April 14, 2011 - United Soccer League (USL) - Orange County Soccer Club
LOS ANGELES, Calif. â" The Los Angeles Blues are excited to write a major chapter in their history as they take on home side Sevilla FC Puerto Rico in their inaugural game in USL PRO on Friday, April 15, 2011 at 5 p.m. PST. The match kicks off a demanding stretch of four away fixtures in a span of nine days for the Blues, who will also face Antigua Barracuda FC, Puerto Rico United and River Plate Puerto Rico during the trip.
âI think itâs going to be interesting,â Blues defender Nelson Akwari offered. âThereâs not much we know about the Caribbean teams. There are certainly some quality players down there, but all four of our opponents are new to the league, which makes it hard to know what to expect. Itâs possible that the field conditions wonât always be ideal and obviously the travel doesnât help, so those things could be challenging. But given the quality of our roster, we expect some results down there. Obviously starting out with a win would be great, but I could also live with defending well and getting a tie.â
âThe sentiment was echoed by Josh Tudela. âItâs tough enough going on the road to play one away game, let alone four in a row,â the Blues captain said. âAnd itâs made even more difficult by the fact that weâre a brand-new team and itâs the start of the season for us. If we can go in there and at least not give away any points, say with two or three wins and no losses, I think that would be a pretty successful trip.â
In order for that to happen, the Blues will have to be on top of their game. While Head Coach Charlie Naimo has assembled one of the strongest rosters in all of USL PRO, not being familiar with the upcoming opponents has made preparing the team a challenge.
âOf course, Iâm going to watch the games that are streamed on USLLive.com, but thereâs not much we can do to really familiarize ourselves with these teamsâ Naimo said. âWe just need to be at our best and make them adapt to our style of play. Part of that is cleaning up the little things, such as improving our defending on set pieces. If weâre good, then it doesnât matter how they play. For now, Iâm just going to assume weâll be facing four very good teams and that we need to match them in every single game.â
Naimoâs side certainly has the talent to do so. Among the stars donning the blue in 2011 will be Argentine Walter GaitÃ¡n. One of the most gifted players to ever take the field in the Mexican Priméra Division, GaitÃ¡n scored 73 goals in 179 appearances for Tigres UANL following successful stints with Spainâs Villarreal and Argentine giants Boca Juniors.
Also on the Blues roster will be another veteran of the Mexican topflight, goalkeeper Oscar Dautt. GaitÃ¡n and Dautt will be joined on the field by former MLS players Leonard Griffin (Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, Los Angeles Galaxy), Nelson Akwari (MetroStars, Real Salt Lake, Columbus Crew), Mike Randolph, Josh Tudela, Israel Sesay (all Los Angeles Galaxy) and Chukwudi Chijindu (Chivas USA).
Of course, the challenge now is to combine big names into a strong, cohesive unit on the field. Center back Akwari sees reason for optimism in this respect, especially defensively. âI think itâs coming together,â he said. âThe biggest asset of our backline is that we have professionals who communicate very well on the field and bring plenty of experience playing in the USL and MLS.â
Meanwhile, the Blues attack looked strong in a recent preseason match against Chivas USA, but failed to finish any of its many quality chances in the 2-0 defeat. Still, captain Tudela doesnât see reason for pessimism. âI think the key is going into these games with the right mindset,â he offered. âIf we play the way we know we can, I donât think thereâs a team in the USL that is better than us. The main thing is to be well prepared and believe in each other. If we do that, Iâm sure the goals will come and weâll be successful.â
Head Coach Naimo finished on an equally positive note and even saw a silver lining in the extended road trip. âI think we need to improve on our mental toughness,â he conceded. âThatâs an important factor, especially when you start the season with four away games in such quick succession. But the good part of a trip like this is that the players will be spending a lot of time together. They will have a chance to grow a lot closer off the field, which could translate into a stronger bond on the field and ultimately help us in these games.â