LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Following their recent string of disappointing results despite decent performances, the Los Angeles Blues players and coaches responded with a resilient attitude in training this week. Having gone 0-3-2 in league and U.S. Open Cup play since June 24, the Blues appeared committed to looking ahead rather than to the past and getting the maximum number of points from their upcoming back-to-back home games against the Dayton Dutch Lions.
Head Coach Charlie Naimo’s men lost 4-2 to host Wilmington Hammerheads on Saturday, July 2, a mere day after earning a scoreless draw on the road against the Charleston Battery.
“In the game against the Battery, we were solid defensively for almost the entire ninety minutes, but we struggled to create chances,” Naimo assessed. “Having said that, Charleston is a very good team at home and we had just traveled there from the West Coast, so it’s not a terrible thing to shut them out in their own stadium. The second game was just extremely tough because it came only a day later. After all, there have been very few teams all year that have won their second game in a back-to-back road swing.”
Against the Hammerheads, a visibly tired Blues team fell behind in the first minute of play to an Andryi Budnyy strike before battling back with a Cesar Rivera tally halfway through the first period. However, the hosts used their rested legs to their advantage in the final half hour of the match, finishing off the Blues behind a goal and two assists from forward Chris Banks, as Ivan Becerra and Chris Murray also added their names to the score sheet. Los Angeles’ Akeem Priestley scored in the 88th minute, but it was too little too late for the visitors.
“We came out slow against Wilmington and gave up a goal right away, but then we settled into the match and scored a great equalizer,” Charlie Naimo recapped Saturday’s match. “After that, we kept playing well and created chances. In the second half, we started well but gave up a goal against the run of play. Mentally, I think that was just too much to recover from. When the mind goes, the legs get even heavier. But I do feel like we played really well under the circumstances.”
Those circumstances were the main focal point in Mehrshad Momeni’s postgame analyis. Momeni, a 23-year-old midfielder from Iran, recently joined the Blues after spending time with PAS Hamedan and Esteghlal Tehran in his home country.
“The bottom line is, it’s not an even competitive playing field,” he said through a translator. “An away game itself is difficult, but the travel and physical exhaustion of two road games in two days definitely influence the outcome of the second game. It’s like a horse race with one horse that’s fresh and another horse that’s been run into the ground. Not only are you playing in a different temperature and humidity after traveling for hours, but then you even have to do it on two consecutive days.
“I firmly believe that we can beat both Charleston and Wilmington in a more even situation,” the Iranian continued. “If they came here and were under the same circumstances, most of the time they wouldn’t be able to beat us. But all these thoughts really don’t matter if we just get points against Dayton. Everything else gets pushed back in your mind when you win. It makes you forget about previous losses.”
While acknowledging the quality of the opposition, Charlie Naimo joined his midfielder in identifying the schedule as a factor with the potential to influence results, including Saturday’s loss.
“Wilmington is a very good team,” the Blues Head Coach said. “Realistically, considering we played six games in twelve days, taking two or three points from a back-to-back road swing would have been an okay result. If we could have tied Wilmington in the second game, the weekend definitely wouldn’t have been terrible. But the last half hour of that match really ruined it for us.”
Blues fans have grown accustomed to striker Chukwudi Chijindu’s mentality of declining to emphasize external factors in his analyses and instead demanding he and the team overcome them through an even more focused and committed approach. His recap of the disappointing back-to-back road games was no exception.
“It’s a combination of things,” he said. “First and foremost, we have to look at our individual performances. We need to be more dangerous with the possession we have and execute better in front of the goal. That was one of my main concerns on this recent trip. I don’t think we were getting enough guys in the box when we got the ball wide.
“Of course, part of it is also the circumstances. It’s tough to play two road games back-to-back against two good teams. But with the players we have, I think we still could have gotten six points from the trip. We have to look at ourselves without making excuses and just get better in all aspects of our game. It starts with each individual player wanting to improve himself.”
Charlie Naimo added another factor to the list of hindrances to his side’s success in recent weeks – bad luck. It’s a factor sometimes overlooked as writers and on-air personalities look to identify the cause-and-effect relationships responsible for the struggles of underperforming teams.
