James Riley

James Riley injury shines new light on LA Galaxy’s defense

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Cross James Riley off the short list of fullback options for the Galaxy. After this weekend’s injury at Real Salt Lake, the veteran defender is out for six months. On Thursday, LA Galaxy confirmed the 31-year-old had undergone successful surgery to repair a torn left lateral meniscus. If his recovery goes as planned, Riley will back in late September, long after the point where Bruce Arena will need to find an alternative.

Originally, Riley was an alternative. After spending last season with D.C.United, the former Sounders full back latched on as a depth option in L.A., eventually giving Arena somebody who could start in place of Todd Dunivant on opening day. Riley’s ability to play on the right allowed Arena to move A.J. DeLaGarza into the middle in Utah after the team’s poor performance in Mexico. When he was forced out of Saturday’s game early, Dan Gargan — the alternative to the alternative — finished out the draw.

Unfortunately, aside from Home Grown right back Oscar Sorto, that’s all Los Angeles has. Greg Cochrane, Sean Franklin, and Bryan Gaul are all gone, a situation Riley and Gargan’s signings were intended to address. They were supposed to be Plan Bs for Dunivant and DeLaGarza.

Now Riley is out, and because a central pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo looked molasses slow over the team’s first three games, DeLaGarza may be needed in the middle. The one-deep fullback depth charts Arena had this preseason are back. If they’re not, that means Leonardo’s been put back in the starting lineup.

This was the big question about LA in the preseason. It wasn’t so much that they lacked a back four. It’s was more about the lack of a alternatives. What if Dunivant didn’t find his 2012 self? What if Leonardo didn’t let DeLaGarza move outside? What if anybody got injured?

They’re questions that don’t need answers in March. As evidenced by LA’s first two league results, the team’s capable or working through the problem; at least, in the short-term. While their back line may have been the reason they didn’t advance in Champions League, those things are going to happen to MLS teams. Sometimes, a team is just not going to be ready for March’s knockout rounds.

At some point, however, it looks like LA’s going to have to make a move. Maybe two. James Riley may not be the biggest loss in the world, but in an already thin defense, his injury shines new light on the Galaxy’s biggest weakness.

LA Galaxy adds depth at the back, finally makes James Riley official

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With the departures of Greg Cochrane and Bryan Gaul, LA Galaxy were looking extremely thin at fullback, a situation that was rectified with the signing of James Riley. Whereas the veteran had been with the Galaxy throughout their winter camp, the former New England, San Jose, Seattle, Chivas USA and D.C. United defender only became official today, with the 31-year-old signing on to back up Todd Dunivant and A.J. DeLaGarza.

“We are pleased to add James Riley to our roster,” head coach and general manager Bruce Arena said in a team statement announcing the signing. “James is an experienced player who adds versatility and depth to our defensive core.”

It’s depth that become much-needed. After Cochrane’s trade and Gaul’s release, Arena didn’t have an obvious backup at the fullback positions, a precarious situation given the injury problems Dunivant and DeLaGarza endured in 2013. DeLaGarza only missed six games but, for the second year in a row, missed significant time at the end of the season. Dunivant was limited to 25 appearances last year.

In steps Riley, who can fill in at both left and right back. Best known for his days in Seattle, where he was a starter for playoff teams from 2009 to 2011, Riley hasn’t seen the same success since leaving Puget Sound. The 31-year-old spent one year with Chivas USA before making 19 starts last year with D.C. United.

A veteran, unlikely to be expensive, and capable of playing on both sides, Riley is a perfect fit for LA, whose coach continues to value an experienced hand’s ability to settle into an established squad.

Report says LA Galaxy will sign James Riley

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The Los Angeles Galaxy will apparently keep defender James Riley, who spent some reasonably good years with New England and later with Seattle but has become something of a journeyman. He has been on trial with the Galaxy.

