LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Following a weekend that saw the Los Angeles Blues earn four points from two matches against the visiting Dayton Dutch Lions, Head Coach Charlie Naimo had little praise for his players. While the Blues defeated the visitors 4-1 on Sunday, Naimo stressed that his side benefited greatly from it’s familiarity with the Inland Empire heat as well as the Dayon players’ exhaustion from a hectic travel schedule, which became more of a factor in the game as two ejections left the Dutch Lions playing with nine men.
“I’m completely unhappy about the match,” the man in charge of the Blues commented. “That’s not to belittle the quality of Dayton. They just had two players sent off and were clearly tired in the second half, which helped us tremendously. So the win is deceiving. We should have played hard from start to finish, but in the first half the attitude simply wasn’t right.
“The players need to take responsibility and really understand what their role is as part of a team that wants to be a champion. There is no point in being a professional soccer player if you don’t have the desire to be the best you can be and win trophies.”
A player who did make his presence felt was newcomer Peter Byers. The Antigua and Barbuda international striker made his debut in Friday’s 1-1 tie with the Dutch Lions before looking lively in Sunday’s match and being denied a sure goal as he was brought down by opposing netminder Brian Visser on the play that led to Cesar Rivera’s game-winner from the penalty spot.
“I thought we came out a bit too soft in the first half, but after giving up the game’s first goal we worked harder and took over control,” Byers assessed. “We started playing like we know we can and outplayed Dayton in the second half especially. So we all know the team is capable of playing good soccer, but we need to go out there with a high work rate and maintain it from the beginning to the end of the match. It’s a question of staying motivated throughout ninety minutes.”
The Blues will have a chance to do so in their back-to-back road games at Richmond and Harrisburg this coming Friday and Saturday, respectively. Both matches should present stern tests for Los Angeles, who finally snapped a six-game winless streak in league and U.S. Open Cup play with the victory over the Dutch Lions.
“I’m disappointed with our recent results because some of them suggest that perhaps we don’t have the players to win, which is not true,” Charlie Naimo offered. “I just care about energy. I just want the guys to come out and play to win. If we bring that mentality and if each of the guys battles for the guy next to him, I know we’ll be successful. But right now, when we have bad luck in a game or perhaps the lineup isn’t exactly what we had hoped due to injuries, we’re not doing the things to still get a result.
“We’re past the halfway point of the season now and there is not much time left, so you have to bring it and try to get better every single day. We’ve had games where we’ve brought it for the most part, but I don’t think we’ve had ninety minutes of focus in a single time this season. As a result, there are teams that aren’t as good as us but have found results against us. That’s just not acceptable if we’re hoping to beat the best teams in our league.”
The Richmond Kickers are one of the top teams in USL PRO this year, as their impressive record of 10-5-3 sees them sitting in second place in the American Division with 33 points. Meanwhile, the Harrisburg City Islanders should bring plenty of confidence to Saturday’s clash with the Blues after recently defeating visiting F.C. New York 5-1.
Charlie Naimo explained why he thought it appropriate to criticize his players ahead of the challenging back-to-back matches.
“The reason I’m so tough on the guys is because we have an incredibly talented team but all of them have to realize it means nothing if we’re not totally committed,” the Blues Head Coach said. “When people are so impressed with world-class teams like Barcelona, what many of them don’t realize is that every single guy on that team works extremely hard to be successful. If someone doesn’t, he’s going to lose his spot in the lineup.
“I see that this group is good enough to win a championship. If we were the average first-year team that had a hard time finding guys that bring experience and quality, I’d be so happy about the 4-1 result and about four points from the weekend. But our players and staff are too experienced for me to react that way.”
One way for Naimo to create additional motivation for his players has been to acquire new quality personnel that will instantly be competing for starting spots. In addition to recent signings Byers, Mehrshad Momeni and Carlos Borja, the Los Angeles roster for the upcoming road trip features two more new names in Jonatan de Leon and former Cuba international defender Yeniel Bermudez.
“I really wasn’t happy with our performances against Dayton,” Charlie Naimo remarked. “I just don’t think we’re good enough to respond yet if things don’t fall our way in a game. It takes everyone on the field being committed to our mentality and being professional about everything they do, which is why we’ve been adding some players and some guys may find themselves on the bench. We’re going to find eleven players that will put the work in collectively to win.”
A player who might well see more playing time going forward is midfielder Gerardo Bravo, who netted his side’s final goal in Sunday’s win over the Dutch Lions.
“Dayton came out very defensive-minded, so we needed to make sure we pushed hard and got as many numbers forward as possible. In the first half, it seemed like our attitude wasn’t quite there and we weren’t always able to do that, but after the break we came out with a lot more urgency. The result showed that all we need to do is work harder all the time. We need to set the tone for that in practice, and then hopefully it will translate into the games.”
Charlie Naimo acknowledged that he already saw promising performances from a few players on Sunday, including that by 18-year-old backup goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh, who made a rare start against Dayton. However, it did not alter the Los Angeles Head Coach’s final verdict.
“It’s easy to find the negatives in a loss, but sometimes even a win can show you the problems you have,” he said. “I just can’t let any of my players think that our performance was sufficient. A couple of guys stepped up and showed that they’re hungry when they get their chance, but I have to look at the whole team.
“Of course, we have a few guys who are first-year professionals, but most of our starters have come from MLS and different teams from around the world, which means our expectations have to be high. At times our quality and experience show in the way we play and possess the ball, but for us to be successful it’s going to take heart and a certain competitive fire. That’s what I want to see from this team in the next two games.”
While acknowledging his side’s recent shortcomings, Carlos Borja looked ahead to the remainder of the Blues’ 2011 campaign with cautious optimism.
We have a team of very talented individuals, and the chemistry between the players is there as well. We just need to be a hundred percent motivated when we step out on the field. Our goal is to make a run for the championship, but as of right now I don’t think we’re quite where we need to be to beat some of the title contenders. Having said that, I’m pretty sure we’ll get there and make a run for it in the playoffs. Each of us just has to be fully committed to the cause.”