Los Angeles Blues News Release -- www.labluesprosoccer.com
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
FULLERTON, Calif. – After a week of intense training sessions at their Fullerton College facilities, the Los Angeles Blues' players and coaches feel well prepared for their back-to-back home matches against Antigua Barracuda FC this coming Thursday and Saturday. Having earned a convincing 2-0 road win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on July 31, Head Coach Charlie Naimo’s men are aiming for six points against their Carribean visitors to keep their playoff hopes alive.
In desperate need of a victory just over a week ago, the Blues downed Pittsburgh behind a disciplined performance and tallies by Brian Farber and Max Griffin, one of four players brought in by the club in early July, following a five-game losing streak. In addition to Griffin, the Blues added goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski and defenders Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Josh Suggs. Another reinforcement was inked shortly thereafter in attacker David Arvizu.
Counting a scoreless tie in an exhibition match with Guatemalan giants C.S.D. Municipal, the Fullerton-based side has posted shutouts in three of its previous five contests, a possible fourth falling apart on July 27 when Matt Hall nodded the ball into his own net to give hosts Rochester Rhinos a 1-0 win.
“We have to continue to play good defense,” Naimo said. “Since acquiring the first four players, we’ve had three shutouts in five games and could have had another if it weren’t for bad luck in Rochester. While our defending has definitely improved, I do think that we’re versatile. The players who have performed well in practice this week will determine the system we use against Antigua.”
One who has played a prominent role in the team’s improved defending is on-loan Portland Timbers center back Andrew Jean-Baptiste. The 20-year-old MLS SuperDraft first round pick has looked outstanding for his new side since joining about a month ago.
“We were just defensively sound against Pittsburgh,” he said in analyzing the critical win. “Whenever you get a shutout, you have a great shot at three points, and that needs to be our mindset against Antigua. Our final passing in the attacking third was also a lot better. That made us more dangerous and made their defense work. In previous games, we had opportunities to play that killer pass but failed. This time we really made those chances count.”
While the Blues coaches have yet to settle on a lineup and tactical formation for the upcoming back-to-back matches, Naimo did mention several players by name that can be expected to play key roles.
“The only thing we know tactically is that we’ll be playing four in the back,” he offered. “That means it will be difficult for Antigua to make predictions about us. That said, a few things particularly stood out to me as positive in the Pittsburgh game. One of those was Erlys Garcia playing in the holding midfield role and stopping a lot of attacks before they really developed.
“At the other end, Max Griffin has been great in creating chances for us and I believe he’s bound to get into a scoring rhythm, with Matt Fondy continuing to be a great attacking impact off the bench. In addition, [former MLS striker Maykel] Galindo has made great strides since recovering from injury and Bryan Burke has shown his versatility since we started experimenting with moving him up the field from right back.”
Recent acquisitions Jean-Baptiste and Suggs as well as stalwarts Carlos Borja and Allan Russell should also see significant playing time against Antigua. Defender Jean-Baptiste is anxious for an opportunity to gain three crucial points on Thursday and take a major step toward reaching the postseason.
“We’re focusing on a lot of different aspects, from attacking and defending to communication and transition,” he said. “We’re ready for the games. We’ve been talking about them and preparing since the Pittsburgh game, and we can’t wait to take the field now. We know every game from now on is crucial.”
With the Blues sitting two points outside the USL PRO playoff picture, failure to grab victory in the first clash with Antigua would see their postseason hopes take a major hit. Naimo believes his squad holds the advantage over the visitors from the Caribbean.
“We still have to sit down and figure out the best way for us to come out against Antigua,” he said. “What will help us is that we’re finally home for a decent amount of time and have 20-plus healthy players available. I don’t expect Antigua to travel with a large squad, so we should have more rested legs available and have the better energy over the two games.”
The pair of fixtures will provide Naimo’s men with an opportunity for redemption with their fans, following consecutive defeats to visiting league-leaders Orlando City in early July.
“We haven’t really had a proper home match in over a month, given that the Orlando games came immediately after a stretch of three road games in six days. There really wasn’t much of a home-field advantage back then, given how exhausted the team was. It will be good to play several games at Titan Stadium after actually having plenty of time to rest beforehand.”
Jean-Baptiste is confident his side will give its playoff hopes a boost against the Barracudas.
“We want to get six points from the two games. While Antigua has a lot of quality players, we have to try to exploit the weaker aspects of their game. At the same time, we need to remember that the better team doesn’t always win, so we have to make sure we avoid mistakes and put away our chances. If we can do those things, I think we have a great chance to make the postseason.”
The Blues face Antigua Barracuda FC at Fullerton’s Titan Stadium this coming Thursday and Saturday at 7.30 p.m. PT. On Thursday, the American Martial Arts Academy will be performing a special demonstration at halftime and will be donating two weeks of free karate lessons as well as a uniform and belt ($99 value) to the days' raffles.
During the final four home games of the season, the Blues will be raffling off bigger and better prizes than ever before in their history, including three $499 vouchers for the Auto Tint Specialist and three $99 vouchers for Rhino Custom Detailing as well as plenty of gift certificates for select partners (CaliFire Grill, 300 Anaheim, UltaLuxe Anaheim Cinemas, Sport Clips Fullerton and the Cornerstone Family Wellness Center).
Tickets to Blues matches are $10 and may be purchased by calling 714-738-8011 or by visiting www.labluesprosoccer.com. Parking at Titan Stadium is free.