Monday, June 27, 2011

Special Report: Heiney Grabs 1st MLS Goal

Former Charleston Battery Forward Tom Heinemann opened his MLS account Sunday as the Columbus Crew dismantled reigning MLS champs the Colorado Rapids in a 4-1 goal festival.  
The budding striker snatched an opportunistic goal that would be one of many on the day.  After a bumpy start to the season, the Crew have finally seemed to find their rhythm.  They are now 6-4-6 and the win moves them into second place in the Eastern Conference standings.  The four goals in Sunday’s match is their best single-game result in nearly three years.  
The game began rather dismally for the Crew as Rapid’s Conor Casey burried a ripping header in only the 5th minute of play.  An exciting first half would see Columbus draw level only seven minutes later as Eddie Gaven seized upon an embarrassing giveaway by the Rapids shoddy defense.  Gaven, through incredible individual effort moved in for the kill and slotted home.  It would take only six more minutes for in-form striker Andres Mendoza to snatch up another awful miscue by the Rapids back line and punish them with a scorching rocket from 18 yards out.  The woes would continue for the MLS champs as Casey was dismissed on the half hour for a rash and dangerous foul on the Columbus GK.  With the lead and an on-field advantage, the Crew ran riot giving the 10,000+ fans a spectacle they would not soon forget.  As the Columbus defense cleared the ball shortly after the restart, the Rapids lost track of Mendoza who zeroed in on the ball and strode nearly half the field and once again made a fool of Matt Pickens, the Colorado GK.  The Crew were not finished and continued to dominate play.  Another great buildup play saw a botched clearance deliver the ball right at Heinemann’s feet who one-touched the ball and sent it trickling past the goal line.  The crowd was delighted and the Crew will look to continue their run as they journey to Pizza Hut Park in Dallas on July 2nd.  Colorado have got a week to pick up the pieces before facing Houston at Dick’s Sporting Goods Field. 
Alonso leads the Seattle midfield
Heinemann is not the first Charleston Battery player to go from this lower division side and thrive in the big leagues.  Cuban international Osvaldo Alonso was drafted by the Seattle Sounders when they joined Major League Soccer as an expansion team several years ago.  He has since become a regular feature and midfield stalwart in their starting eleven.  Alonso has started every single game and boasts nearly 40 shots on the year with two goals this campaign.  He is certainly Seattle’s midfield maestro and a vital part of the squad.

Alonso’s teammate Lamar Neagle has also come most recently from the Charleston Battery.  Having led the league in scoring last season with the Battery, Neagle got the call from Seattle and joined during preseason.  He has started three games and played nine total thus far.  The striker has also found the net for his new club, the Sounders. 
Neagle in Rave Green
Tom Heinemann has had a good year so far with the Columbus Crew.  After an impressive preseason, he is still working has way into the regular starting lineup.  He is a consistent sub for the Crew, providing creativity and power in the final third.  Heinemann has logged 499 minutes so far this season with ten shots on goal.  We Battery fans are delighted to see him doing so well and congratulate him on his first MLS goal.  Go Heiney!!!! 

Tired Charleston Drop Points At Home

The Battery fell 2-0 to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at home Saturday night.  After an excellent game in Wilmington Friday, it seems the Charleston squad never fully recovered.  Pittsburgh struck early as an assist from the post in the 6th minute gave Riverhound's Tuttle a golden opportunity and the opening goal of the evening.  The Battery struggled to respond as the first half played out.  Charleston's Nicki Patterson saw an effort go just wide in the 57th but the Battery would continue to rue missed opportunities.  A strong header goal by Pittsburgh's Harada in the 64th minute ended the dispute to the dismay of the Charleston faithful.  Patterson again nearly made the net in the closing minutes with a driven strike from 25 yards.  Unfortunately, GK Gilstrap managed to deny the shot and our boys finished the evening empty-handed.

We would have liked to have taken at least a point from the match, but its not all bad news.  This weekend was the last of our two day-two game fixtures.  Another encouraging note is that we won the game that mattered most (2-0 away @ Wilmington).   The loss to Pittsburgh is unfortunate, but they are in the National Division.  This means we are currently third in the American Division, behind Richmond only by goal differential.  We've eight games remaining (24 points) in the season and five of those are home matches.  Generally we play well at home and should claim most of those points.  Its not all easy sailing as we face league (and division) leaders Orlando City three more times.  There's hard work ahead but a week in between most matches should help.

