Los Angeles Soccer: Bright Dike
Center back Andrew Jean-Baptiste, a first-round pick in January's MLS SuperDraft, has joined the Blues on loan from Portland in advance of this week's games against last-place Antigua Barracuda in Bradenton, Fla.
Also arriving on loan is Orlando City forward Maxwell Griffin (Palmdale/Littlerock HS), a former UCLA star who scored 10 USL Pro goals last year and finished the season on loan to the San Jose Earthquakes. The Blues sent winger George Davis IV to Orlando on loan in the deal.
The moves with Portland coincide with Monday's dismissal of Timbers head coach John Spencer, with general manager Gavin Wilkinson taking charge on an interim basis for the rest of the MLS season.'
The Blues also have signed defender Josh Suggs, who played for the club last year and has been with San Jose this season, and goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski, a Chicago Fire supplemental draft pick who spent nearly a week on trial in February with Chivas USA. Head coach Charlie Naimo indicated L.A. also is talking to an MLS club about acquiring an attacking player.
Woszczynski could be replacing Amir Abedzadeh, the Blues' No. 1 goalkeeper, whose transfer to a club overseas appears imminent.
Naimo, whose team has lost five in a row, expects to release a few players this week.
“Everybody knows we’re one win away from feeling good again,” he said in a club release. “That said, it doesn’t erase what I’ve seen over the past two weeks. Nothing will ever erase that -- not even two wins this week in Florida. What has happened has happened, and the mark has been left. Making changes now is nothing more than the logical conclusion from that.
“It’s never personal, but we’re absolutely going to release players and trade to bring on others who we think can help us. I’m exhausting every minute of my time right now to try to find a way for us to get better in our personnel.”
FULLERTON -- Charlie Naimo has never been one to hide his emotions, but after his L.A. Blues hit bottom Sunday evening, dropping their fifth in a row with a 4-0 debacle against Orlando City SC, he made it clear that he's ready to dump some of the more useless players under his command.
The Blues' head coach/general manager railed against his team's penchant for costly errors, its naļvete, lack of “mental strength” and shortage of “resourceful guys,” and said if all USL Pro contracts weren't guaranteed, “I would cut so many guys from this team right now. ... Do you think I'd keep some of these guys around here? You kidding me?”
The Blues (5-8-2) were done after conceding two goals to Dennis Chin in first 17 minutes, both following turnovers, then gave up two more near the end, to Jean Alexandre in the 70th and Matt Luzunaris in the 78th minutes, Alexandre's also after a giveaway in the back.
“It's beyond frustrating to me at this point. The bottom line is we make too many mistakes right now,” Naimo told ESPN Los Angeles. “Nobody scores a hard-earned goal against us. It's always a gift. I don't know, I don't have any answers. It's my fault. I picked the team. I'm the one who signed some of these guys that are allowing these things to happen, so, whatever. It's on me.”
The Blues have in a week and a half fallen from fifth to eighth in the third-division league, and they haven't scored in their last three games, including back-to-back losses at Cal State Fullerton to first-place Orlando City (12-1-4), the defending champion.
They were without striker Bright Dike, who has six goals in 10 games after arriving on loan from Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers but tweaked a hamstring in Friday's loss.
Dike might be done with the Blues; he's set to return to the Timbers early this week, but what exactly that means is uncertain.
“He's supposed to go back tomorrow,” Naimo said. “It could be for good, we don't know. We discussed about him going back [to Portland] short-term, coming back [to qualify before] out roster freeze” date in two weeks. “We're working pretty well with Portland right now. I'm sure we'll get another player or two [from them].”
They're getting another defender Monday, with Josh Suggs, who played for the Blues last year and has been with MLS's San Jose Earthquakes this season, arriving on a free transfer. Suggs “is going to give us another winner, winning mentality, good athlete. Helps you in a game like that. I would have played him [rather than Corey Miller] at left center back today, and I promise you the first two goals don't get scored.”
Orlando City SC claimed a 1-0 victory before a sparse crowd at Cal State Fullerton, knocking the Blues (5-7-2) down another peg in the standings -- to eighth -- with a rematch set for Sunday, also at Titan Stadium.
“I don't know what to say. I'm baffled ...,” said Blues head coach Charlie Naimo, whose team lost three in a row on a six-day Eastern swing that ended Tuesday. “As the game wore on, I thought we got better and better and better and just didn't produce a goal. In a tight game like this, there's not going to be a whole lot of chances.
“I was happy with the way we played. We're a good team, and [Orlando knows] it. That's two games in a row against the best team that we could've won both matches [the first, in May, was a 1-1 draw in Florida], and it wouldn't have been we got lucky. Tough shape now, man. We're in real tough shape.”