Two things make this one interesting:

First, Riley doesn’t need to be a starter at L.A., not with longtime left back Todd Dunivant and able deputy Greg Cochrane filling one side of the back line, and with A.J. DeLaGarza handling chores along the right so well.

Riley can provide quality depth on either side during a busy campaign of Champions League (starting in less than two weeks), U.S. Open Cup, eight-plus months of league play and whatever money-making summer friendlies the ambitious organization cooks up.

Also, this: Arena has done OK with these guys, veterans approaching the career sell-by date, but still with something to offer in terms of depth, cap value, leadership and locker room accord. Riley (who played at D.C. United last year) has generally been well-liked by fans and teammates, so there’s little downside that way.

Partial list of some known names who finished up similarly under Arena with the Galaxy: Jovan Kirovski, Chris Klein, Frankie Hejduk and Eddie Lewis.

Chivas USA responds to HBO’s Real Sports’ report on discriminatory practices

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We got a taste on Monday, but once the segment on HBO’s Real Sports aired last night, there was a newly palpable buzz surrounding discrimination allegations made against Chivas USA. For people who’ve followed the situation since Jorge Vergara assumed control of the club, there wasn’t any new information, but watching a news magazine like Inside Sports pick at the morsels we’ve been rolling around for months, you knew the controversy was going to hit a new level. There’s just something about a reporter like Soledad O’Brien interviewing the likes of James Riley, Dan Calichman and Teddy Chronopoulous (ex-coaches who have filed suit against the club), and a mother whose child was turned away from the club’s youth program that gives the story that extra weight.

Perhaps that’s why Chivas USA has decided to respond, with a release posted to the club’s web site earlier today. Here’s the English version, though as you’ll infer from a reading, the Spanish one better represents the club’s feelings on last night’s report:

One of the biggest strengths we have at Chivas USA is the talented and dedicated employees that make up our community, in which diversity prevails by having different nationalities, cultures and beliefs. Chivas USA is formed by employees from Argentina, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Egypt, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Spain, and the United States. We aim to work in an environment reigned by harmony, regardless of skin color, language, and beliefs, which is also the base to one of our greatest strengths, as it allows multiple ideas to flow and complement each other.

Therefore, we are disappointed by the intent of some individuals who have chosen to use our diversity to define our club as a racist and discriminatory environment by reporting an incomplete and one-sided story in order to damage the image of Chivas USA and the hard working individuals who are part of our community.

At Chivas USA we are all part of the same Red-and-White colors and ideology, which strives for both personal and professional fulfillment on and off the field.

We absolutely reject any form of discrimination and racism.

“Our true nationality is mankind.” H. G. Wells

As strange as this story is, adding a high school yearbook quote to the end of an official (and quite serious) press release makes the whole thing so much more bizarre. When Chivas are in court defending themselves against Calichman and Chronopoulous’s suit, are they going to offer Wells’ platitude as a defense of their actions? And at this point, would we be shocked if they did?

Beyond Chivas USA, who are obviously making this bed for themselves, last night’s report was a black eye for Major League Soccer, who declined to speak to HBO but did offer them a statement. As O’Brien stood in a production studio, reading the league’s words in front of a televised league logo, you felt the helpless, hapless situation MLS has allowed itself to embrace. And with Vergara offering up the likes of Francisco “Paco” Palencia as last night’s sacrificial lamb, who knows how many times club officials (and by extention, the single-entity league) are going to be made to look foolish as they try to defend a concept which runs so contrary to North American sports culture, if not law.

Given the scope of Major League Soccer in the broader landscape, this still has the potential to blow over. Ten minutes on subscription cable isn’t going to define this issue. However, if Chivas USA continues to flounder, make mistakes, and doesn’t somehow correct course, HBO’s work will be linked to over and over again by people who need examples of Vergara’s misdeeds.

The information may not have been new, but now it’s all synthesized in one place, the story told coherently by a respected journalist. ‘Thorn in the side’ could be an understatement.