“We’ve played pretty good soccer, but good soccer alone doesn’t seem to be enough for us to win games right now,” Naimo remarked. “We need to get even tougher mentally and make even fewer defensive mistakes, even though we really haven’t made too many. The rate at which we’ve been punished for them has just been unbelievable. When you give up two good chances in a game and one of them results in a goal, that’s incredibly unfortunate.”
The Los Angeles Head Coach used the recent pair of USL PRO home games against Harrisburg as examples to back up his observations. Despite creating more chances in both matches, the Blues only earned one point from them, tying the City Islanders 1-1 on June 24 before falling 2-1 on June 26. The lineup for the second clash featured several non-regulars due to a U.S. Open Cup match against MLS giant Los Angeles Galaxy just two days later, which the Blues would end up losing 2-1 despite taking the lead after the break.
“In the first Harrisburg game, we had some chances early on that we didn’t finish,” Naimo recalled. “Instead, they get one counter attack and score. Then in the second game, we played really well with guys who hadn’t gotten a lot of minutes and again created enough chances to deserve the lead in the match, which culminated with Adriano (de Lima) hitting the crossbar. Less than a minute later, Harrisburg scores on a counter again.
“You just can’t explain those things. It’s not like we’re getting outplayed. Every single game is close, which includes the match against the Galaxy. In addition to fewer injuries and more consistency in our lineup, we really need for the ball to start bouncing our way a little more. We’re a good team with quality players. With a little bit of good fortune, I think we’re going to be right where we thought we could be at the end of the season.”
Once more, Chukwudi Chijindu presented himself as an advocate of creating your own luck, as he analyzed some of the weaknesses in recent matches.
“It’s both sides of the ball,” he said. “We need to not give up soft goals and start capitalizing on our chances earlier, because we leave a lot of opportunities on the table and keep opponents in games. Most teams play counter-attacking soccer against us since we have most of the possession. If we don’t finish, the next thing you know they get a breakaway and convert, and all of a sudden we’re chasing the game.
“If we get the first goal, now the other team is chasing the game and that opens things up for the way we want to play. We can move the ball around and use the spaces that come from them attacking us to hit for a second and put the game away.”
Charlie Naimo agreed, “We need to focus on our game and not let the opponent influence us too much. I know we’re going to create chances against Dayton, because we create chances against everybody, with the Charleston game being the exception so far. We just have to make sure we get the early goal we deserve for once and then play with the lead.”
Mehrshad Momeni joined his teammates and coaching staff in focusing on the tasks ahead rather than dwelling on the recent disappointments.
“Losses always sting until the next day for me, but then you have to regroup and try to bounce back,” the midfielder said. “(Current Real Madrid Head Coach José) Mourinho once said that you can only enjoy being a champion for one night, because the next day you start thinking about how to be successful the following year. It’s the same thing after a loss. The team is in that state of mind where we’re learning from past matches but we’re ready to move on.
“Having only come to LA a few weeks ago, obviously I’m not familiar with Dayton. However, I do know our strengths and my feeling is that barring any unusual circumstances, we’ll play well and get good results from the two games.”
Naturally, Charlie Naimo did have some insight to offer on the Dutch Lions, as his side played them to a 1-1 draw on the road back in May. In addition, the Blues Head Coach makes frequent use of the full matches archive on ww.usllive.com to scout upcoming opponents. He refused to buy into Dayton’s 1-10-2 record that sees the side sitting in last place in USL PRO.
“They’re an athletic team that’s decent defensively,” Naimo said. “They’ve only had a couple of really poor results. Other than that, all of their games have been close. For example, I watched their recent 1-0 road loss to Rochester, arguably one of the top teams in the league. It took a lucky bounce in stoppage time for Rochester to get the win, so we should expect Dayton to give us an equally tough match.
“The one thing that we can’t do is give them confidence like we’ve done with other teams. We have to continue to create chances but at the same time stay focused defensively. It’s one at a time now. We need three points in our next game. Then we’ll worry about the second game.”
The sentiment was echoed by Chijindu, who closed his outlook on the meetings with the Dutch Lions with a call to arms.
“We have a good group of guys and it’s obvious that everyone wants to bounce back. The mentality just has to be stronger. It has to be, ‘If we were giving a hundred percent in those previous games, now it has to be 110 or a 120.’ Having played Dayton already, we should be well prepared for them. Nothing less than wins will be satisfactory.”