CORONA -- Chukwudi Chijindu would rather be in Carson, battling for time on the field -- and a job putting the ball away -- with Chivas USA. A few more finishes like Thursday night's, and that might be on the menu.
Chijundu finished a superb sequence in the 88th minute to answer a late Charlotte Eagles equalizer and lift the L.A. Blues to a 2-1 victory at Centennial High School in the club's Inland Empire opener.
Chijindu took a fine feed from Cesar Rivera, danced past two defenders at the top of the box and fired past former UCLA goalkeeper Eric Reed as the Blues (4-1-1) triumphed in a USL Pro encounter that drew 676 fans -- plus another couple of hundred people attending a Centennial football event -- to Husky Stadium.
Former Galaxy outside back Mike Randolph scored the first goal and played a wise backheel to Rivera to start the sequence that led to the winner.
CHUCKY IN CHARGE: Chijindu, a Fontana product known to all as “Chuck,” made his first start for the Blues; he has been slowed down by a hamstring injury and acknowledged he's “still not 100 percent.”
“Any time you can get three points, it's always a good feeling,” he said. “To get the winning goal was a good feeling as well. … I think one thing we have is good chemistry. We have very good players with the ball at our feet. That's our strength. Whenever we're able to move the ball quick, make runs off of each other and support each other, I think good things can happen.”
Chijindu joined the Blues on loan from Chivas, sent down to the third-tier club, Goats coach Robin Fraser said, to tidy his game. The dreadlocked forward didn't agree with the decision.
“Obviously, you want to show [Chivas] they made a mistake or were too quick to judge, however you want to put it,” Chijindu said just before the season opened. “But my main goal is to stay healthy and to score a lot of goals. To be dangerous every game, create chances, set my teammates up for chances and just work hard, because I feel like that's the route to all success, is hard work.”
Chivas, which is still looking for a consistent goal scorer, can recall Chijindu if needed, and he said “that would probably be ideal, but my focus right now is that I have a season-long loan. I'm taking it as that, and if things change, then we'll deal with it when we cross those paths.
“As of right now, I'm here, I'm a Blue, and I'm gonna work hard for my new teammates and see what happens.”
CREATIVE GROUP: The Blues, hampered by injuries to their most creative players, took a quick lead -- Randolph's goal, a bullet off the right post from a long ball by goalkeeper Oscar Dautt, came in the sixth minute -- but didn't find their game until Rivera and Argentine playmaker Walter Gaitan were brought on at halftime.
They improved the Blues' possession game, caused problems at the back for the Eagles (0-4-1) and were unfortunate not to score a few times.
Head coach Charlie Naimo wasn't happy afterward.
“Wasn't the best, but whatever. You know?” he said. “We got the three points. I expected more from us tonight coming off a loss [May 1 to Antigua Barracuda], thought we'd be sharper and hungrier. We didn't play good enough soccer.
“What we did do well is we bunkered in and defended when we had to. … There's going to be days when you're happy with your team and you lose, like [against Barracuda], and then there's going to be days when you know you could be a lot better and somehow you win. And that's today.”
RIVERA KEY: Naimo says the Blues are a “more confident team” on the field with Gaitan, who didn't play in the May 1 home opener at Cal State Fullerton because of a quad injury. And Rivera, who is coming off a foot injury, was the pivotal figure.
With their entrance, Naimo noted, “the tempo of the game started to take on a better life.” And the goal was all about Rivera.
“That what Cesar can do,” the coach said. “He just ran at them. Chuck did nice, too, but without Cesar running at them to create the space … that's what Cesar brings. We were a lot more dangerous at the end of the game. Chuck wasn't on his own anymore, and that tandem, that combination, is only going to get better for us the more that they get to play together.”
WORTH NOTING: Darren Toby pulled Charlotte even in the 83rd minute, but it appeared he was offside on the play. … Rivera left the game in the 90th minute after his ailing foot was stepped on. Naimo said he'll be a game-time decision Saturday, when the teams meet again at Cal State Fullerton. … Dautt made one great save, tipping a Weston Roberts shot from a corner kick over the crossbar in the ninth minute, and was fortunate when Walter Moore cracked a dipping volley off the crossbar in the 17th. … Gaitan, from Rivera's service, forced Reed to make a scrambling save in the 51st. … Four Eagles in the game have played for La Mirada-based Southern California Seahorses, which also is owned by Christian missionaries Missionary Athletes International: Reed, defender Mark Bloom, midfielder Juan Guzman and forward Ben Page. Former Cerritos High and UCLA standout Steve Shak is a Charlotte assistant coach.