Charlie Naimo's Los Angeles Blues were crashing into the finish line, and needed to get some results as they concluded their inaugural season in USL PRO with a couple of home matches against the Richmond Kickers.
Travel issues stymied the Blues in the final road contest with Antigua Barracuda FC, who flattened them, 3-0. That came on the heels of the Wilmington Hammerheads sweeping the Blues to the tune of 2-1.
“In the first game [against the Wilmington Hammerheads], we just weren’t very good at creating anything for ourselves,” defender Mike Randolph told LABluesProSoccer.com's Gunnar Berndt. “We weren’t dangerous anywhere near the penalty area. On our corner kicks, we didn’t have enough people in the box attacking the ball.
"In the second game (against Antigua Barracuda FC), the problem was the trip as a whole, including the travel to Wilmington for the previous match. We hit several different airports over the course of the weekend and sat through layover after layover. That definitely hurt us against Antigua. We just couldn’t find a rhythm.”
“I’m not going to read too much into Sunday’s game,” Naimo said. “That has nothing to do with the opponent. I have a lot of respect for Antigua. They’ve played us extremely well this year and are a very organized team, but the amount of traveling we had to do definitely affected the match.
“Our trainer added it all up. Between flights, airports and buses, we spent between fifty and sixty hours traveling in three days. In addition, we only had two substitutes at Antigua because of visa issues. So I didn’t have very high expectations for the game in the first place. Still, we had a chance to get something from it and the 3-0 scoreline didn’t really tell the entire tale in my mind.”
Naimo admitted that a result in Wilmington would have given the team some sort of momentum heading into the weekend's set of matches with the Kickers.
“A win in Wilmington would have been amazing," Naimo said. "It’s a tough place to play because of their great fans and the small pitch. I really felt like we could have walked out of there with a minimum of one point. It helped that our subs did a great job as well after coming on.”
“We have to forget about that now,” remarked the Blues's Edwin Miranda. “We have two more games and I feel like this weekend could help us get ready for the postseason, so we have to take the games against Richmond very seriously. The playoffs are really like a new, really short season for us. If we do well, what happened over the course of five months won’t matter so much anymore.
“At the same time, if we do poorly against Richmond, we might head into the postseason with a losing mentality and continue to do poorly. It’s important that we treat the upcoming two matches like playoff games so that we’re ready for the real thing.”
So what did the Blues manager feel were the shortcomings of this season's campaign?
“We need to show we can defend and attack on set pieces better,” Naimo concluded. “That’s what we’ve been focusing on in training. When we pick a lineup, a lot of our decisions will be based on who dominated these exercises. There are 16 or 17 players in consideration for starting spots right now, and I told everyone that I’m going to pick the guys I feel are hungriest for wins.
"I don’t care what you did in the past. I need players who are committed to the team and willing to put aside any selfish goals.”
“These last two games are about us coming together as a team and getting better at the things we need to do to win in the playoffs, such as being a little feistier everywhere on the field, getting forward on corners and being tough to beat defensively,” Randolph added. “If we can do all those things, we have a good chance of being successful in the postseason.”
Perhaps they did accomplish those goals this weekend, but in the home matches at Titan Stadium on the campus of Cal State Fullerton and Norco College in Norco, Calif., they also accomplished a couple of scoreless draws.
As a result of their efforts, the Blues finished the regular season with a record of 8-7-9 (33 points), good enough for third place in the USL PRO National Division.