Center back Kieran Bernard headed home Anthony Pulis' corner kick in the second minute, and although the Lions (11-1-4) couldn't create a whole lot more offensively, that was enough -- especially once Dike was done.
The forward, who has six goals in 10 appearances since joining the Blues on loan from Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, limped off with a hamstring injury just before halftime. It doesn't look to be a major ailment, but it will surely keep him out of the finale in the two-game set.
Dike had the Blues' best chance, muscling through Orlando's defense in the 28th minute for a sharp shot at the right post, but goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo made a fortunate stab to keep it out of the net.
“If we'd have played that well with Dike on the field in the second half, you've got to think he would generate three or four shots himself,” said Naimo, whose team managed just six shots, to Orlando City's eight. “So it definitely hurt us.”
The Blues dropped their second in a row after conceding twice in the first five minutes, falling to the Wilmington Hammerheads by a 4-2 count in a wild, sloppy, at times invigorating USL Pro affair that ought to have some bearing on the third-division league's playoff race.
Bright Dike scored for the fourth straight game for the Blues (5-5-2), who dropped from fifth to sixth in the standings and can fall to seventh with another loss Tuesday at Richmond.
Bryce Taylor scored from former Cal State Northridge standout Dylan Riley's feed after just 137 seconds, then fed Corey Hertzog two minutes later to give Wilmington a two-goal lead by the fifth minute.
L.A. twice crept within a goal, but the second strike -- from Bryan Burke in the 60th minute -- was costly. Galindo was caught in a scuffle in the net after the goal, and referee David McPhun produced the red card.
Hertzog, whose loan agreement from the New York Red Bulls was extended this week for the rest of the USL Pro season, scored his second 13 minutes later. Corey Miller hit the net in the 88th for the Blues, but it was waved off.
ORIGINAL POST: Bright Dike scored two more goals but they only made the score more respectable for the L.A. Blues, who opened a six-day, three-game Atlantic Coast swing with a 3-2 USL Pro loss Thursday night to the Charlotte Eagles.
Dike, on loan from Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, tallied in the 58th and 88th minutes, each time narrowing the Eagles' advantage to a goal.
That's six goals in the past six games for Dike, a fast, muscular striker who has found the net in five of seven appearances since joining the Blues (5-4-2). He'll look to add to the total Saturday night in crucial showdowns against the Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads and Tuesday against the Richmond Kickers.
The Kickers (4-5-5) are even on points with the fifth-place Blues, and Wilmington (5-5-4) is in fourth place. The top six teams advance to the playoffs.
Mauricio Salles converted a penalty kick after an Erlys Garcia hand ball to give Charlotte (4-8-2) a 28th-minute lead, and Christian Meza made it 2-0 four minutes later. Jorge Herrera scored the third one minute before Dike's second goal.
Blues coach Charlie Naimo was so unhappy with the Blues' play in the first half that he made four substitutions at halftime, changing three flank players and pulling former Chivas USA striker Maykel Galindo.
Charlotte (4-8-2) made seven changes in the team that lost to Chivas USA in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal two days earlier on the Blues' home field at Cal State Fullerton, then brought on four more Open Cup starters in the second half.
The Premier Development League expansion side rallied for a 1-1 draw although down a man in a showdown of the Southwest Division's Nos. 1 and 2 clubs at Ventura College, an intense clash that ended with a little postgame dustup in the parking lot, the Arizona club reported on its website.
Francisco Lopez gave Ventura the lead five minutes into the second half, but Danny Toia -- Real Salt Lake's first Home Grown Player, released by the Major League Soccer club in February -- netted the 61st-minute equalizer. Tucson was down to 10 players after Eli Galbrath-Knapp's dismissal in the 30th minute.
The Arizonans (6-1-3) surged into first place, one point ahead of the Fusion (6-1-2), with Monday's 1-1 draw against L.A. Misioneros.
Elsewhere in minor-league soccer:
USL PRO: Bright Dike is the third-division league's Player of the Week after scoring the goals in the L.A. Blues' 1-0 wins Friday and Sunday over Dayton, which sent them from seventh to fifth in the table. Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh made the PDL Team of the Week. Only first-place Orlando City (9-1-2, 2.4167) and second-place Charleston (8-3-0, 2.1818) have more points per game than do the Blues (5-3-2, 1.7000).
CARSON -- Neither of Chivas USA's center backs Monday morning was under contract, and one of them hadn't played competitively in months -- focused more on his UCLA degree and keeping up with two young sons.
