Friday, August 26, 2011

Arsenal Update: Rocky League Start-Newcastle & Liverpool

What a way to kickoff the new season!
It was a less than ideal kickoff to Arsenal's domestic campaign this season.  The first fixture of the year promised to be a challenging one: a trip St. James Park and a date with Newcastle United on opening day.  It was an afternoon full of drama...and full of discipline.  The official was liberal with his distribution of cautions and the match finished with eight yellows and one red card dispensed.  Arsenal created a host of chances and enjoyed possession for most of the match.  In his red and white debut, Gervinho had impressed with his quickness on the ball.  Late in the game, as he ripped down the left wing, he was felled by a cheap tackle from Tiote.  The ref waved play on but with almost a quarter hour left to play, Newcastle's controversial Joey Barton took issue with the Ivorian striker.  An embarrassing slapfest ensued and the Arsenal man was dismissed from his debut in ignominy.  For the remaining minutes, the Gunners were limited in their attack having gone a man down.  The affair would finish scoreless, the visitors would leaving the pitch with a point for their efforts, but no doubt disappointed, having controlled nearly the entire match.

Tough break for the young guns
Next on the docket in league action: hosting  Liverpool at the Emirates.  In what would prove to be Samir Nasri's last game in a Gunner's kit, the home side produced a stirring display.  That display however did not culminate in any Arsenal goals.  Several youngsters made their North London premier and the Emirates faithful were in full support.  There was good stuff from both sides in the first half as each team fired warning shots.  The heavens opened and the players were greeted by a downpour at the restart.  It was a frenzied atmosphere and the tension in the stands was palpable.  For the second time in as many games, an Arsenal man was dismissed in his opening match.  Having worked his way up through the reserve squad, Emmanuel Frimpong had played an excellent game in his first team debut.  However, eighteen minutes from time he was shown a second yellow card and sent to the dressing room early.  Liverpool sensed the weakness and threw themselves at their opponents.  Ironically, the breakthrough goal would have nothing to do with their attack.  With twelve minutes to play an Arsenal clearance by the freshly signed Ignasi Miquel connected with an inbound Ramsey and strangely sailed over the head of the goalkeeper.  The Reds had been gifted a goal in what was an otherwise rough, gritty struggle.  Luis Suarez tacked on another goal at full time to seal the deal.  Despite their ill fortune the Gunners played and lost with pride and all of Ashburton Grove made sure they were cheered off the pitch.  Next up:  Old Trafford and the infamous Manchester United.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Battery Fall to Orlando in Extra-Time Thriller

Charleston produced a courageous display against the top-seeded Orlando City Lions in the first round of the USL Pro playoffs.  Before a crowd of over 7,000, the Battery did battle with Orlando for the fifth time this season.  Ending 3-1, the scoreline hardly does justice to the story of the match.  Although the result meant the season had ended for Charleston, our own Low Country Boys left the field with pride receiving a "job well done" from the Battery fans.

Charleston Goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra earned the title of Blackbaud Player of the Game and he deserved it.  The Battery were on the back foot for most of the first half but the Virginia native kept his side in the match.  Dykstra recorded an impressive ten saves on the evening, those coming against the league's strongest offensive tandem.  The goal came with one minute of regulation in the first half and it was hardly the goalkeeper's fault.  An unmarked Orlando played was given the ball with just enough space to tap in the score.  Anhaeuser responded immediately with three substitutions at the break.  Fresh legs took instant effect and Battery veteran Stephen Armstrong combined with Nicki Patterson to level the score in the 64th minute.  Armstrong's corner allowed an unmarked Patterson to head the ball into the net.  The goal was Patterson's sixth on the year as he led the team with Dane Kelley.  The pacey second half ended as an aggressive Charleston side were unable to secure the game winning goal.  In the 98th, Orlando found the net and Charleston suffered doubly as Dane Kelley was sent off moments later with a second yellow card for a challenge to the Orlando City GK.  The Battery were victims of poor officiating on the evening.  At one point in the match a fan burst onto the field and it took far too long for the referee squad to even realize the event had happened.  Regardless, with two minutes remaining in extra time, Orlando scored again putting the game out of Charleston's reach.  It was a sad way to end the season, but an admirable performance by your Charleston Battery.

Orlando host the Richmond Kickers this weekend to determine who will clench the American Division title and move on to the league final.  The Rochester Rhinos will host the Harrisburg City Islanders to decide the National Division winner.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Goalfest Sees Battery Through to Playoffs!

Its playoff time!!!  The Charleston Battery ignited a near sellout crowd Friday night with an explosive season finale/playoff duel/derby match against the Charlotte Eagles.  The dramatic showdown was Fox Soccer Channel's USL Game of the Week, treating the tv audience to an exhibition of the best football America's lower division has to offer.  Finishing 4-3, the first of seven goals came in the 5th minute.

