Charlie Naimo wasn't pleased with the result, but he couldn't find much else not to be ecstatic about in the L.A. Blues' opener Saturday night at Cal State Fullerton.
The biggest crowd to see a Blues home game -- 2,432, more than half the total from 12 home games in last year's inaugural season (and more than three times bigger than the previous best) -- witnessed a dynamic, fast-paced battle between teams with USL Pro title aspirations. If the Rochester Rhinos' 1-0 triumph left an unsavory aftertaste, it was offset by the home team's performance, the quality of the game and the spirit bred by the atmosphere in Titan Stadium.
“I wouldn't be surprised to see us and the Rhinos at the end of it all,” Naimo, who rebuilt the Blues roster -- to go along with a restructured front office -- after exiting in the first round of the playoffs following an 8-7-9 campaign in year one, told ESPN Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon. “[Defending champion] Orlando City is a great team, but teams have gotten better. I think it's a great league, a much better league than it was a year ago. If that's the kind of game we're getting week in and week out, that's pretty high-level stuff.”
Former Colorado Rapids forward Tam McManus scored the lone goal, a 22nd-minute header aided by failure to pressure J.C. Banks' cross and inadequate marking in the box, but the game, most of it, belonged to the Blues. Former UC Irvine star Irving Garcia, one of three former Major League Soccer players on L.A.'s roster, and Scottish veteran Ricky Waddell directed the midfield dominance, and points would have been won had Korean striker Cheun-Yong Park been on target with an open header in the 25th minute or had a late frenzy been rewarded with a goal.
“I thought the guys were extremely sharp,” Naimo said. “Honestly, we made one mistake. The marking wasn't tight at times, but we were clean. I will say this: The Rhinos are a great team. That game was the fastest-paced USL Pro game that I have been part of. It kind of felt like we were playing Chivas USA's reserves. ... It's a game of inches. Don't make mistakes, put that [Park header] in, and they're chasing the game.”
Naimo, who also gave high marks to right-sided midfielder Brian Farber and goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh, said he wasn't concerned that the Blues have not won at Titan Stadium, where they were 0-4-2 in USL Pro and U.S. Open Cup play last year.
“I'm not worried about that," he said. "That's only a matter of time.”
They're home again Friday night, again against the Rhinos.
The biggest plus was the attendance. The Rhinos drew 4,536 for 12 home league games last year at Fullerton and sites in Corona, Norco and Pacific Palisades. The best crowd showed up on opening night: 676. Half the attendances were under 300, and the season average was 396.
Marketing efforts absent last year have increased visibility, and 2,432 makes a statement, even if it fell below the pregame estimate of 3,000 to 4,000 made by vice president of business operations Steve Donner, point man in the Blues' organizational advances. Owner Ali Mansouri has said he'd be very happy to average 2,000 per game; Donner predicts a 3,000 average. Our thoughts: Southern California is a tough market.
“What I didn't realize was the Galaxy had a home game [Saturday] night,” Naimo said. “If the Galaxy didn't have a home game, we probably would have picked up some more fans.”
Titan Stadium, Cal State Fullerton
L.A. Blues 0, Rochester Rhinos 1
R -- Tam McManus (J.C. Banks) 22
L.A. Blues: Amir Abedzadeh, Bryan Burke, Ebrima Jatta (Luis Gonzalez, 88), Carlos Borja, Sun-Hyung Cho (Matheau Hall, 46), Erlys Garcia, Brian Farber, Irving Garcia, Ricky Waddell, Israel Sesay (George Davis IV, 67), Cheun-Yong Park (Allan Russell, 71). Unused subs: Chad Bond, Matt Fondy, Jose Miranda.
Rochester Rhinos: Kristian Nicht; Quavas Kirk (Lucas Fernandez, 84), Troy Roberts, Tyler Bellamy, Jack Traynor, J.C. Banks (Conor Chinn, 78), Tyler Rosenlund, Andrew Cost, Danny Earls, Graciano Brito (Michael Tanke, 69), Tam McManus (Andrew Hoxie, 87).
Yellow cards: Rosenlund 21, E. Garcia 36, Earls 58.
Referee: Jesus Cisneros. Att.: 2,432.
Records: L.A. Blues 0-1-0, 0 points; Rochester Rhinos 1-0-0, 3 points.