The L.A. Blues made their public debut Saturday night, playing in front of a real, paying audience in a charity match -- and impressing with a 7-0 romp over a team organized as the Orange County All-Stars. The real news was in the Blues' lineup.
Two new faces were on the field for So Cal's newest pro team, and both have Major League Soccer experience.
Nelson Akwari, a UCLA product who spent five years with three MLS clubs, was in central defense. Edwin Miranda, a Cal State Northridge alum who was drafted by Dallas in 2004 and has played for El Salvador's national team, was at the bottom of the midfield diamond.
Akwari, 29, will be signed this week, a club source confirmed. Miranda, 30, signed Saturday. Their additions give the Blues (4-1-2 in preseason), who on April 15 open their inaugural season in third-tier league USL Pro, eight players who have spent time on MLS rosters, including Chivas USA forward Chukwudi Chijindu (Fontana/Damien HS), who is on loan from the Goats, and former Galaxy defenders Leonard Griffin (Palmdale/Littlerock HS and UCLA) and Mike Randolph (Chino Hills/Ayala HS), midfielder Josh Tudela and forward Israel Sesay.
Akwari, who was in residency with the U.S. under-17 team in the late 1990s with Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu, etc., played in 2002 with New York, 2003-04 with Columbus and 2005-06 with Real Salt Lake. He's played in lower divisions since, spending last season with the Vancouver Whitecaps, who made the jump this year to MLS.
Miranda, a two-time Big West Conference Defender of the Year at CSUN, didn't make Dallas' team in 2004 and has since played in lower divisions -- Portland Timbers, now in MLS, and Hollywood United FC are former employers. His experience with the Puerto Rico Islanders could be valuable; three of the Blues' International Division rivals are in Puerto Rico.
A GOOD CAUSE: Blues GM Alyse LaHue estimated Saturday's game raised about $1,000 for victims of the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan, with the proceeds going to Orange County Red Cross. Argentine midfielder Walter Gaitan tallied twice and Serbian forward Tomislav Colic (Vanguard University) netted another in the first half, and Chijindu, Sesay, Gerardo Bravo-Benavides and Cesar Rivera scored goals after halftime.
The Blues' starting lineup, head coach Charlie Naimo said, was close to a first-choice group. It had Mexican veteran Oscar Dautt in goal; Akwari with Cuban star Erlys Garcia in central defense, with Griffin at right back and Josh Suggs at left back; Gaitan in front of Miranda in central midfield, with Tudela on the left and Jhonatan Bravo on the right; and Colic and Chijindu up top. There could be changes by opening day, with an Iranian defender the club is expected to sign likely to step into the starting XI.
Naimo said the Blues would be ready when they head to the Caribbean for four games over the first eight days of the season. They open at Sevilla FC Puerto Rico, which is affiliated with the Spanish club.
"I think we're in an OK spot [two weeks before the season begins]," Naimo said Sunday. "I think we've got a solid team, very good in midfield, with the discipline to play the style we want, which is a possession game."
WORTH NOTING: The Blues also have signed Iranian midfielder Sharyhar Dastan, 35, who played the 2010-11 Major Indoor Soccer League season with the Missouri Comets. ... Naimo is high on Colic. "He gets better every single day," the coach said. "He has such personality and electricity with the team." ... English defender Gareth Evans, one of the first players signed by the Blues, has been transferred to fellow USL Pro club Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads. "He just wasn't a good fit," Naimo said. "I couldn't see him fitting with our group." ... The Blues also have released forward Jaime Chavez (Industry/Workman HS), who scored 11 goals last summer for Hollywood United, Iranian forward Seyed Hosseini and English defender Luke Chambers, who was signed late last month. ... A clarification: Defender Marco Pulido (South Gate/South Gate HS, Cerritos College and Cal State Dominguez Hills) is on the roster as an unsigned player. Naimo said there were no plans to sign him.