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The L.A. Blues' penchant for falling behind, and for coming from behind, were on full display Friday night in Wilmington, N.C., as the West Coast's only USL Pro side began its final road trip of the regular season.
That they couldn't hold onto the point was just one more disappointment in a season that's wobbled between good and bad -- and already has been rewarded with a playoff berth.
Andriy Budnyy's was-it-cheeky-or-unintentional clip over goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh in the 78th minute lifted the Hammerheads to a playoff-clinching 2-1 victory over the Blues before a club-record crowd of 5,783. Manny Guzman, left alone on a corner kick, provided Wilmington (13-6-3) a 31st-minute lead, and Peter Byers scored a fine goal from Josh Tudela's long ball to bring L.A. (8-6-7) even in the 62nd.
The Blues, who are chasing Rochester (11-7-4) and Harrisburg (9-6-7) in the National Division, play Sunday at Antigua Barracuda (8-13-2), then finish up next weekend with games against Richmond at Cal State Fullerton and Norco College.
L.A., playing a brutal 11-games-in-one-month schedule to close the regular season, have won just once in five games, and chemistry rather than weariness might be the prime culprit. There have been many roster changes, especially up top, with Antiguan star Byers, Mexican youngster Jonathan de Leon and now Armenian attacker Artur Aghasyan added to a multinational corps during the summer transfer window.
The L.A.-based Aghasyan, cousin of Russian League star Yura Movsisyan, came to the Blues after he was released by Real Salt Lake after making just one MLS appearance. RSL was former Pasadena City College star Movsisyan's second MLS club.
Byers has been the most productive. He scored for the third successive game and has seven in an abbreviated campaign, including a month with Antigua at the start of the season.
The Blues are six points behind the Rochester Rhinos, which was routed, 3-0, Friday night by Charlotte; and three in back of the Harrisburg City Islanders, which drew, 0-0, with FC New York -- a result that completed the National Division playoff field, giving the Pittsburgh Riverhounds the final slot.