Major League Soccer team previews: D.C. UNITED

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 1 in the East is D.C. United:

Significant additions and subtractions: The great news for D.C. United: the weight of those big salaries for DP striker Hamdi Salihi and highly paid midfielder Brank Boskovic (once a DP and still on a big salary in 2012) has been lifted. Neither came close to justifying their big numbers, so this really does represent significant addition by subtraction around RFK Stadium.

On the other hand, a lost that actually will be felt is Andy Najar, the talented, home-grown Honduran international who had added even more value with his move to right back. He was sold to Anderlecht in the off-season.

The club prudently added veteran depth (without breaking the bank on it) in guys like John Thorrington and James Riley. Neither will threaten to bust into All-Star status this year, but both carry the hard-earned scars of years in MLS and won’t miss a trick in 2013. Thorrington could be an absolute steal if he can stay healthy.

Carlos Ruiz is back in MLS. Sigh. Some of us ask: is that a good thing or a bad thing? (In the linked piece, I put the over/under on his stay at “6 months” … and was promptly informed that I had set a soft line, with everyone rushing to take the imaginary “under.”)

Strengths: The roster has a strong balance of young, old and those key glue men, the 26-28 year olds right in the middle. It’s that talented bunch of “youth” that remains most impressive and intriguing, even with Najar’s loss. Perry Kitchen keeps maturing, now a solid, third-year MLS starter at holding midfield – and he’s just 20. Nick DeLeon, full of pace, pep and promise as an outside, attacking midfielder is 22. So is goalkeeper Bill Hamid, another third-year starter.

Pressure points: You can rightly ask whether United general manager Dave Kasper did enough to reinforce a back line that simply was not good enough in 2013. (Or, did they do enough overall.) United’s defense was far more solid over the last few weeks, but that was mostly about strategic shifts following Dwayne De Rosario’s late-season injury.

Frustratingly inconsistent Lionard Pajoy and just plain frustrating Ruiz as first-choice strikers? Hmmm. Sounds iffy, at very best. (Pontius and De Rosario can also play at forward, depending on manager Ben Olsen wants it configured.)

Throwing balls at referees? Dropping points by losing your cool? Veterans caught head-butting opponents? There’s a trend here – and it’s got to stop.

Finally, you cannot talk pressure points around D.C. United without mentioning the club’s wildly unsustainable stadium situation. Historic as it is (and as festive as it can be for Major League Soccer matches) it remains a colossal financial drain on the club. Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber has said for years that solving the organization’s woeful, harmful facility situation is a league priority.

source: Getty Images

Difference maker: It really is a darn pity De Rosario (pictured) cannot be around for this weekend’s opener, nor for next week’s home opener at RFK; DCU’s hearth, soul and chief creator is suspended for the first two matches. Past this early, avoidable silliness, all looks swell. “De Ro” will be 35 in May, but the guy is a fiend for taking care of himself. If he’s losing any zip, he’s hiding it awfully well. De Rosario’s raw numbers certainly are not reflecting a decline; 7 goals and 12 assists in 2012 represent healthy output, especially considering a long dry spell last spring.

Potential breakout player: There really are some wonderful, evocative options around RFK – more or less depending on your definition of “breakout.” Pontius, so strong over his time already at RFK, has the stuff of stardom and regular U.S. national team involvement. He just needs a little luck and some help in timing to break into the upper echelon of  MLS stars. Hamid, Kitchen and DeLeon are valued youngsters with potential to rise (in 2013 or later) into Best XI conversations.  

Bottom line: It would be easier to feel great about United, which came so confoundedly close to an MLS Cup appearance in 2012 in Olsen’s second year in charge, if only the rear guard was a wee bit stronger. The back four is OK, a little less so when backed by a young goalkeeper who still has the occasional yukky blunder in him. Other than that, there’s so much to like about a young team and a young coach that is still growing into its big boy pants – and just might be all the way into them this year.

(MORE: full roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)