Los Angeles Soccer: Walter Gaitan
FULLERTON -- Not a whole lot happened as the L.A. Blues opened their final homestand Friday night against the Richmond Kickers with a 0-0 draw at Cal State Fullerton. They'll meet again Sunday in Norco, in the USL Pro's regular-season finale.
It's the Harrisburg City Islanders, rather than the Kickers, that the Blues (8-7-8) are thinking about: That's whom L.A. will face in their playoff opener next Friday in Pennsylvania.
The Blues have won only one of their last seven and none of their last four, and the excitement that accompanied a 3-0-0 and 4-1-1 start has largely dissipated, gone after Argentine playmaker Walter Gaitan's exit in mid-June.
With the championship to be determined in an eight-team, single-elimination event, the Blues need to be on for only three games to win a trophy, and Charlie Naimo likes his chances.
“There were wasted opportunities during the season we can look back on,” the Blues' head coach said, “but now it's the second season. That's all that matters.”
Orlando City's 4-0 romp Friday night over Harrisburg gave Rochester the National Division title, and Charleston claimed the final postseason berth with a 4-3 win over Charlotte. That set these quarterfinal matchups:
- L.A. Blues at Harrisburg
- Pittsburgh at Rochester
- Charleston at Orlando City
- Richmond vs. Wilmington, home team to be determined
Naimo likes the Blues' path.
“I really like us against Harrisburg,” he said. “I do. I think it's a good matchup for us. We drew with them twice. The game we lost [to them], obviously, I think we were very unlucky to lose against them, but, hey, credit to them for getting the result.
Gaitan, Blues officials acknowledged, left the club about two weeks ago, and nothing's been heard since. Without him, L.A. has won two U.S. Open Cup matches -- it meets the Galaxy in a third-round clash Tuesday night at Fullerton -- and suffered through a disappointing weekend against USL Pro league rival Harrisburg.
The City Islanders vaulted past the Blues and into second place in the National Division with a 2-1 triumph Sunday afternoon that followed a 1-1 draw Friday in Corona. That leaves L.A. (5-3-3) in third place, six points behind first-place Rochester (7-4-3) and three behind Harrisburg (6-4-3). The Blues, of course, have games in hand on both.
Naimo started a makeshift lineup, holding out a few regulars for Tuesday's game, and said afterward he was pleased with most everything but not with his side's ability to finish.
"The mentality's not right on some of these guys," he said. "You get in position to shoot, shoot. And then you give up a crap goal against the run of play and you're chasing the game, and then you come our at halftime, out of the locker room, with no ambition.
"I'm extremely disappointed in our team. I can't say anything less."
Adriano de Lima, brought up from the Blues' reserve team, hit the crossbar just as first-half stoppage began, and had the shot been six inches lower, it might have been a different game.
But Sainey Touray scored seconds later for Harrisburg and, Andrew Welker's deflected shot in the 64th minute made it 2-0. Former Galaxy winger Israel Sesay tallied for the Blues in the 82nd minute; forward Cesar Rivera was red-carded in the 88th.
"I feel bad for the guys that bring the right mentality into the game and really care enough about the win to do what it takes to win," Naimo said. "And you give guys opportunities to play themselves onto the park, and they don't take advantage of it. ... When they're sitting on the bench, they don't need to ask why. I can't look at any player and say, wow, that players bringing it or leaving it [on the field], and that's a problem."
Gaitan isn't bringing anything. Apparently, he wants more money.
"He is in his mind what he thinks he's worth, and he's entitled to that," said Naimo, who added he's had no contract with the midfielder. "But we have a contract, and he wants to choose not to play, that's his thing. But we hold his rights, and if he's going to play anywhere between now and September, it's going to be here. ... If he wants tom play on a team, he's going to be here."
Chukwudi Chijindu scored twice and set up Edwin Miranda's brilliant opener as L.A. Blues put together their best performance since last month's Caribbean trip in a 3-0 romp over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in Bridgeville, Pa.
Chijindu, with the Blues on loan from Chivas USA, struck in the 28th minute and in second-half stoppage as L.A. (5-2-2) opened a seven-point lead on Rochester in the USL Pro's National Division. Rochester (3-3-1) has two games in hand, but the Blues are the only team with a winning record in the division. Pittsburgh fell to 2-4-2.
L.A. had been up and down since going 3-0-0 to start a season-opening trip to Puerto Rico and Antigua, winning just one of five games after Friday's 1-1 draw at Dayton, the league's only winless side.