Sweet Revenge at Legion Stadium

The Battery avenged their 3-0 drubbing from a month ago with a convincing 2-0 victory over regional rival Wilmington Friday night in an exciting Southern Derby match.  Charleston took the field with something to prove.  The goal post skimmer in the fourth minute was evidence that Dane Kelly and our Low Country boys were after all three points.  The Hammerheads humbled us on our last visit to Legion Stadium and Charleston were determined not to relive the worst defeat of the season.  It was Kelly again in the 22nd minute who nearly squeezed one by the keeper, but the goals would come soon enough.  A sharp counter-attack moments later brought Battery keeper Dykstra into the fray.  He not only smothered Noviello's strike but would go on to earn his second clean sheet of the season.  The international duo of Seedy Bah and Dane Kelly were ferocious up front and the breakthrough came in the 30th minute.  A good run and textbook cross by Zach Prince found Bah in the area who promptly chipped the keeper and opened the scoring.  The second half was more of same and the Battery doubled their lead in the 67th minute.  The Battery's Favley delivered a nice ball into space for Dane Kelly.  The Jamaican dumbfounded a pair of defenders then finished with speed and style.  To their credit, the Hammerheads fought hard to stay in the match with two close calls in the 77th and 87th minutes.  However, Dykstra would prove too much for the onslaught and the Battery would finish the match with a resounding shutout; returning the favor from their previous visit to Wilmington.

Two important post-match thoughts:

1.  There seems to be a bit of natural chemistry between Seedy Bah and Dane Kelly.  The longer they play together, the offensive spectrum of our play has continued to improve.  We might just have an attacking duo that can fill the hole left by our own MLS stars Lamar Neagle and Tom Heinemann.

2.  Colin Favley has shown increasing attack-mined buildup play this season.  The Irishman has orchestrated several Battery goals this year while remaining consistent on the back-line as well.  I'm looking forward to seeing how his role in the squad might develop.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Open Cup Exit; Big Weekend for Battery

A frustrating night for Charleston
Well, the good news is we don't have to worry about facing FC Dallas next Tuesday.  Unfortunately, the bad news is that we've been put out of the US Open Cup.  The Battery lost 0-1 to Orlando City Tuesday night.  The frustrating thing is that Charleston outshot and outplayed the Lions for nearly the entire match.  Nearly...The Battery had several good chances in the opening minutes and again at about the half hour mark.  Sadly, none of those chances translated to the scoreboard.  It was the 39th minute when Orlando scored the only goal of the night.  Battery keeper Andrew Dykstra perhaps misread the play and was beaten by Rob Valentino after having come off his line.  Charleston immediately pressed to level the score and had even more opportunities in the second half of play.  But it was not to be; Orlando had scored the only goal they needed.  Embarrassingly, they are the first non MLS team to leave Blackbaud with an Open Cup win.  This is the first year since 2005 that Charleston has failed to advance to the third round of play.

With little time to dwell on the loss, our boys are gearing up for another crucial double-header weekend.  As we've crossed the halfway point in the season, the points are beginning to matter.  Friday night, we travel to Wilmington where only a month ago, the Hammerheads handed us our most humbling defeat of the season.  The Battery will be looking to restore a little pride and also cement their place in the upper half of the American Division standings.  This may prove quite a challenge as Wilmington boast five wins and only one loss at home this year.  They are three points adrift of Charleston but have three games in hand.  Its also worth mentioning that this is a Southern Derby fixture, so local bragging rights are at stake as well.  This is a must-win for Charleston!
Let's take it to 'em in primtime!
Saturday evening, the Battery returns home to face the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.  The Dogs are struggling this year and we desperately need to take advantage.  Stamina will come into play considering the match in NC the previous night, but this is a game that Charleston should not lose.  With the Open Cup no longer on the horizon we really need to focus on climbing the table in the secord half of the season.  Should be an interesting weekend of football!  We need to take maximum points from these two games.  Lets Go BATTERY!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lone Goal Downs Dutch Lions

Charleston hosted a struggling league expansion side as Dayton travelled to face the Battery Friday night.  Despite the humble scoreline, our team has shown some real offensive improvement and cooperation up front.  The Battery pressed the attack in the first half and saw a number of good chances narrowly denied.  The Battery offense has really shown some promise in the past weeks and it seems the short break did the team a lot of good.  It took some time before the goal came but it was worth the wait.  Favley fed Evan Taylor with precision passing who delivered the ball for Levi Coleman with time and space to strike the ball.  His effort was buried in an open net and the Dutch Lions never looked like mounting a comeback.

Taylor sets up game winner

The win leaves Charleston in fourth place in their division, seven points off pace from leaders Orlando City.  The Battery face Orlando City tomorrow at the 'Baud in the second round of the US Open Cup.  The Lions may be a handful for us, but if we remain consistent and keep our current form, and we have some help from the home field advantage (it will be our last in the cup) we can produce the right result.  Up the Battery!

