Tonight (Friday night), the Rhinos will return to Cal State Fullerton to take on the L.A. Blues again. Last week’s season opener saw the Rhinos run out 1-0 winners thanks to a Tyler Rosenlund header from J.C. Banks in what was otherwise a closely contested match.
“The good from Saturday was our defensive shape away from home and our work rate, that was tremendous,” Myers told Jeff DiVeronica. “But we have to get better at holding the ball and changing the point of attack. We weren’t able to do that enough. Matter of fact, when we did it we scored a goal. When we find J.C. and Danny (Earls) we create problems for people.”
Quavas Kirk came off early in the team’s first match, so Lucas Fernández could get his first start. According to DiVeronica, George Kyriazis is likely to replace injured Tyler Bellamy in the back, while Jack Traynor looks set to start again as Mike Zaher recovers from a nagging groin problem.
“The most important part of Saturday night is that we got all three points in our season opener.” Myers said. “There are typically a lot of questions whenever you begin the season. We really didn’t know how good we were as a team. We also really didn’t know what to expect from the Blues with a completely different roster this season. One thing we did know is that when you play a team that (L.A. Blues head coach) Charlie’s (Naimo) coaching they are going to play a short passing, possession style of play. We just wanted to keep them from turning that possession into balls played in behind us.”
“This trip came at the perfect time for us.” said Myers. “We broke out of training camp and flew out to Los Angeles to earn three points in our season opener. Now we have been able to train in LA all week in preparation for our match against the Blues this Friday night. The change of pace and scenery has been welcome after spending a month in preseason. It has really helped us come together as a team, and will have lasting benefits for us this season.”
Los Angeles is likely to start the same lineup that faced Rochester last week. Erlys Garcia and Ricky Waddell holding the midfield with Irving Garcia playing ahead of them. This triangle will be crucial to the Blues’ possession style of play. Out wide Brian Farber and Israel Sesay will attack Rochester’s fullbacks and cut inside. Cheunyong Park will be the target man up top for L.A. as he tried to lead the attack against the Rhinos. L.A. fullback Sunhyung Cho will get forward as much as possible, but may be passed for a spot in the starting XI for Matheau Hall who does the same thing. Carlos Borja, Bryan Burke and Ebrima Jatta will be looking to remain solid and maintain their concentration in front of goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh.
A brief run down of the Blues projected match day squad.
25 year old center back Ebrima “E.J.” Jatta is a 6’3″ Gambian youth international. Head coach Charlie Naimo said about Jatta, “When we saw E.J. during his initial trial with us, we instantly noticed that had the physical tools, was able to cover ground and showed great feet and composure under pressure. He looked like he could make an immediate impact and give us what we were looking for on the field, and on top of that he’s a also great guy who adds to the moral fabric of the team.”
23 year old Korean native and Bethesda Christian University alumnus Cho Sunhyung. Associate Head Coach Shayon Jalayer said, “When it comes to our backline, we’re not looking for grunts who only know how to win tackles and headers but for guys who also know what to do with the ball at their feet,” Jalayer said. “Cho is that kind of player who has both the intelligence and the technical ability to find solutions under pressure. In addition to that he’s very fit, so he really brings a variety of elements to the table that we like.”
Park Cheunyong, a 23 year old Korean native was recently on trial with the Seattle Sounders of MLS. “Park is a very mobile, dynamic and powerful attacker,” Associate Head Coach Shayon Jalayer said. “He has great strength and can hold the ball up for us. One aspect of his game we particularly like is his direct play and urge to get to the goal. That adds an element that is different from the way we usually play, which makes us less predictable. If we can temper that with a bit of patience and that way bring it a little more in line with our possession-oriented style, I think he could be an outstanding player for us.”
31 year old defender/midfielder Ricky Waddell, a Scottish journeyman, makes LA Blues his 11th club signing. “One crucial thing about Ricky is that he can play on the left and whip dangerous balls in the box, whether it’s as a midfielder or as a defender,” Jalayer said. “In addition, he has what we call the British mentality, meaning he’ll run up and down the field all day and pull himself up from his own bootstraps when the team is struggling. At the same time, he knows how to knock the ball around and keep possession, which is key to our game.”
Our former Red Bull, Conor Chinn, might be looking to reminisce with his old teammate Irving Garcia, an attacking midfielder who now plays for the L.A. Blues. “It’s not a coincidence that Irving was drafted by the Red Bulls and impressed in the matches he played in,” Charlie Naimo said. “He’s a very busy player and the tricky guy in our attack who we think will give opponents fits with his creativity and work rate. As we’re making progress as a group everyday, you can see how his style is clicking more and more with his teammates. He adds a crucial element to our game.”
An exciting young player for the Blues is Bryan Burke, who most recently excelled with championship winning Kitsap Pumas of USL’s Premier Development League. “He’s got this huge engine, he can go up and down all day long, he’s got very good service when he’s in the attacking third, and he’s a very good defender in his own right, so he’s got all the tools to handle this easily, and I think there’s even another level for this kid,” Naimo said. “We’ve been more than pleased with his performance thus far.”
The club has decided to retain the services of 19 year old Iranian goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh. Jalayer said of Abedzadeh, “He’s technically sound and has done quite well when called upon in our preseason matches. While he still has to mature with regard to the tactical side, one of his biggest strengths is his confidence in his own abilities. Given his limited experience at the professional level, it’s astounding that it doesn’t intimidate him. That’s a huge asset.”
Cuban defensive midfielder Erlys Garcia was one of seven players who defected from Cuba’s Under-23 team during the 2008 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Tampa.
21 year old Sierra Leone native Israel Sesay began his career with the Los Angeles Galaxy. The forward also made 14 appearances for the United States u-17 national team.
Mexican-American defender Carlos Borja spent time in the Cruz Azul youth system before joining U.S. youth club Irvine Strikers FC. Borja spent 2010 at Chivas USA and signed for the Blues in 2011.
29 year old veteran midfielder Brian Farber played with the Carolina Railhawks for the 2011 NASL season and looks to leave his mark in the USL-Pro this year.
L.A. head coach Charlie Naimo was positive about his team’s performance last week when speaking to SoccerNation. “Our defensive shape was pretty good, but we need to take advantage every single time we outnumber them in our own box,” stressed Naimo. “Not doing so led to the goal in the first game. It was our two guys against the server, yet we couldn’t prevent the cross. Then it was four versus two in the box and Rosenlund still got to the ball first. Sometimes we do all the hard work and then waste it away like that.”
“It was a very tightly contested game,” Naimo offered. “Both teams turned in pretty good performances and neither one really deserved three points. Rochester took advantage of a mistake we made and we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we created. In a game between two good teams, that’s the difference. Unfortunately that now puts us in a situation where our second match of the season is already crucial. That’s obviously not ideal, but I’m hopeful that the boys will come out and treat it like a playoff game.”
Tonight’s match will probably be just as tight as last week’s affair. While I’d like to think Kristian Nicht and the back line will keep another clean sheet, I think this game will end 1-1. I predict that Tam McManus will get a scrappy goal for the Rhinos, perhaps off a messy corner, and the L.A. Blues will make their possession pay off with a concentrated build up before a goal by Brian Farber.
4 points from a season opening road trip is nothing to be ashamed about and even if the team drops the result at Titan Stadium tonight, the team should hold their heads up when they face 2011 strugglers Dayton Dutch Lions next Saturday in Ohio.