But Miranda blasted a Chijindu feed to the upper-right corner from just above the box in the 17th minute, and Chijindu made it 2-0 just 11 minutes later from a Walter Gaitan flick.
Mexican goalkeeper Oscar Dautt stopped Stefan Lundberg 1-on-1 in the second half to claim his second shutout of the season.
The good news for the L.A. Blues: They're atop their new division and have an opportunity next weekend to build on that lead with road games against the USL Pro's only two winless sides.
The bad news: The Charlotte Eagles were winless before coming to So Cal, and, after Saturday's finale of a two-game series with the Blues, they're winless no more.
Jorge Herrera's stoppage-time penalty kick lifted the Eagles to a 2-1 victory at Cal State Fullerton. L.A. won Thursday's encounter, 2-1, at Centennial High School in Corona.
Cheyne Roberts' half-volley from a Herrera corner kick gave Charlotte (1-4-1) a 22nd-minute advantage, but Walter Gaitan knocked home a loose ball after a 75th-minute corner to pull the Blues (4-2-1) even. Herrera's penalty winner followed a Leonard Griffin hand ball.
The Blues played short a man after central defender Erlys Garcia was sent off in the 42nd for a studs-up tackle on Alan Sanchez. Chivas USA loaner Chukwudi Chijindu, who netted the winner Thursday, hit the crossbar, and a Garcia header was cleared off the Charlotte goal line.
L.A. is 0-2 on its primary home field, and the crowd again was a disappointment. Only 623 were in the stands for a tripleheader that featured La Mirada's Southern California Seahorses, a Charlotte affiliate, and the Pali Blues, the Blues' championship women's team. Three home games have drawn 1,993.
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.”
The L.A. Blues are heading into a new market, taking their game to Riverside County, which they hope has a hunger for soccer that they can quench.
Head coach Charlie Naimo just wants to get back on the field, no matter where.
"I'm just looking forward to playing," said Naimo, whose Blues (3-1-1) take on the Charlotte Eagles in a USL Pro game Thursday evening at Centennial High School in Corona, the first of four scheduled games in the Inland Empire. "You drop your honme opener, and then you've got to wait 11 days to play? That stinks. You just want to get back on the horse."
The Blues were beaten, 1-0, by Antigua Barracuda on May 1 at Cal State Fullerton, and the statuses of Argentine playmaker Walter Gaitan and local forward Cesar Rivera, who weren't available in that one, are uncertain. Jamaican forward Akeem Priestley also is ailing, and Iranian right back Mehrshad Momeni is still awaiting receipt of his visa.
Forward Chukwudi Chijindu, on loan from Chivas USA, is expected to make his first start after a slow beginning to the campaign because of a hamstring injury.
Charlie Naimo spoke last week to the importance of first impressions, and when his L.A. Blues finally got to make one, the message came garbled.
There was plenty of good but much too much that wasn't in the club's home opener Sunday, a 1-0 USL Pro defeat to Antigua Barracuda before a small but appreciative crowd at Cal State Fullerton.
The Blues (3-1-1) lacked sharpness in Barracuda's box without late scratch Walter Gaitan, who failed a pregame fitness test after tweaking a quad muscle last week, and suspended forward Cesar Rivera and got far too little from their overwhelming advantage in possession.
Barracuda (4-2-0), which overtook L.A. atop the third-tier USL Pro's International Division standings, was content to sit back -- but with a high and effective restraining line -- and counter, and forward Peter Byers might have had a hat trick, or more, had he finished as well as he beat defenders.
Stefan Smith scored the goal, in the 24th minute, knocking home a rebound after a giveaway by Nelson Akwari led to a Lawson Robinson shot, but the Blues surely would have prevailed with better precision in the final pass or finish.
“We were good at the things Walter would've helped us be good at, which was keeping possession and creating chances,” said Naimo, the Blues' head coach and vice president. “Cesar's that guy that if we had high amongst [Barracuda's] backline … [he's] so strong on the ball, you get him that ball in those areas, central, he's gonna turn you, he's gonna spin you, and he's also extremely creative. I think he would have made a difference.
“Obviously, Walter could have made a difference. But you know what? At the end of the day, whatever we had on the field tonight, I thought the guys did a good job. We lacked efficiency in the final ball, whether it was the service or the finish. We created some beautiful chances tonight.