One winger played on the indoor Anaheim Splash's reserve team last winter, and his replacement's experience is primarily in the minor leagues of Germany and the Netherlands. Neither are under contract.
Add in a couple of Chivas Academy stars -- high-schoolers, really -- and the Goats produced a most experimental lineup for their MLS Reserve League clash with Portland. They came out of it with a point -- rookie Casey Townsend and German trialist Sebastian Stachnik scored goals in an entertaining 2-2 draw in Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium -- and, more important, without having to expend much first-team energy.
Chivas is through one of four games in a grueling 11-day stretch, facing a critical Major League Soccer showdown Wednesday against Montreal, and the last thing it needs is to find minutes for players. There are enough meaningful minutes to spread around.
“For sure, we have a game in two days and another three days after that. And the [U.S.] Open Cup game next week,” head coach Robin Fraser said. “We have a busy schedule and are trying to manage the schedule for everyone involved.”
Only six first-team players saw action, and among them, only wingers Laurent Courtois and Ryan Smith, who came on in the second half, can be considered major contributors.
All three trialists in camp -- Stachnik, center back Bobby Burling and Brazilian winger (and former Spash reserve) Tiago Luzardi -- were given roles, and Academy midfielder Eric Gonzalez (Corona/Santiago HS) and forward Ben Spencer made their Reserve League starts since last year.
Also on hand was MLS veteran Nelson Akwari, who has played for the MetroStars, Columbus, Real Salt Lake and Vancouver (when it was a second-division team) before returning to UCLA last year to complete his education. He doubled up in the L.A. Blues' backline last season, but this year has been about school (he's two years from an engineering degree) and family.
The L.A. Blues turned again to Bright Dike to finish off a two-game sweep of the Dayton Dutch Lions, and the star striker did not disappoint.
Dike scored for the fourth time in six games Sunday to deliver another 1-0 victory over Ohio's USL Pro entry and vault the Blues (5-3-2) from seventh to fifth in the 11-team league, just one point out of fourth.
Dike tallied in the 62nd minute, taking a pass from Matt Fondy and curling the ball in from the top of the box with a shot that left Dayton goalkeeper Matt Williams no hope.
Dike also scored in Friday's win over the Dutch Lions, and he netted the Blues' goal before that one, too, in a 1-1 draw last month at Orlando City. The big forward, on loan from the Portland Timbers, has scored or assisted L.A.'s last five USL Pro goals.
It bodes well for the speedy, powerfully built forward from Notre Dame, who has struggled with little success to find playing Major League Soccer playing time.
“I can only hope at the end of this loan he gets back where he needs to be,” Blues coach Charlie Naimo said following Friday's triumph. “I think the games he's getting here, the opportunities he's getting, the chances to finish under pressure and helping this team is going to bring him back to where he needs to be. That's what loans are all about.”
It took 14 months and a brilliant second-half goal from Bright Dike, who put on a clinic as the Blues took down the Dayton Dutch Lions, 1-0, before a tiny crowd at Titan Stadium.
The Blues went 0-4-2 in their primary venue last season -- one of the losses was in the U.S. Open Cup, as a road team against the Galaxy -- and were 0-2-1 this season heading into the first of a two-game series with Dayton.
“The curse is dead,” Blues coach Charlie Naimo exclaimed. “Now we can just play soccer. ... Now we can just get on with it, not come in here every day thinking, 'Are we cursed?' We won the game deservedly. We had all the chances in the game. ... We broke the curse, but we played a pretty good soccer game. That's what's important now.”
The Blues climbed above .500, at 4-3-2, while dominating the winless Dutch Lions (0-6-5). They should have scored three or four goals, and Dike, on loan from Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, easily could have had a hat trick.
The goal he scored, in the 56th minute, was a beaut, and he hit the crossbar with a powerful drive just two minutes earlier. He might have had another in the first half, when Dayton goalkeeper Matt Williams' clearance caromed off the athletic striker and rolled back, slowly scooting just past the right post.
“That's what I came here to work on, is get that sharpness,” said Dike, who has three goals in five games since arriving in early May. “When you look at a game like that, you could have one or two, maybe even three. That's what I'm here for, and I'm in a good environment.”
Dike's pace and strength caused the Lions' defenders trouble all night, and he destroyed them on the goal. He took a pass several yards inside the midfield stripe, raced alone to the box, then fired across the goalmouth and inside the right post.
Dike made it all out of nothing, more or less, and most impressive were how he dealt with Dayton's defenders on the play, holding one off as he collected the pass -- he then turned and sprinting right past-- and expertly turning his body against another in the box, protecting the ball as he shot.