Charleston hit the ground running, knowing full well only a win would see them through to the postseason.  The Battery struck quickly as Dane Kelley ripped down the pitch with feverish pace.  Some cheeky misdirection allowed him to deliver the perfect layoff for Zach Price.  The Columbia native smashed home the opening goal as a stunned Charlotte was left to wonder what went wrong.  Less than two minutes later, the Battery pressed their advantage and it was Mike Zaher who ripped a volleyed shot into the far right corner of the net.  Patterson assisted the effort, and with seven minutes gone, Charleston had already scored their season's best goal tally.  After the goal, the Eagles met in a team huddle in a futile attempt to regain composure and stem the tide of the 'Assault & Battery'.  The Low Country Boys ran wild firing shot after shot, continuing to exploit the shell shocked Charlotte side.  In the 30th minute, Zaher notched his brace with a brilliant conversion, bending the ball goalwards after some clever footwork.  Defender Nigel Marples sent the through ball, opened the defense, and assisted the Battery to a 3-0 lead.  A momentary lapse gifted the Eagles a free kick in good position and Charlatan skipper Gorge Herrera rifled a shot that pinballed off the Battery defense and into the net with seconds remaining in stoppage time.  So ended the electric first half with the score 3-1, with the Battery licking their chops, hungry for the Derby win and trip to the postseason.  

Following some back and forth play at the restart, Charleston found the scoresheet again in the 61st minute.  A long ball from Sean Flatley was targeted by speedy Jamaican Dane Kelley who raced against a lonely Eric Reed, the Charlotte GK.  If the league has learned anything from Charleston this season, they know that Dane Kelley vs. GK's = goals.  The Battery were riding high with a three goal advantage and less than half an hour to play.  There would be more drama of course; the game would finish in pulse-pounding fashion.  A contented Charleston defense simply turned off with four minutes of stoppage time left to play allowing Charlotte to pull back two goals in as many minutes.  An infuriated Andrew Dykstra lambasted his backline and the Battery withstood the few nervy minutes remaining.  An ugly finish, but a win nonetheless.  In one memorable evening, the Charleston Battery had lifted the Southern Derby, pressed on into the postseason, delighted the boisterous home crowd, and impressed a national television audience.  The post-match fireworks were well deserved.

Well done boys and congrats on winning the Southern Derby!!  Since we landed the last playoff spot in our division, Saturday evening we travel back down to Orlando City to face the top-seeded Lions.  The other three USL playoff games will be played Friday night.  Although Orlando are perhaps the last team we'd want to meet in the playoffs, the good news is we know exactly what to expect.  We'll need to continue the high scoring form from last Friday, while tightening up the defense and keeping out those cheap goals.  Let's Go Battery!!  Time to tame the Lions and send them home early!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Arsenal Preseason Part 2, Emirates Cup & Eusibio Cup

Arsenal 2-2 Boca Juniors
There was a buzzing atmosphere at Emirates and a hint of Argentinean flair.  Boca legend Riquelme was on the pitch and the North London faithful were ready for a spectacle.  The match was an interesting blend of international styles and the new Arsenal squad was beginning to gel.  Continuing to impress his new club, Gervinho lifted an inspired cross to Robin van Persie.  With half an hour gone, the Dutchman did what he does best: put the ball in the net.  The Gunners were chomping at the bit and a before a minute of the second half had passed, Arsenal had scored again.  Ramsey benefited from a good 'play on' decision from the official and slammed home another preseason goal.  Arsenal were in the driver's seat but some sloppy defending coughed up a goal in the 68th minute.  More of the same allowed another Boca strike three minutes later and the two goal lead had suddenly evaporated.  Arsenal began the fight but the Boca Juniors finished it, the two sides settling for a draw.

Goals:  29 van Persie, 46 Ramsey, 68 Viatri, 71 Mouche
Arshavin sizes up a corner kick at Emirates

Arsenal 1-1 New York Red Bulls
Since the day the fixture was set, Arsenal fans young and old had been anticipating this game.  It was finally time for Thierry Henry's return to the home of Arsenal Football Club.  It was vintage Arsenal but of course vintage Henry, lighting up North London the way only he can.  The hosts struck first and it was van Persie in the 42nd minute with a picture perfect headed goal.  It seemed enough to secure the Emirates Cup and despite his best efforts, the former Arsenal skipper and his new side, the New York Red Bulls, were unable to find the scoresheet.  With only six minutes to play in regulation, Henry instigated trouble in the final third and the Arsenal defense conceded an own goal.  The Frenchman and his MLS companions lifted the trophy, having beaten PSG the day before.  The tournament aside, those in attendance were thrilled to have witnessed the legend's emotional return to the club he served so well.