“It had to be a great game to watch, but, obviously, you come up short, you come up short.”
OPENING NIGHT: The crowd count was 696, which is smaller by 7,157 than the gathering that saw the Blues' second team, playing in the lesser Premier Development League, in Fresno on Friday night.
They'll get the chance Sunday in their home opener at Cal State Fullerton, and head coach Charlie Naimo admits he's feeling some pressure. He so wants his possession-first squad to make the best impression against USL Pro divisional rival Antigua Barracuda, even if he's unsure who -- or how many -- he'll be looking to impress.
The Blues (3-0-1), who leapt atop the International Division standings in the third-tier league with an unbeaten four-games-in-nine-days trip to the Caribbean, haven't had much opportunity yet to lure followers, so it could be a lot of friends and family joined by a few soccer junkies looking on when the 5 p.m. kickoff arrives at Titan Stadium.
Naimo, who is the Blues' vice president (and de facto technical director for all three pro-level teams within the club), says he doesn't have a feel for how big the opening-night audience but will be satisfied in a couple of thousand stop by. It might take a few games to reach that number -- the Blues also will play home games at Centennial High School in Corona and College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita -- but this is a long-term project.
"If we can get 2,000 in seats [I'll be satisfied]," Naimo said. "I wish it were more, but I'd be happy with it. We're a first-year team with so many things to do. We didn't know we'd be playing until late October, didn't have a [general manager] in place until Feb. 1. Where we are, we have to be realistic with our goals.
"We're looking at the first year as we've got to build toward year two and get better every day. Every day build the fan base more. We're hoping if we do well, keep stringing together results, play well, we can be a team soccer enthusiasts want to support. We're not there yet, but we're headed in the right direction."
Tomislav Colic scored twice as the L.A. Blues remained perfect on their season-opening Caribbean trek, topping Puerto Rico United, 4-2, on Wednesday night in a USL Pro clash in Carolina, Puerto Rico.Mike Randolph and Akeem Priestley also tallied for the Blues (3-0-0), who finish the trip Saturday against River Plate Puerto Rico in Carolina.
Colic, a Serbian forward who starred at Costa Mesa's Vanguard University, scored in the 29th and 59th minutes. Former Galaxy back Randolph tallied from USL Pro player of the week Walter Gaitan's feed in the 33rd, and Priestley cemented the victory in the 83rd. Hector Ramos scored for PRU (0-1-1) in the 66th and 78th minutes.
Argentine midfielder Walter Gaitan debuted in USL Pro with three goals and an assist as the L.A. Blues opened with wins in Puerto Rico and Antigua. On Monday, he was named the third-tier league's player of the week.
Gaitan scored a goal and assisted another in the Blues' 3-0 victory Friday at Sevilla FC Puerto Rico, and he scored both Blues goals in a 2-1 comeback win Sunday at Antigua Barracuda FC. L.A. closes its four-game Caribbean trip with matches Wednesday against Puerto Rico United and Saturday vs. River Plate Puerto Rico, both in Carolina, Puerto Rico.
Blues center back Nelson Akwari was selected for USL Pro's team of the week.
Gaitan scored on a 30-yard free kick and a penalty kick as the Blues, the only team in the third-tier league's International Division with a victory, overcame a first-half deficit in St. John's, Antigua.
Gaitan, the biggest name on the Blues and, arguably, in the league, also tallied in L.A.'s 3-0 romp in its opener Friday night at Sevilla FC Puerto Rico.
The Blues left four players in Puerto Rico with injuries -- captain Josh Tudela, defender Erlys Garcia, and forwards Tomislav Colic and Akeem Priestley -- and will meet up with them Monday, when the team returns to the island for games Wednesday against Puerto Rico United and Saturday against River Plate Puerto Rico, both at Roberto Clemente Stadium in Carolina. The extent of the injuries hasn't been made clear.
Cesar Rivera, Walter Gaitan and Gerardo Bravo netted the goals in a 3-0 triumph as the Blues opened a four-games-in-nine-days Caribbean trek by vaulting to the top of the USL Pro's International Division standings.
Head coach/vice president Charlie Naimo celebrated his 40th birthday with the decision, which dropped Sevilla to 0-1-2. The Blues take on Antigua Barracuda FC, making its debut, on Sunday in St. John's, Antigua.
Rivera gave the Blues a 50th-minute lead with a 40-yard blast. Gaitan, an Argentine midfielder, made it 2-0 in the 81st minute, and Bravo netted the finale in the 88th.
