 and 10, is fast approaching.

Tournament details here.

Chivas USA is offering a special InterLiga ticket deal starting at $25 that also includes a ticket to the club’s MLS opener.

Here are the details from the (edited) press release:

The special offer gives fans three games for the price of two, between seeing four Mexican First Division clubs in a doubleheader, as well as Chivas USA’s first match of the 2009 MLS season.

The first InterLiga doubleheader at Home Depot Center kicks off on Thursday, Jan. 8, with Morelia vs. Pachuca at 6 p.m., followed by Toluca vs. UAG (Tecos) at 8:30 p.m. The action continues the next night, on Friday, Jan. 9, with Club Amrica vs. Atlas at 6:30 p.m., and Chivas de Guadalajara vs. UNAL (Tigres) at 9 p.m. The tournament closes on Sunday, Jan. 11 with the two finals being played at 4:00 p.m. and the second at 6:30 p.m. The two winners will qualify for the prestigious Copa Libertadores 2009.

The InterLiga Pack costs just $25 for the endline seats, and $60 for seats on the sidelines. In addition to any of the three InterLiga doubleheaders at The Home Depot Center, the Pack also includes a ticket to Chivas USA’s 2009 Opening Game, which takes place on Saturday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m. against the Colorado Rapids. Call 1-877-CHIVAS-1.

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Chivas USA Denies Coaching Change & More

A rather muddled report out of Guadalajara that was picked up by at least one American media outlet variously had a Chivas coach coming to Chivas USA as either an assistant coach or a replacement for current Coach Preki.

Not so, said Chivas USA officials.

“At this point there are no coaches assistant, head or otherwise to be added to the coaching staff,” said Chivas USA spokesman Keegan Pierce. “There is no truth to the rumor the club is looking to make a (head) coaching change.”

The team, however, is in the early stages of replacing Director of Soccer Dennis te Kloese, who left at the end of October to take a job overseeing the youth soccer set-up at Mexican team Tigres. That was te Kloese’s primary responsibility at Chivas USA, too, but he was also involved in trades meaning Chivas USA is looking for a multifaceted replacement.

Seattle though did finally announce their first-ever head coach today; you only get one guess who it is.

Finally, all those Southern Californians dreaming of a possible road trip to Salt Lake City to see the U.S. World Cup qualifier against Mexico Feb. 11 had better really tune up their cars. U.S. Soccer today announced the venue is Columbus. (C’mon now, did you really think U.S. Soccer wants a bunch of road tripping Mexican fans from Southern California attending the game?)

The U.S. is unbeaten in Columbus and the first World Cup qualifier held there in 2001 was dubbed “Guerra Fria (‘Cold War’)” because the game-time temperature got no higher than 29 degrees. Brrr.

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Monday Wrap: L.A. Sol to Open Inaugural WPS Season at HDC & More

Women’s Professional Soccer ‘s L.A. Sol opens the league’s inaugural season Sunday, March 29 in a nationally televised 3 p.m. game against the Washington Freedom at Home Depot Center, the team will announce Tuesday.

The league’s other five teams will begin play the following weekend.

“We are certainly honored that WPS has chosen us to host the league’s inaugural game; it will be a great reward for all of the women’s soccer fans in the Southland who have been anxiously awaiting our arrival,” said Los Angeles Sol General Manager Charlie Naimo.

The remainder of the season’s schedule will be announced at a later date. Sol season tickets are now on sale beginning at $125. Call 1-877-4-SOL-TIX or click the link to the right.

Also, the 10-round WPS draft is set for Jan. 16. The draft order:
1. Boston Breakers
2. Chicago Red Stars
3. FC Gold Pride (Bay Area)
4. Sky Blue FC (New Jersey/New York)
5. Los Angeles Sol
6. Saint Louis Athletica
7. Washington Freedom

Which means Boston gets Amy Rodriguez of USC.

Rumor of the moment: Supposedly Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan has captured the interest of a dozen teams including Celtic.

Jorge Flores of Chivas USA, Brian Perk of UCLA, Marcus Watson of the Galaxy Academy and Pat Sigler of Cal Poly were among the 26-player squad named to the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team roster by Coach Thomas Rongen for an eight-day camp in Florida that began today. The camp includes a pair of scrimmages against CONCACAF foes Haiti Dec. 20 and Canada Dec. 22.

And for all you L.A. Rampage, Pali Blues, San Fernando Quakes, etc fans out there:

United Soccer Leagues announced the 68 PDL teams will play a 16-game season beginning May 1 and concluding July 19. Playoffs will begin July 24-26 and the championship will be held Saturday, Aug. 8, on Fox Soccer Channel. The W-League will kick off the season with 37 teams beginning May 8. The season concludes July 19, with playoffs beginning July 24-26. The W-League champion will be determined Aug. 7-8 on Fox Soccer Channel.

U.S. Soccer has announced its first batch of yearly awards with Soccer By Ives winning blog of the year. The Washington Post’s excellent Soccer Insider finished second (weren’t those two reversed last year?). And as much as I enjoy the wit of press officer Aaron Heifetz (and I do, really) the WNT Blog is not the third best soccer blog out there.

Finally, the answer to the question how fit is Chivas USA’s Jonathan Bornstein? Pretty damn fit.

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