Written by Gunnar Berndt | LA Blues Pro Soccer
 April 18, 2011


“Sloppy Play,” Outstanding Gaitán Make for Mixed Bag of Emotions Following 2-1 Comeback Win in Antigua


LOS ANGELES, Calif. Even though the Los Angeles Blues were able to grind out a tough come-from-behind victory over Antigua Barracuda FC Sunday, it wasn’t all cheers after the game. Mixed in with the excitement over the team’s 2-0-0 start to the season was some concern over the performance in the opening half hour of the match and what it could mean for Wednesday’s meeting with hosts Puerto Rico United (4 p.m. PST).

While Argentine Walter Gaitán has been lighting up the Blues attack with three goals and one assist in two games, the team’s initial inability to keep possession against
Antigua needs addressing ahead of the upcoming fixture in Carolina, Puerto Rico.
 
 “Antigua came out flying and we came out really flat, which may have had something to do with it being our second game in such a short time while it was the season opener for them,” Blues left back Mike Randolph offered. “No matter what the reason was, we didn’t play well. We were very lazy and they got a quick goal as a result. After they scored, they kind of sat back and that made it tough for us to play good soccer.”
 
Added right back Leonard Griffin, “Their goal came as a result of a bit of a defensive lapse on our part. Their forward did well to finish, but we also made it possible by getting caught on a through ball.”
 
Blues Head Coach Charlie Naimo joined the two defenders in their criticism of the team’s early performance but also stressed the vast improvement starting late in the first half. In addition, the North Brunswick, New Jersey, native praised his star playmaker for taking control of the game as a true leader should and elevating his team’s performance.
 
“We came out and played extremely sloppy, but then we started the second half with a major push for possession,” Naimo offered. “Walter Gaitán was a big part of the win, not just because he scored two goals. We started him at forward, but when it wasn’t going well in the first half, he just took it upon himself to drop into the midfield, get a lot of touches and that way dictate the tempo of the game. That helped us settle down and it transferred over into the second half.”
 
Encouraged by their improved possession game, the Blues came out with a lot more energy after the break and finally embraced the physical battle to which they were being challenged by the home team.
 
“The guys showed a lot of heart and character to fight and come back from a goal down, especially considering it was on the road,” commented Blues striker Chukwudi Chijindu. “It was difficult because Antigua always kept nine players behind the ball and tried to counter. But we stuck with our game plan, which was to be patient and find the seams to create opportunities.”
 
The patience paid off in the 32nd minute of play, an infringement outside the penalty area resulting in a long-range free kick opportunity that Gaitán converted with a beautiful dipping effort over the wall. Then, late in the second half, a cross into the box was handled by an Antigua Barracuda FC defender, sending the 34-year-old Gaitán to the penalty spot for his second of the night.
 
Despite the emotional win in front of a hostile crowd of over 6,000, Naimo’s enthusiasm was dampened by the fact that his team is only at the halfway point of a demanding stretch of four road games in only nine days. On a positive note, the Blues Head Coach should have Josh Tudela, Erlys Garcia, Akeem Priestley and Tomislav Colic all available against Puerto Rico United. The quartet, all of whom are potential starters, picked up minor injuries in the Blues’ season opener at Sevilla FC Puerto Rico and did not make the trip to Antigua.
 
“It will be important for us to get those four back into the lineup, so the next two days are about maintenance and getting everyone healthy,” stated Naimo. “The guys worked extremely hard to come from behind and get a result against Antigua, but more travel and increasingly tired legs will make it even harder for us in Wednesday’s game.”
 
The sentiment was echoed by Randolph. “I don’t know much about Puerto Rico United, but I’m sure it will be difficult given that it’s our third game of a long road trip and we now have targets on our backs because we’re 2-0 on the season,” the 25-year-old said. “I hear their field is really hard artificial turf, but I also feel like we’re prepared for anything. We just need to work on our composure on the ball and our urgency to get open when a teammate has it. We failed to do that early in the Antigua game and it made it much harder on us.”
 
Chijindu shared his teammate’s concern about the playing surface at Roberto Clemente Stadium but also finished on a cautiously optimistic note. “We know the field is artificial turf, which isn’t ideal for us, but it’s going to be the same for both teams,” he said. “We just have to try our best to adapt to it and do whatever it takes to get the win.”

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