Can I admit that I have never been to a professional soccer game that didn’t include an MLS team? Can I also admit that while I love soccer that I am completely unable to name any other USL Pro teams besides the LA Blues and the Puerto Rico Islanders?
So now that we have gotten my ignorance out of the way, let me tell you about a trip to Santa Ana that included a couple red cards, some inspiring play, and the realization that in the lower levels of soccer in the United States, there is much to be desired when it comes to your local public address announcer!
There was a good size crowd waiting outside the gates of Santa Ana Stadium when I arrived. Impressive considering this is the inaugural season for the Blues. However, I would say a large majority of the crowd was there to see the home team, the Santa Ana Winds (Side Note: Best name ever for a soccer team). The Winds play in the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League).
The game itself was high energy from the very get go. Throughout this game the LA Blues dominated possession and only looked stifled when The Winds would counter. Of course The fact that the Blues spent most of the game down to 10 men probably didn’t help.
Patrolling the midfield for the LA Blues was a name that should be familiar to most LA Galaxy fans. Josh Tudela found himself as the captain in the central midfield and was both quick with the distribution and quick with his feet. It was obvious that the speed of play on the pitch wasn’t overwhelming this former Major League Soccer player and he stood out as an integral part to this offense.
However that offense would be put on hold as early in the first half Cesar Rivera was carded once for a late tackle and then again about 10 minutes later for an unsportsmanlike play that saw him kick the ball into an “injured” Santa Ana Winds player. This lead to two quick yellow cards that left the Blues down to 10 men for nearly 70 minutes of play.
Shortly after the expulsion, the winds took the lead off of a quick counter attack that found the undermanned Blues back on their heels. The goal came against the run of play and due mostly to a slow transition from the midfield that lead to a quick strike for Santa Ana.
At the end of the first half the Santa Ana Winds had a surprising 1-0 lead and would get to play the full 45 minute second half with an extra man.
But the Blues had other ideas. They attacked ferociously time and time again with good ball movement, quick point of attack changes and overall skill. They finally found space when Tomislav Colic, on trial with the Blues, found the back of the net twice in the second half. His quickness, pace, and creativity tore apart the Santa Ana defense and he was unlucky to have not found the net more times. In both cases balls received near the middle of the field gave way to a quick footed Serbian who was more than willing to take on a defender one vs. one.
In addition to Tomislav the Blues had a very talented right back, Justin Valashinas. Valashinas was decisive on the ball, wasn’t caught out of position on defense, and was a constant threat to overlap and make himself available in the attacking third. Had the LA Blues been at full strength for this game, I have to imagine that Justin would have gotten to see a lot more of the ball.
So with the Blues holding possession for most of the second half and Santa Ana not mounting too much on the counter attack it was up to a last minute push forward that saw an out of control Winds player pulled down inside the box. Some could argue that he was fouled on his way towards goal and others would say he tripped over the ball (HE TRIPPED OVER THE BALL), but regardless a Penalty was awarded and converted.
Total count on yellow cards had to be above 6 and even a Blues Coach was sent off. So for you entertainment value, five dollars was a bargain.
My overall impression of the LA Blues is that they have some talent behind the ball. They seem to be quick through the midfield and defense, and really are just missing the finishing touch. The biggest issue will have to be impulse control. Although I considered a lot of the yellow cards to be soft, they allowed the referee to dictate the game they played on the field. If they can get a handle on their emotions they have a fighting chance to really gel as a team.
If you have never seen a USL game, then make sure you head over to the Blues Website and get the schedule of games they will be playing in the Orange County area. The majority of their home games will be played at Cal State Fullerton, which is a great venue located right in the heart of Orange County. And I promise that as the team finalizes the roster and hands out numbers, I will be more descriptive with the players, coaches and the club.