The message out of Fullerton is simple: Don't overlook Dayton.
Ohio's Dutch Lions haven't won a USL Pro game this year, and they only won two of 24 last year, but the L.A. Blues are leery as they prepare for a two-game set this weekend.
“It's not going to be easy,” Blues head coach Charlie Naimo told ESPN Los Angeles in advance of Friday night's 7:30 meeting at Cal State Fullerton. “The USL Pro is pretty tight this year. There are no blowouts. We've seen enough now and know [Dayton] is as good as anybody.”
Dayton, it should be noted, is 0-5-5. That makes the second-year club 2-21-11 in almost a season and a half -- numbers that hardly seem frightening -- but the number combination that matters most, that demonstrates what the Lions can do, is 2-1: the score in their U.S. Open Cup upset at Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew.
The Dutch Lions are 3-0 in the Open Cup and set for a quarterfinal showdown June 26 at Sporting Kansas City. They're 3-1-2 in all competitions over the past 3½ weeks -- the lone loss by a goal to second-place Charleston -- after halting the Rochester Rhinos' string of shutout victories with a 1-1 draw nearly a month ago.
The Blues (3-3-2), who are returning to action after a three-week break, won the season's first meeting May 11, a 1-0 decision in Ohio, and Dayton had the better of play for good stretches of the action. It's a possession team with some dynamism, as the name might suggest -- rather like the Blues.
“Thinking of Dayton, the first thing that comes to mind is the Dutch philosophy of keeping possession and knocking the ball around, which is somewhat similar to ours,” Blues winger George Davis IV, who played last year for Dayton, told his club's website. “That seems to have worked really well for them lately, given the run they're on with those Open Cup wins and having been so tough to beat in the league.
“When you add in the fact that they haven't won a league game, that makes them very dangerous. They have every reason to believe in themselves and at the same time are dying to get their first three points, which is a powerful combination.”
Former Chivas forward Maykel Galindo will play his first match at full strength after using the break to recover from a foot injury, and Naimo is looking forward to seeing him teamed up front with Bright Dike, who has tallied twice in four games since joining the Blues on loan from MLS's Portland Timbers.
Major League Soccer's salary list, which the Players Union released Friday, reveals that nearly everyone in the league received a raise of some sort this year, most of them a mild step-up of a few thousand dollars, a few getting more considerable reward.
Among players bred or educated in the L.A.-area, one of the biggest jumps occurred at the top: Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, the best-paid American in MLS, saw his salary jump 100 grand -- from $2.3 million to $2.4 million. Donovan, who is from Redlands (Redlands East Valley HS), is the league's fifth-highest-paid player.
Bruising forward Steven Lenhart (Yorba Linda/Esperanza HS and Azusa Pacific University), who is so key to San Jose's success, picked up a bigger raise, some 400 percent, when he signed a contract extension last November. He made $45,000 in base salary last season and is making $180,000 this year.
Also improving by six figures: Galaxy defender Sean Franklin (Palmdale/Highland HS and Cal State Northridge), from a little more than $97K to $205K, and Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy (Yorba Linda/El Dorado HS and UC Santa Barbara), from about $62,500 to $175K.
New England's Benny Feilhaber (Irvine/Northwood HS and UCLA), whose contract mechanics led Chivas USA to decline his services when he showed up on the allocation list last year and the club had first dibs, also received a $100,000 raise, to $400,000 in base salary.
The only local players whose salaries declined were New England goalkeeper Matt Reis (Mission Viejo/Santa Margarita Catholic HS and UCLA), who dropped about $30K to $157,000 base salary; Vancouver midfielder John Thorrington (Palos Verdes Estates/Chadwick School), whose $170,000 is a cut of almost $25K; and FC Dallas backup goalkeeper Chris Seitz (Thousand Oaks/Thousand Oaks HS), who dipped from $100,000 to $75,000.
Here is the full list of salaries for local players, those who grew up or attended high school or college in the greater L.A. area. Also included is Portland Timbers forward Bright Dike, who is playing on loan with the third-division L.A. Blues. The first figure is base salary and the figure in parentheses is average guaranteed compensation):
Portland Timbers loaner Bright Dike scored his second goal in three games, Amir Abedzadeh was superb in the nets, and the Blues (3-2-2) played with energy and style to hold reigning champion/first-place Orlando City SC (6-0-2) to a 1-1 draw at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
“Coming off of a match in the Open Cup where there was minimal effort, it was great to see the team just leaving it on the field,” head coach Charlie Naimo told ESPN Los Angeles. “A couple guys who were not there for us Tuesday played harder tonight than I've ever seen them play. They definitely took that loss to heart.”
