L.A. BLUES: Good effort in El Tri loss

FULLERTON -- The L.A. Blues are still seven weeks from their USL Pro opener. Their preseason camp hasn't opened, not officially. So the effort the team gave in a 1-0 loss to Mexico's under-20 national team has head coach Charlie Naimo feeling good about what's to come.

The Blues absorbed nearly everything thrown at them by an El Tri side that featured up-and-comers from several of Mexico's biggest clubs -- Guadalajara, America, Tigres, Monterrey and Santos Laguna among them -- and might have achieved a better result if not for red cards three minutes apart to Mexican trialist Mike Lopez and Israel Sesay.

Lopez's 70th-minute red card, after a hip-check on Monterrey's Oscar Garcia, might have been warranted. Sesay, a former Galaxy player who inadvertently kicked Santos' Jesus Escoboza, could have gotten off with a yellow card, perhaps. No matter.

“I'm most proud of the way they fought and battled for each other, even two men down. They never quit,” Naimo said following the match, which drew 2,864 to Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium. “You can really look at the heart and discipline this team will have this year, and we're still missing a bunch of guys. We haven't started preseason yet. I'm pleased.

“To play a fit group of soccer players like that, that pressed us for the whole game -- they're active, they're busy, they're technical. That's a great soccer team. The way that game went, I hate losing as much as anybody, but I felt our guys played with a winner's mentality tonight. We need to get better in our attack, but we'll figure it out.”

The Blues have a mix of signed players -- the latest, not yet announced: former UC Irvine star (and New York Red Bulls midfielder) Irving Garcia, who played up front -- and those looking for jobs, and quite a few won't be in camp until preparations for the club's second season in America's third-division league begin, officially, on Thursday.

Naimo, whose club has been training all winter, likes the foundation, which ought to serve the Blues well after last season unraveled amid indiscipline and problems with chemistry.

“I saw some things tonight,” he noted, “that said, 'OK, we've got this figured out, that figured out. We've just got to figure this out and then figure that out.' ”

Among the pluses: A solid backline, with Gambian newcomer Ebrima Jatta and returning defender Carlos Borja, formerly of Chivas USA, in the middle -- and Matt Hall having a terrific second-half showing. South Korean newcomer Park Cheun-Yong was dynamic after moving up top from the flank in the second half. And Erlys Garcia, usually a center back, was revelatory in his first match as a holding midfielder.

The only goal arrived in the 59th minute, with Tigres' Alfonso Tamay slotting home from Monterrey's Giovani Hernandez.

Mexico's roster included two Americans -- Mission Hills-born goalkeeper Richard Sanchez, who plays for FC Dallas in Major League Soccer, and Uvaldo Luna, a Tigres product who also plays for the U.S. U-20 side.

Candido Ramirez has made his first-team debut already for Sanos, and he and Guadalajara's Raul Lopez have played for Mexico's U-23s.

Mexico has two games to go on its SoCal trip, taking on UCLA on Thursday night at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys and next Saturday against Cal in Santa Maria.

The Blues are back in action on March 10 at Cal State Fullerton against UCLA. Mexican second-tier club Irapuato was scheduled to play that night but was forced to pull out.