L.A. BLUES: Harrisburg rallies in playoff opener

August, 19, 2011
8/19/11
9:57
PM PT

The ongoing struggle is over for the L.A. Blues, who followed form in their USL Pro playoff opener Friday night by failing to convert chances.


They paid for it with a 3-2 loss in Pennsylvania to the Harrisburg City Islanders, bringing an abrupt end to a perplexing first season that began so promising -- with four wins in the first six games -- and closed with a six-game winless streak.

Former Galaxy midfielder Josh Tudela gave the Blues an early lead, and Erlys Garcia pulled them even at 2-2 just before halftime, but L.A.'s inability to find the net after conceding to Harrisburg's Brian Ombiji seven minutes into the second half was decisive.

“I think we missed some very easy ones,” Blues head coach Charlie Naimo told ESPN Los Angeles after the defeat. “We could have scored four goals in the first half, then we give ip two set-piece goals, and that goes against everything we've been improving on.

“It's so disappointing, and in the second half, I think we were the dominant team. We got in the box a lot, and their keeper did a good job keeping the ball out. We had loads of corner kicks, but we couldn't capitalize.”

Harrisburg, which will play next Friday at Rochester in the National Division final, out-shot the Blues, 13-10, but surrendered nine corner kicks to L.A., seven after halftime.

Wayward forward Cesar Rivera returned from a club-mandated suspension by setting up both Blues goals, with the lead pass to Jonathan de Leon for Tudela's 11th-minute strike and the cross for Garcia's stoppage-time header.

Andrew Welker scored in the 34th and 39th minutes for the City Islanders, who won twice and tied twice in four meetings this season with L.A. Welker scored in three of the games, with four of his team-best 10 goals.

The Blues played with a man advantage after Jason Pelletier was sent off with his second yellow card in the 66th minute, but they struggled to possess on a tight, lumpy field in a testy match made scrappier and more frantic by referee Michael Donovan's permissiveness. He issued eight yellow cards, five to L.A., but an accurate fouls count was not available.

“We really couldn't play any soccer,” Naimo said. “It was a very short field -- if it was 100 yards, I'd be surprised. There were a lot of yellow cards, a very physical game, and the officials didn't protect the [skill[ players. It led to the kind of game we didn't want to play in.”

WORTH NOTING: The Blues finish their first USL Pro season at 8-8-9. ... Naimo, also a Blues vice president/technical director, questioned his job security. “I'm sure I'm not safe in all this,” he said. “When you don't win, you're not safe.” ... Naimo said Cuban defender Garcia and former Galaxy winger Israel Sesay are signed for next season and that an offer has been made to Antiguan forward Peter Byers. Defender Nelson Akwari last week said he expected to return. ... The Rochester Rhinos, who won the National Division's regular-season title, routed the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, 4-0. The Richmond Kickers overcame host Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads on penalties after a 0-0 draw in an American Division semifinal. Top seed Orlando City is home Saturday against the Charleston Battery in the last of the playoff openers.

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