Battery Dethrone Regals, Advance in Cup

On a clear summer evening, before a smallish midweek crowd of 1,761, the Battery kicked off their Open Cup campaign.  Charleston hosted Regals FC, an amateur side from Houston who traveled some 18 hours for the fixture.  It didn't take long for the Battery to find their stride and begin the assault.  Despite 18 shots by Charleston, Regals' keeper Marcus Sanchez had an outstanding evening registering 9 saves (and perhaps a few more counting some help from the woodwork).  There was an attempt here and there, but Regals never really established an offensive rhythm.  The Battery's attacking persistence would eventually pay off as Levi Coleman earned a penalty just after the restart.  Patterson converted, giving him a tally of four goals on the year.  Charleston was not satisfied and netted again thirty minutes later.  A passing masterclass saw Massie cross in for Seedy Bah, and with a treat of a backheel, delivered the ball for Dane Kelly to slam home.  The victory was not without cost as midfielder JC Mack was stretchered off in the first half.  Despite the injury, we advance in the cup and will host USL league leaders Orlando City this Tuesday at Blackbaud.  It should be a very difficult match, but I'm confident we have what it takes to move past them.  The MLS teams enter the competition in the next round and I look forward to frying some more big fish!

Battery Begin Their Open Cup Run

Historically, the Charleston Battery have excelled in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.  In one of America's oldest tournament's, the Pride of the Low-country have habitually left MLS teams in their wake as they push for the cup.  Charleston's determination and teamwork have seen off the likes of the Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, and others.   Our Boys have never lifted the cup, but they were narrowly defeated by bitter rivals D.C. United in a controversial 2-1 Open Cup final only a few years ago.  The first team we face this year is an amateur side from Houston, Regals FC.  The Battery will host Regals FC at the 'Baud and the odds are in their favor.  However, no cup tie should be taken lightly.  I'm looking forward to another great year of this competition, and who knows?  Maybe we'll see another deep run for the Charleston Battery!

Double Header Up North

The Battery traveled to face FC New York Friday evening June 3rd and at Harrisburg the next night.  The two-match/two-day scheduling has been hurting us this season and this weekend was no exception.  The match in New York began in their favor as the Battery (thankfully) withstood a host of chances from NYFC's Graciano Brito.  Our boys pulled ahead with the help of a free kick as Nicki Patterson popped one in from just outside the box right before the break.  The one goal lead wouldn't last as New York equalized about fifteen minutes after the restart.  With chances to spare, Brito would get his reward.  A win would have been nice but there was little time to sulk.  The players hopped on the bus and began thinking about the next day's fixture at Harrisburg.

If Friday was nothing to celebrate, Saturday would prove to be even less so.  Charleston suffered a heartbreaking loss in Harrisburg.  The first half would prove lively enough as both side's would-be goals were disallowed for offsides.  Although neither team had surrendered it looked to be a scoreless draw.  In the dying seconds of the match, Harrisburg mounted an attack.  A perfect cross and an incisive header beat Dykstra and lifted all three points for the City Islanders.  It was a disappointing road trip to be sure, there is a lot of football yet to be played.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Gritty Showdown with Harrisburg

Beautiful night @ the 'Baud
So after a long hiatus, I've got several weeks of Battery action to catch up on.  Following a fantastic midweek victory over Richmond, Charleston would host Harrisburg five days later at Blackbaud.  These sides know each other well, and both teams knew what was required to lift the three points.

It was certainly a fine evening for football, however, our boys began the match on a less than picturesque note.  It took only six minutes for the City Islanders to find the net.  Some careless defending saw a fine cross headed by forward Angulo past an embarrassed Charleston back line and into the goal.  To their credit, the our low country boys showed spirit and pressed the attack with impatience.  It nearly payed off as the Battery midfield were able to produce of number of near-misses and threatening shots.  Sadly, halftime came and went leaving Harrisburg still one goal to the good.  Tensions between the two sides had been building from the early stages of the match and the play became quite scrappy.  This tension came to a head in the 60th minute after a collision between Dane Kelly and GK Chase Harrison.  Tempers got the best of both sides and I'm convinced the referees were fairly oblivious to what had taken place.  A series of scuffles led to the ejection of Basso (Harrisburg) and Kelly.  The entire incident was shrouded in controversy and the calls made were confusing at best.  However, the important fact is that the result of the madness was a penalty kick awarded to Charleston.  Stephen Armstrong converted effortlessly, and at ten men a side, the Battery had something to fight for.  Auggie made attack-minded substitutions and with about twenty minutes left in regulation, the game began to heat up.  Seedy Bah was electric from the moment he took the pitch.  The build up play for Charleston was something to admire but it still lacked venom in the final third.  The winner would come three minutes from regulation as persistence (and an undermanned pitch) paid off as Seedy Bah fed Nicki Patterson who blasted a shot into the corner of the net.  With precious few minutes to spare, it was advantage Charleston and an already frustrated Harrisburg saw another booking and were reduced to nine on-field.

 Although it was a far cry from the "beautiful game",  the Battery saw it through, weathered the storm, and came out the victors.  This was never billed as a crucial fixture for either side, but it was an important win nonetheless.  The gritty, imperfect struggles are often the ones that forge a solid team that will last the campaign and make a good challenge for the title.
Post-game celebration with family