LOS ANGELES, Calif. – After Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the Ventura County Fusion in the U.S. Open Cup second round, the Los Angeles Blues players focused on the positives from the match as they previewed the two upcoming meetings with the visiting Harrisburg City Islanders.
“I thought we played well against Ventura,” defender Cameron Dunn said. “They tried to play fast and very direct, but we did a good job of breaking down the attacks they threw at us. I think we set the tone from the beginning of the match with our possession. Our movement with the ball around the field allowed us to settle the game down and play at a pace that we dictated.”
The sentiment was echoed by striker Chukwudi Chijindu.
“We fought hard for ninety minutes and made it difficult for Ventura to create chances,” the 25-year-old offered. “Both teams did have a few opportunities, but I felt like we had more of the ball and used it to create the better of the offense, which led to us being victorious. We felt like we were the better soccer team, and the key to being successful was to dictate the pace of the match to limit their direct style over the top of our defense. I thought we were able to do that well for good stretches of the match.”
Tuesday’s win came exactly one week after an emotional 3-1 victory over the Hollywood United Hitmen in the U.S. Open Cup first round. Prior to the match against the Hitmen, the Blues had faced the challenge of maintaining their edge despite a three-week period without any official fixtures. In addition, they were missing several potential starters against Ventura County due to injuries and suspensions. To MLS veteran Nelson Akwari, the circumstances made Tuesday’s performance all the more significant.
“It felt great to get the result,” the 29-year-old said. “Open Cup games are all about grinding out wins and getting to the next round, and we’ve shown that we can do that in two consecutive matches. That’s really important, considering we haven’t had a league game in such a long time. As a team, we’ve had to adjust a little to the injuries and the changing lineups, but overall I was pleased with the effort from all the guys.
“I think we did well possessing the ball in tight spaces, and defensively everyone was committed to getting a shutout,” Akwari continued. “The Fusion has a lot of young, talented players who played well together. They gave us a battle throughout the entire game.”
Mike Randolph joined his backline colleague in stressing his team’s ability to keep the PDL side off the board for ninety minutes.
“Defensively, I thought we did pretty well as a unit,” he commented. “We got stretched out a handful of times because we were trying to go forward, but we were always able to minimize the damage and keep the play in front of us. It was good to see the team work so hard collectively and get the shutout.”
Cameron Dunn agreed, “We kept things tight all over the field and applied good pressure when they had the ball. In this type of game, it’s all about executing the game plan. It’s easy to go into games like the one against Ventura with the wrong mindset, but I feel like we all knew what was riding on this win and weren’t about to let it slip away.”
The upcoming back-to-back meetings with Harrisburg will require a similarly committed effort if Head Coach Charlie Naimo’s men are hoping to reclaim second place in the USL PRO National Division. With two games in hand on the Blues, the City Islanders are currently tied with Los Angeles on points but hold the better goal differential. They boast one of the league’s most dangerous attackers in Jose Angulo, whose six goals and two assists are good for third place in both the USL PRO scoring and points charts.
“I expect Harrisburg to be a good side, so we’ll have to take the match very seriously,” Mike Randolph commented. “We’ve gone a few weeks without playing a league match, and I think the best way to start getting back into a rhythm is by focusing on what has gotten us where we are – our possession and our attacking-minded approach. If we can stick to that game plan, I think we’ll be fine.”
Nelson Akwari joined his teammate in stressing the quality of the opponent, who has raised some eyebrows lately with several impressive wins, including a 4-1 romp of the Dayton Dutch Lions and a 1-0 victory over the high-flying Richmond Kickers. Most recently, Head Coach Bill Becher’s side suffered a tough 1-0 Open Cup defeat to National Division leaders Rochester Rhinos.
“Harrisburg is above us in the table, so these games will be a good test to see where we stand in regards to our division,” Akwari said. “I know that they’ve played Rochester to several tight matches, meaning we need to continue to work on being competitive throughout the full ninety minutes.
“Our transition from offense to defense and vice versa still needs work as well. I think we have players capable of being dangerous on both sides of the ball, and we need to continue to buy into the demands of the coaching staff and trust that it will bring us results.”
While acknowledging that a result won’t be easy to come by against the City Islanders, Chukwudi Chijindu closed his preview of the two upcoming matches on a cautiously optimistic note.
“Harrisburg has gotten some pretty positive results, which has put them in a good spot within the division,” he commented. “I know they will be hungry for points when they come here, so we need to be ready and match their energy and intensity. I believe that if we stick to our game plan and to what we do well, then the opponent becomes less of a factor. Continuing to do what has made us successful in the past will be the key going forward.”
The Blues face the City Islanders at Centennial High School’s Husky Stadium in Corona this coming Friday, June 24, at 7.30 p.m. PST. The second meeting between the two sides will take place at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Stadium on Sunday, June 26, at 5 p.m. PST.