Goals:  42 van Persie, 84 (og) Bartley

Benfica 2-1 Arsenal FC
Although billed as a friendly, the match immediately seemed anything but.  The Portuguese hosts were out for blood and sought to honor the football legend whose name (and presence) graced the cup.  Coming off a slow start, Van Persie led the Gunners to a lead in the 33rd minute with a deadly strike fed by the likes of Gael Clichy.  The goal would be a late birthday present for the Arsenal man turning 28.  Significant changes were made by both teams at the break, Benfica gaining an edge with more experience on the field.  That experience would produce a goal four minutes from the restart and the game winning goal on the hour.  Arsenal were disappointed to have tarnished an unbeaten preseason, but now must focus on the task at hand as they prepare to face Newcastle United at St. James in under a week's time. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Arsenal Preseason Part 1, Asia Tour & FC Cologne

Arsenal FC have just concluded a fine summer preseason that featured some fascinating match-ups and plenty of great football.  In the next two posts, I'll give a brief recap of the games, some analysis, and what to look for in the upcoming season.

Rosicky nets in stoppage time

Malaysia XI  0-4  Arsenal 
In their first preseason fixture of 2011 and first visit to Asia in over a decade, the Gunners received a warm welcome from a crowd of nearly 70,000 fans.  The first half was entertaining but it took both sides several minutes to find their rhythm.  After five minutes of play, Jack Wilshere was dropped in the box and Aaron Ramsey stepped up to slot home a good penalty kick.  For a good spell, it was Malaysia who were looking dangerous making quick flanking runs and precise crosses.  That momentum would be quashed in the 37th as Ramsey linked a through ball to Walcott, who escaped the defense and lifted a shot past the keeper.  It was 2-0 and the Arsenal were cruising at half-time as the crowd went wild.  Wenger made wholesale changes to his side at the break and only three starters remained on field.  In minute 57, Mexican striker Carlos Vela was released by Rosicky and chipped the keeper with style.  Arsenal kicked on and barraged the Malaysia back line.  In the dying seconds of the friendly match, Rosicky headed goalwards to make it 4-0 Arsenal.  The North London boys waved good bye to the raucous crowd in the muggy Kuala Lumpur heat, relishing their weeklong stay and thanking their loyal fans from the Southern Hemisphere.

Goals:  5 Ramsey, 37 Walcott, 58 Vela, 90 Rosicky

Hangzhou Greentown  1-1  Arsenal
With cheering fans still ringing in their ears, the Arsenal next visited Chinese Super League side Hangzhou Greentown.  In a welcoming gesture, the Gunners were presented jersey with their names transposed into Chinese script.  Greentown was off like a shot, testing the defense early on.  In fifteen minutes they had found a breakthrough.  A free kick ricocheted from keeper Manone's chest and fell to Hangzhou's Vazquez who tapped in from close range.  Arsenal responded well, settling in and getting to work.  A deluge had soaked the pitch two hours before the game and it was evident as the players slogged through the first half.  Just before the whistle, Robin van Persie juked through defenders to fire a shot.  The keeper parried but it was Vela again who snapped up the ball, placing it firmly in the back of the net.  Arsenal had several efforts in the second half and Walcott looked particularly threatening.  In the end, the home side held on for a well deserved draw.

Goals:  15 Vazquez, 45 Vela

FC Cologne  1-2  Arsenal FC
Bidding farewell to their swelling Asian fanbase, the English side visited the Bundesliga's FC Cologne.  New signing Gervinho made his presence felt immediately, bagging a brace with goals in the 7th and 15th minutes.  To their credit, the hosts put up a lively fight as the match would prove an open and exciting exhibition.  In first half stoppage time, a bizarre clearance by Arsenal's Jenkinson sent the ball into the wrong net, and Cologne were bolstered by the own goal.  With plenty of back and forth in the second half, Arsenal were happy to finish the friendly on top, undefeated in the preseason so far.

Goals:  7, 15 Gervinho, 45 (og) Jenkinson

Young Guns challenge FC Cologne

Pair of Losses Leaves Postseason in Doubt

Wednesday evening the Battery locked horns with Orlando City at the Citrus Bowl. The match was the third meeting of four between the two sides this year. The Lions came on strong in the first half, scoring early in the 16th minute. Sloppy defending by the Charleston back line allowed the Orlando offense to open up and OC's Watson maximized on the opportunity. The Lions would continue to threaten but the Battery's Andrew Dykstra kept his team in the match. Registering no less than five saves, the GK had a tremendous night. Charleston saw their best opportunity in the 37th minute when the Battery were awarded a free kick. Armstrong bent the ball towards frame, his effort eluding the goalie, however the shot was cleared from the line at the last second. Charleston looked a different side in the second half of play, but for all their momentum, were unable to convert any goals. Charleston mounted a last ditch effort in stoppage time but Colin Falvey's header whizzed over the bar. Finishing 1-0, the Battery slipped further away from the fourth place playoff spot.

