Los Angeles Soccer: Jonathan de Leon
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.
He got his chance Friday night, and he can do plenty.
De Leon, 24, cleared to play earlier in the day, scored two first-half goals as the Blues started a brief East Coast trip with a 2-1 USL Pro victory over the Richmond Kickers in a game played in sizzling heat -- with an index of 110 degrees.
Cesar Rivera set up both Blues goals, sending a through ball for De Leon in the fifth minute and feeding the UANL Tigres product to dribble through Richmond's defense to make it 2-0 in the 44th.
Mexican goalkeeper Oscar Dautt made several big saves -- two each on Luke Vercollone and Matthew Delicate -- and was beaten only by Sascha Gorres' 69th-minute penalty kick after Nelson Akwari fouled Vercollone.
The Blues (7-4-5) kept pace with National Division leader Rochester (10-6-3), a 3-0 winner Friday over Pittsburgh, and second-place Harrisburg (8-5-5), which Wednesday routed FC New York, 5-1. L.A. visits Harrisburg on Saturday night. Richmond (10-6-3) has lost three of its last four home games.
L.A. was without forward Chukwudi Chijindu, who is on loan from Chivas USA. Chijindu has a high ankle sprain, but coach Charlie Naimo said it was possible he might play Saturday.