Los Angeles Blues News Release -- www.labluesprosoccer.com
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
FULLERTON, Calif. – After Sunday’s fifth consecutive defeat in league play, Blues Head Coach Charlie Naimo showed an emotional reaction toward his team, and he didn’t take long to follow up with big steps in an effort to right the ship. With his squad preparing for a trip to Florida and a crucial pair of meetings with Antigua Barracuda FC, Naimo utilized his extensive connections around the professional game to make several key changes to his roster.
A player who has been with the Blues since the beginning of the club’s inaugural season in 2011 is attacker Israel Sesay. The 21-year-old offered his thoughts on the recent run of tough results, which came during a demanding stretch of five matches in eleven days, three of those on the road.
“I think exhaustion has had a lot to do with it, given that we’ve been playing all these back-to-back games and some of them in 100-degree heat,” Sesay said. “We’re all definitely tired, but we need to pick it up despite that. We absolutely can’t afford to give anything away anymore if we want to make it to the playoffs.”
The sentiment was echoed by Naimo.
“Everybody in the league is tired right now, so I’m not allowing exhaustion to be an excuse anymore,” the man in charge of the Blues said. “The bottom line is that we need to be better, which is why we’re working diligently to make some critical personnel changes before the roster freeze date.
“Our team will get a little bit of a facelift. Everyone here has had plenty of time to prove that they can impact our team in a positive manner, and that didn’t happen in some cases. Things have just gotten stale. Too many of the guys are comfortable and need a reality check. Very few have been consistent and some just aren’t working to earn their positions right now. That leaves us with no choice but to mix things up.”
There may well be one departure in the near future that would be entirely unrelated to Naimo’s efforts to improve the team, with one of his young prospects having drawn interest from abroad and a transfer appearing imminent. However, most subtractions over the coming week will be due to players being released, according to the Blues Head Coach.
“Everybody knows we’re one win away from feeling good again”, he offered. “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. Just having added a few new faces, I already know we’ll have a better squad traveling to Florida to play Antigua. The guys on board definitely feel the urgency.”
A departure Naimo would rather do without is that of striker Bright Dike, who joined the Blues on loan from MLS side Portland Timbers in May and scored six goals in 10 appearances for the Fullerton-based club. The 25-year-old’s standout play saw him recalled by his top-flight team this week.
The loss of Dike makes quality additions to the roster all the more crucial, and the Blues have already made a first splash by bringing in the Timbers’ Andrew Jean-Baptiste on loan as well as acquiring defender Josh Suggs and goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski.
The 20-year-old Jean-Baptiste is a 2012 MLS SuperDraft first-round selection who has made four appearances for Portland this season. Suggs spent the 2011 campaign with the Blues before signing with MLS outfit San Jose Earthquakes, and Woszczynski is a former standout goalkeeper with the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“We’re looking to instantly start Suggs and Jean-Baptiste against Antigua, because that’s what we brought them here for,” Naimo said of his new defensive duo. "We’re talking to another MLS team regarding one more attacking option.
“Replacing Bright is a huge task because he’s not just a good player but a great guy and a hard worker. He didn’t come here with a prima donna attitude but as a true professional and a humble guy that produces. While we’ll miss him greatly, we’re exhausting all of our options to find a suitable replacement.”
Dike scored two of his side’s four goals during a recent three-game road swing before hobbling off the field with a hamstring injury in the first of a pair of home matches against Orlando City. The striker’s absence in the second meeting with the defending USL PRO champions added to the difficulty of the task for Naimo’s men, who suffered their fifth consecutive defeat in the contest.
“Everybody is disappointed because we know we’re a better team than this,” former Los Angeles Galaxy man Sesay said. “The coaching staff is obviously frustrated and the players are pretty down, but that just means we have to come together and show what we’re made of. It’s times like this that really show the character of a team.”
Naimo is hopeful that the roster moves will help his players regain their confidence.
“At this level, after you exhaust all the other option, you have to make changes within the laws of the league,” he said. “That’s the nature of the professional game, and our team is no different. We’ll do exactly what we need to do to win games, because that’s what the Blues are all about. We’re about winning.”
In desperate need of points, the second-year USL PRO side faces another challenging task against Antigua, despite the ‘Cudas sitting in the league basement. Head Coach Tom Curtis’s squad has raised some eyebrows in the past two weeks with a 1-0 home win over the second-place Charleston Battery and a 1-1 road draw with 2011 runners-up Harrisburg City Islanders.
Antigua features the dangerous strike partnership of Stefan Smith and former Blues forward Peter Byers, who scored a terrific goal in Antigua and Barbuda’s World Cup qualifying match against the United States in June. In addition to the attacking threat posed by their opponents, the Blues will also have to deal with the strenuous cross-country travel and playing in difficult conditions once more.
“We need to be stronger mentally,” attacker Sesay remarked. “We know it will be hot again, but we need to just take it as it is, as opposed to complaining about it. Antigua has to deal with that as well, so it will come down to who has the better mindset heading into it.”
Naimo concluded his outlook on the pair of matches on an optimistic note, reassuring Blues fans of his belief in the team and in the reinforcements.
“Against Antigua, I’m looking for energy and consistency,” he said. “I’m looking for 90 minutes of all the things we’ve done well this season, individually and as a team. The guys who can get that right are the ones who will stick around and see us into the playoffs.”