Friday, August 17, 2012
FULLERTON, Calif. – The Los Angeles Blues were eliminated from USL PRO playoff contention on Friday night, as they drew 2-2 with the visiting Harrisburg City Islanders in a match that had the fans at Fullerton College on the edge of their seats. In addition to goals by the hosts’ Maykel Galindo and Matt Fondy as well as Harrisburg’s Bilal Ducket and Lucky Mkosana, the high-tempo affair also saw ejections to Blues defender Erlys Garcia and the City Islanders’ Garrett Pettis.
The visitors from Pennsylvania took instant control of the possession in the early stages and came within inches of scoring in the ninth minute. On a bouncing ball on the left side of the penalty area, Mkosana hit a nice left-footed volley and was unfortunate see it bounce off the top of the crossbar.
Mkosana continuted to create problems for the Blues backline, as he displayed outstanding skill and athleticism to fire just over the frame on a 12th-minute bicycle kick following Duckett’s cross from the right. The hosts finally created a dangerous opportunity of their own at the 15-minute mark, captain Allan Russell taking matters into his own hands a releasing a right-footed blast from long range that was parried away by goalkeeper Nick Noble.
The shot seemed to energize Russell’s side, who took the lead mere moments later, Shay Spitz whipping in a cross from the left that was misplayed by the City Islanders. Galindo did well to control inside the box and get past a defender before firing home from close range.
Harrisburg could have equalized in the 20th minute, as a poor clearance on a corner kick saw the ball fall to Yann Ekra at the top of the area. The 21-year-old had time to control and hit a dangerous half-volley that whistled just wide of the left post. The visitors did tie the match six minutes later, Duckett finding himself with the ball at his feet on the right and surprising the opposition backline by taking it all the way into the box and firing a precise right-footed shot into the bottom-left corner of the net.
Inspired by the equalizer, Harrisburg took the lead three minutes after the half-hour mark, Mkosana being released down the left on a wonderful Tommy Brandt through-ball and skillfully lobbing over onrushing netminder José Miranda to make it 2-1.
The Blues had a golden chance to get back on level terms in the 38th minute, as Galindo was released in the box and got tangled up with a defender and goalkeeper Noble. The ball popped out right to an unmarked Max Griffin, who was staring at a wide open net but saw his seemingly simple finish scraped off the line by the foot of defender Greg Jordan.
In the second half, the Blues picked up where they had left off before the break, Spitz sending in a dangerous low cross from the left that was touched back by Harrisburg’s Stephen Basso and forced a diving save from Noble to prevent the own goal. The City Islanders subsequently regained control of the match, Jimmy McLaughlin hitting a right-footed curling effort from the edge of the box that bounced right in front of Miranda, who did well to get his body behind the ball and parry wide.
Miranda would find himself in the spotlight again two minutes later, as a corner kick from the left saw Mkosana flick the ball on in traffic and the Blues netminder left his feet for a point-blank reflex save. The visitors’ next dangerous look came just after the hour-mark, McLaughlin finding himself with the ball deep inside the box and releasing a shot from a tight angle that whizzed through the goalmouth and just past an unmarked Brian Ombiji at the doorstep.
The visitors had an even better opportunity to extend their lead in the 63rd minute, Jason Pelletier hitting a right-footed curling effort from the top of the box that was tipped against the crossbar in spectacular fashion by Miranda. The Blues would dig an even bigger hole for themselves four minutes later, Erlys Garcia finding himself under pressure from Mkosana and misplaying the ball to leave himself with no choice but to pull down the striker for a straight red card.
Miranda would keep the hosts’ playoff chances alive in the 70th minute, as he made his second penalty-kick save in as many games to deny Dukett, whose cross from the right had been adjudged to have hit the hand of defender Josh Suggs. Substitute Sainay Touray had another excellent opportunity to put the match beyond doubt seven minutes later when the 22-year-old was released on a counter-attack but failed to make good contact on the attempted finish past the onrushing Miranda, as the ball trickled well wide of the right post.
In the game’s highly dramatic closing stages, Griffin nearly tied things up on an 81st minute turn-and-shot from the top of the penalty area that bounced off the outside of the right post. The Blues did find the equalizer five minutes from full time, Matt Hall whipping in a nice cross from the right and an unmarked Israel Sesay heading back across the face of goal to find the foot of Matt Fondy, who slammed home for an easy finish.
Needing all three points to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Blues attacked furiously for the remainder of the match and had several quality chances to take the lead. In the 86th minute, Bryan Burke hit a cross from the right wing that was dangerously headed on frame by Sesay to force a crucial stop from netminder Noble. Two minutes later, the duo reversed their roles, Sesay setting up a wide open Burke inside the box and the California native firing just high on an excellent opportunity from close range.
The hosts’ attacking efforts picked up even more steam after Harrisburg’s Garrett Pattis was ejected after his second yellow card of the match for an 88th minute sliding challenge against Miranda. With both teams down to 10 men, the Blues had one last dangerous look, as Fondy picked out Burke near the penalty spot and the 23-year-old did well to turn and get a left-footed shot off that flew just past the right post.
Miranda gave his team a fighting chance moments later with a strong foot save to deny Touray on a City Islanders counter-attack, but the Blues’ spirited efforts would not be rewarded, as their opponents held on for the tie and eliminated the home side from playoff contention.
The two teams face each other again this coming Sunday at Fullerton’s Titan Stadium to close out their regular seasons. Tickets for the 5 p.m. PT match are $10 and may be purchased by calling 714-738-8011 or by visiting www.labluesprosoccer.com. Parking is free.
In the Blues’ final home game, they will be raffling off bigger and better prizes than ever before in their history, including a $499 voucher for the Auto Tint Specialist and a $99 voucher 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).