The makings of a success story? The L.A. Blues hope so, and as they embark on their inaugural season in USL Pro -- American pro soccer's third tier -- they've got greater designs than putting out an affordable and entertaining alternative to the Galaxy and Chivas USA.
“We want to make the playoffs and get in the championship,” says midfielder Josh Tudela, one of eight Blues with Major League Soccer experience. “We're not going to settle for anything less than that.”
It's big talk, but the Blues, on paper, at least, have the makings of a contender. They've got Argentine midfielder Walter Gaitan, a superstar of mammoth proportion at this level of the game, veterans such as Tudela and defender Nelson Akwari, rising players like Chivas USA loaner Chukwudi Chijindu and some local-league stars head coach Charlie Naimo says he believes will make their names with the club.
“I feel we've done a pretty good job of putting together a very good roster for this level,” said Naimo, who has won three titles in United Soccer Leagues' women's league and was general manager of the L.A. Sol, the short-lived Women's Professional Soccer club partially owned by the Blues organization. “So they need to find some strength in that, then say, 'Hey, we've got the group, now we have to win.' ”
If they're not as good as the Galaxy, they might be more fun to watch. The plan is to play a pretty possession game, weaving passing patterns past foes to create chances for Chijindu and the other forwards.
“Everybody wants to play that way,” Naimo said, “so time to put up or shut up. Do what is required, and a lot of what I see is when it doesn't work, it's the guys off the ball who aren't working hard enough to get into good spots. You've got to make the game easy for your teammates.
“We're certainly not afraid to pass the ball to guys that are contested. We're certainly not afraid to ask for the ball when guys are on us. It's just a matter of getting those people in a little bit spot, a matter of of making that pass a little bit better so they can escape. And then you discourage that high pressure. That's the only way to slow a game down. Otherwise, what stops the other team from chasing you, from running you over for 90 minutes? You've got to be able to step on the ball. … It's obviously attractive if it comes off.”
The Blues open their season Friday night in Juncos, Puerto Rico, where the begin a four-games-in-nine-days sweep of the Caribbean, facing their four International Division rivals. First up: Sevilla FC Puerto Rico, which has weak ties to its Spanish namesake, followed by matches Sunday at Antigua Barracuda, Wednesday at Puerto Rico United and next Saturday against River Plate Puerto Rico.
The home opener is May 1 against Barracuda at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium, and home games also will be played at Centennial High School in Corona and College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita.
The L.A. Blues spilled their worst-kept secret Thursday, announcing that Argentine attacker Walter Gaitan has signed a one-year contract with the USL Pro side.
Gaitan, who has played for Boca Juniors in Argentina and Villarreal in Spain and while with UANL Tigres led Mexico's Primera Division in scoring for the 2005 Apertura, could be a huge star in the third-division USL Pro, a new league under the United Soccer Leagues' umbrella. The Blues, a new pro club, will play home games at Cal State Fullerton, Centennial High School in Corona and -- just once -- College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita.
The season begins April 15, and the Blues play their home opener May 1 at Fullerton against Barracuda FC from Antigua.
"We are extremely excited to add a world-class player like Walter," Blues head coach/vice president Charlie Naimo said in a statement. “Breaking down defenses and scoring goals is not easy, and throughout his career Walter has proven success doing it."
Gaitan, who also played with Necaxa and Veracruz in Mexico, turns 34 next month. He said he hoped to serve as a mentor to Blues' lesser-experienced players.
A little homework never hurt anyone, no matter what we claimed back in fifth grade, so let's gather the hints, add them up and see where it takes us.
An Argentine. … Played in Mexico for UANL Tigres. … Won the Primera Division scoring title a few years back.
Hmmm. … Walter Gaitan?
He's the man who fits the description: The Argentine attacking midfielder played for five years for Tigres, from 2002 to 2007, and was the top scorer in 2005 Apertura with 14 goals, leading UANL to the semifinals.
The Blues, who will debut in the third tier USL Pro league this spring, will unveil Gaitan, or some other mystery star, before they open camp next month at Salesian High School in Los Angeles.
Gaitan, 33, a left-footer, has played in Argentina (Rosario Central and Boca Juniors), Spain (Villarreal) and most of the past decade in Mexico (for Tigres, Nexaca and Veracruz). He shares the record for most goals, with eight, in the Clasico Regiomontano rivalry between Tigres and Monterrey.