L.A. was looking to attack all night and was the better team at the end, creating several chances and hitting a post as it sought a late winner. That was the Blues' plan from the start, and because Tuesday's loss to the Ventura County Fusion eliminated a game next week from their schedule, that also will be the approach Saturday night against the Charleston (S.C.) Battery (4-2-0).
Orlando City went ahead in the 22nd minute, with Wes Allen powerfully heading home an Anthony Pulis corner kick, but the Blues were even within three minutes.
Dike, who played 33 minutes Wednesday night in the Timbers' friendly with Spanish club Valencia in Portland, Ore., headed home a cross from Allan Russell to tie the score in the 25th.
Proceeding in the U.S. Open Cup is a priority for the L.A. Blues, who enter the competition Tuesday against the Ventura County Fusion, and they'd love to take a shot next week at Chivas USA if they win.
Getting there won't be easy. The Blues (3-2-1), if they beat the Fusion in the in a second-round game at Fullerton College, face four games in eight days on two coasts. The USL Pro contests between the Open Cup dates are against two of the third-division league's best clubs, defending champion Orlando City SC (6-0-1) and Charleston Battery (4-2-0).
Something's got to give.
“I'd like a different schedule, let's leave it at that ...,” Blues head coach/general manager Charlie Naimo told ESPN Los Angeles on Monday. “Really, it is out of my control. Out of the organization's control. You can't worry about what you don't control, you just have to go out and do it. I have to decide based on what happens [Tuesday] how I want to play Thursday and Saturday. I have to choose.”
Orlando City's situation is the same as the Blues', with four games in eight days if it wins its Open Cup opener Tuesday, but the Lions would sit at home until next week's third-round game at Sporting Kansas City, provided they beat K.C. Athletics, a U.S. Adult Soccer Association side. Charleston also has an Open Cup game but plays just once on the weekend.
Naimo's approach will be fairly straightforward. Beating the Fusion is important, but it likely won't require a first-choice lineup -- Ventura, amateurs from the USL's Premier Development League is playing its fourth game in eight days -- and the goal is victory in Orlando.
“I'm thinking our guys will be up to play the defending champions,” Naimo said. “We're going after that game. We're not going in to try to steal a point. We want to win that game.”
Do so and, if the date with Chivas is on for May, the Blues “might not put in guys who won't be able to play against Charleston and Chivas. It's tough to do that. ... My goal is winning [Tuesday], have a good result against Orlando. Can't think much beyond that point.”
Bright Dike scored his first goal for the Blues and set up Matt Fondy's finale as L.A. (3-2-1) completed a two-day sweep of lesser sides with a 3-0 romp Saturday night at Pittsburgh (2-5-0).
All three goals came in the second half as the Blues overcame a slow start and gradually assumed command starting about halfway through the first 45 minutes.
Ricky Waddell scored a stunning goal in the first minute of the second half, running onto a bouncing ball and half-volleying it into the upper-left corner from 25 yards to send L.A. ahead.
Dike, who Tuesday joined the Blues on loan from Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, chipped over Riverhounds goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap six minutes later from Fondy's ball over the top. Fondy, who played last season for Pittsburgh, netted his second of the season from a Dike feed in the 69th.
The Riverhounds' best chances arrived early, with David Leon hitting the right post in the third minute and former New York Red Bulls youngster Matt Kassel firing at Blues goalkeeper Jose Miranda when 1-on-1 in the eighth minute.
Russell pounced on a loose ball in the box following a corner kick to give the Blues a 1-0 USL Pro victory Friday night at Dayton, his team-best second goal of the season.
It was a make-up play for the 31-year-old Scot, who had skied a penalty kick well over the crossbar just 12 minutes earlier. His other goal, in last week's win over Wilmington, was from the penalty spot.
The victory extended L.A.'s unbeaten streak to three games with another match set for Saturday night at Pittsburgh. The Blues (2-2-1) vaulted from 10th to fifth in 11-team league and remained nine points off the third-division lead. Dayton (0-3-2) is in last place.
Bright Dike made his presence felt in his first appearance for the Blues, forcing a point-blank save from Dutch Lions goalkeeper Matt Williams in the 26th minute and drawing the foul from Mettin Copier for Russell's 67th-minute spot kick, but Ladislas Bushiri made the biggest difference after coming on in the second half.
The big Congolese-born Canadian, making just his second appearance of the season, entered in the 61st minute for Cheun-Yong Park to change L.A.'s formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1. He clamped down on Dayton's midfield game, got involved in the attack and played the most prominent role as the Blues took charge for the final half-hour.