As the L.A. Blues struggled through a dark stretch as June turned to July, an answer to their problems sat on the sideline, waiting for the summer transfer window to open.
It did, Antiguan forward Peter Byers -- a major contributor not so long ago for the Major League Soccer-bound Montreal Impact -- became eligible, and his blisterintg speed and precise touch had immediate effect, even if he wasn't putting the ball into the net.
Byers scored his first goal for the Blues on Sunday afternoon, and it delivered a 2-1 victory over his former team, Antigua Barracuda FC, at Norco College, a pivotal triumph if L.A. is going to catch Harrisburg or Rochester for one of the top two spots in the USL Pro's National Division.
Byers, 26, scored in the 39th minute to extend the Blues' advantage to two goals, enough to secure their first home win over Antigua in three tries. They'll look to make it two in a row in the third meeting in five days Tuesday evening in Pacific Palisades.
Jamaican forward Akeem Priestley also scored for the Blues (8-5-6), who clinched a playoff berth with the victory. They sit third in their division with 30 points, seven behind the first-place Rochester Rhinos (11-6-4) and three in back of the Harrisburg City Islanders (9-6-6).
The Blues have five regular-season games to go and need to catch the City Islanders, or they'll be at a disadvantage in a home-and-home first-round series -- likely against Harrisburg.
Rochester, one of the most storied franchises in American minor-league soccer, appears to be dashing to the National crown, going 7-2-2 since the end of May, including a 1-0 win Saturday at Charleston.
The American Division has far more quality, with five of its six teams -- all but Antigua (8-13-1) -- arguably as good or better than anybody in the National. The Caribbean club has lost seven of its last eight, all but Friday's 2-1 victory over the Blues in Norco, while nose-diving into the American basement.
Byers, who started the season on a one-month contract with Antigua (and scored four goals, his total for Barracuda, in an April rout of Puerto Rico United), tormented his former teammates much of Sunday, coming close several times before scoring.
He was involved in the pivotal play of the clash, in the 26th minute, sprinting toward Josh Tudela's ball over the top and taken down from behind by Antigua defender Christopher Harvey, who was red-carded. Pristley scored on a cross/shot from the right eight minutes later. Byers fended off two defenders from another Tudela long ball to make it 2-0 five minutes after that.
Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh, making his first-team debut for the Blues, was seconds from a shutout when Justin Cochrane tallied on a 90th-minute header from Theo Browne's blast off the crossbar.