LA Confidential: Blues are red hot

LA Confidential: Blues are red hot

385px-California_23.svgSo what kind of team will the fifth-place Battery face at 7:30 p.m. Saturday when the also-fifth-place LA Blues take the field at Blackbaud Stadium?

Well, here’s a number to keep in mind: 23.

That’s how many goals the Blues have scored at home. But it’s also the number of games they’ve scored on the road — four more road goals than the next-best away offense.

Need more evidence that this is tough opponent? Since dumping head coach Jesus Rico Sanz and ending a five-game winless slide that covered the month of June, new coach Dariush Yazdani and a retooled Blues roster have run off a 4-1-1 record this month. Granted, two of those wins came against Antigua, and they lost at home to Richmond. But the Blues have gone 2-0-1 on the road, beating Pittsburgh and Harrisburg before settling for a 3-3 draw Thursday when Charlotte found a stoppage-time equalizer.

Matt Fondy

Matt Fondy

So let’s put it this way: The Blues are one of the hotter teams in the league (third in the league in goals per match, middle of the pack on defense) and if anything they’ve improved their scoring punch since bringing former Blues forward Matt Fondy (6 goals, 2 assists and 12 shots in 6 matches) back into the fold in early July. So they’re not afraid to play open, attacking football on the road, and will likely challenge the Battery to keep up with their dynamic offensive

There’s plenty at stake, too. While undefeated Richmond and mega-squad Orlando look like they’ll lock down the top two playoff seeds, Harrisburg (37 points), Charlotte (34 points), Los Angeles (33) and Charleston (33) are all in the hunt to claim seeds three and four and host a playoff game. A win Saturday would give Charleston sole possession of the fifth seed, and could boost it as high as fourth.

It’s not a rivalry match, and it’s not exactly do-or-die. But this is probably one of the top five Battery home matches of 2013 — and not a game to miss.

All they really want is goals

Rodrigo Lopez

Rodrigo Lopez

With a freewheeling offense led by 25-year-old Mexican-American attacking midfielder Rodrigo Alvarez (second in the league with 10 assists), the Blues have averaged 2.09 goals per match in 2013. In July, that number is 3.33. In road games that average drops only to 3.00.

Six of those 20 goals came via the contributions of Fondy, who played for the club in 2012 and earned USL PRO Player of the Week honors for his two-goal debut on July 4 against Antigua, the first of two appearances on the league’s Team of the Week list. Yazdani held him in reserve against Charlotte, but still gave Fondy 37 minutes as a second-half substitute.

Chris Cortez

Chris Cortez

Blues scoring leader Chris Cortez, who played for Chivas USA in 2011, is currently 4th in league scoring among active players (i.e., taking Dom Dwyer out of the list) with nine goals and three assists. His strike partner for most of the season — former Dayton Dutch Lion/Orlando City Lion loaner George Davis IV — has put up six goals in 2o matches.

The talent doesn’t stop there. Thirty-two-year-old Scottish striker Allan Russell, who came to LA two years ago after starring for the Carolina Railhawks under Martin Rennie, has morphed into a supporting role behind Alvarez, dishing up four assists while averaging almost 88 minutes per game over 21 starts (7th in the league).

Ryan O'Leary

Ryan O’Leary

Russell has also been linked to the recent deal that brought his former Kilmarnock teammate, Ryan O’Leary, out to LA. The 25-year-old O’Leary, who debuted with the Blues in the 88th minute against Charlotte, first made headlines as the captain of Scotland’s U-21 team, but is better known in his home country as “that footballer who wrote that newspaper article about dealing with depression.” 

The team’s primary goalkeeper, Carl Woszczynski, has knocked around various levels of US soccer, from MLS to PDL, since leaving the University of Alabama Birmingham after the 2011 season. He has started 11 games for the Blues, compiling pedestrian statistics. Three other keepers have contributed 10 starts for the club this season.

LA 3, Charlotte 3

The big story from the Blues’ draw at Charlotte from a Charleston perspective wasn’t really the outcome, but the timing.

A power-outage and storm delay eventually forced the Eagles to postpone their Wednesday night match to Thursday afternoon. The Blues jumped out to an early lead, but the Eagles fought their way back and eventually found their equalizer in stoppage time. It came off the foot of a midfielder named Drew Yates.

If you’re a Battery fan and you don’t remember the name Drew Yates, well, let me ruin your day.

Defender Shay Spitz opened the scoring for Los Angeles, and apparently only an official scorer’s decision kept Cortez from scoring a brace. What was originally reported as his second goal was later recorded as an Own-Goal by a Charlotte defender.

Defining Charleston’s late homestand

The Battery fought their way to a 1-0 win against Dayton on July 19 before battering a hapless Phoenix squad 5-1 on Wednesday. The two-game winning streak reversed a seven-game winless slide that dated back to the Battery’s 2-5 loss at Real Salt Lake.

But whether we’ll remember this three-game July homestand as the moment when the Battery found their collective mojo or as just another collection of random scores largely depends on Saturday’s result.

Jarad van Schaik

Jarad van Schaik

The Battery enter the game with two of its usual starters — Jarad van Schaik and Nicki Paterson — coming off something of a break on Wednesday. Van Schaik saw some time as a substitute, but Paterson — who shares the team lead in goals with Dane Kelly at six — sat out the whole affair. Both are safe bets to start on Saturday.

Given Coach Mike Anhaeuser’s typical rotation pattern, Battery left back John Wilson will likely spend Saturday night seated with the coaches. With usual right back Mark Wiltse due to miss his second game after suffering a concussion in training, the Battery will be in search of two fullbacks. Emmanuel Adjetey, who has proven himself one of the team’s most versatile players, is a good bet to start on the left side if his legs are fresh following Wednesday’s full-90, but several players could fill in on the right, including Taylor Mueller, Shawn Ferguson, midfielder Zach Prince and even left winger Quinton Griffin, whose finishing touch has been the only obvious weakness in his recent run of form.

Jose Cuevas

Jose Cuevas

Paterson’s return to the lineup could push Jose Cuevas back out to the left side of Anhaeuser’s 4-5-1 formation. He’s been in the zone recently regardless of where he lines up — and could even take a turn at forward if Anhaeuser decides to rest Kelly, whose hustle has made him the club’s most indispensable player this summer.

Forward Heviel Cordoves and attacking midfielder Ben Fisk appear to be settling into defined roles as substitutes. Cordoves has earned Man of the Match and league Team of the Week honors in that role, and Fisk’s performance on Wednesday offered a peak at his game-changing potential.

Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper had to outsource goal kicks to his center backs Wednesday after injuring a groin muscle. His situation will be worth monitoring.

The Battery will face the Blues again on Aug. 8 at UC Irvine. The teams’ last meeting was a 1-0 Battery win at Blackbaud last summer.

TOP IMAGE: Clockwise from upper left: Matt Fondy has scored six goals with two assists in the Blues’ last six matches; Rodrigo Lopez has 10 assists on the season; Chris Cortez leads the team in goals with nine; new arrival Ryan O’Leary, who could make his first USL PRO start Saturday in Charleston, is currently best known in his native Scotland for writing publicly and openly about his long battle with clinical depression; 32-year-old Allan Russell (bottom left) has reconfigured himself as a midfielder after spending much of his career as a forward.