In a rematch of Wednesday's fixture, the Battery again confronted USL powerhouse Orlando City Saturday night. An uneventful first half was followed by a lengthy weather delay. The game turned gritty after the restart and Orlando were gifted a penalty kick in the 63rd minute. The Lions converted and tacked on another goal ten minutes later. Dane Kelley scored an impressive goal for the Battery in the 84th, receiving a neat back heel from Zach Prince. Charleston surged forward in the final minutes but were unable to overturn the deficit. Battery defender John Wilson was shown a red card in the final minute of regulation and will miss the final match of the season against the Charlotte Eagles.
Frustrating results for the Battery
The Battery are winless in five matches and these results leave Charleston one point behind Charlotte. This means we are currently OUT of playoff contention. Charlotte have a game in hand and should they win midweek against Harrisburg, it would end our season. A draw or loss against the City Islanders would mean Charleston could advance to the postseason with a win over the Eagles on Friday night. Either way, we've got to support the boys as they face Charlotte this weekend, battling for that last playoff spot and the Southern Derby.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Heiney Strikes Again!!

Former Battery "Wildman," Tom Heinemann scored a brilliant goal for the Columbus Crew in a riveting upset of Real Salt Lake at the Rio Tinto.  Scoring only four first half goals all season, the Crew struck twice in the first ten minutes of play to silence the home fans and stun the MLS community.

The infamous Rio Tinto
RSL's stadium the Rio Tinto, has come to be known as a veritable football fortress in recent years.  Until this game, Real Salt Lake had lost only once at home this season.  A fierce rivalry has been growing between Columbus and RSL, particularly since their Western Conference neighbors ousted Columbus from the CONCACAF Champions League.  Such was the atmosphere as the Crew entered the Salt Lake stronghold, having never won a match on the grounds and being outscored 11-2 all-time.  This game would be a rather different story, much to the chagrin of the RSL faithful.  Only five minutes into the match, Columbus midfielder Robbie Rogers (who assisted both goals) slipped a ball completely through the box to an unmarked Eddie Gaven.  Netting for the fourth time this season, Gaven's goal looked as easy as breathing.  Five minutes later, from a routine throw in, Rogers again slipped the stalwart RSL defense and lofted a cross to the waiting Heinemann who headed towards goal, finishing with ease.  Try as they might, Real Salt Lake were powerless to overturn the deficit despite an concerted effort including fantastic play by Fabian Espindola.  Eighty minutes later, the Crew had done the unthinkable: stormed the RSL fortress and emerged with a historic win.

The game marked Tom Heinemann's eighth start on the year and he is seeing a lot more regular play with the first team.  The St. Louis native has logged 882 minutes so far and featured in 17 matches.  We've really missed his talent and personality in Charleston this year, but we're proud to see him doing so well and racking up goals in the big leagues!  Go Heiney!!  Go Black & Gold!!
Looking as wild as ever with two goals under his belt!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Playoff Picture Gone Bad to Worse

The Charleston Battery's post-season hopes were dealt a serious blow by the Rochester Rhinos last Saturday evening.  A 1-0 loss with only three more games remaining in regular season play gives the Battery face an uphill climb with very little margin for error.

The match began in Charleston's favor as the home side had two good opportunities in the first half.  Nicki Patterson forced a saved from Rhino's GK Neal Kitson in the 7th minute with a forceful strike from long range.  Twenty minutes later, it was Kitson again who made a brilliant save responding to a venomous header from Dane Kelley.  The heat had begun to take a toll on the players and it became more evident in the second half.  An unimpressive twenty minutes from both sides was followed by the game winning goal in the 68th minute.  The Charleston defense reacted slowly to long throw in from Rochester.  This momentary lapse gave Rhino's Drew Cost just enough time to place a low ball past Dykstra and break the deadlock.  Charleston fought back, nearly drawing level a minute later but Kitson again denied Kelley, clearing the ball at the last second.  The Battery were dissatisfied and pressed the attack, almost finding the equalizer in stoppage time.  Seedy Bah unleashed an explosive shot but Kitson made sure he spoiled the celebration.  Easily the man of the match, Rochester's GK earned an impressive clean sheet with six saves against a hungry Battery attack.
A frustrating night at the 'Baud

Charlotte tied the Rhinos the night before; Richmond lost and Wilmington won their game.  With our loss to Rochester this leaves Charleston still one point behind the Kickers in fourth place.  Fourth place is enough to make the playoffs, however Charlotte are knocking on the door only three points adrift with a game in hand.  We face Orlando City at midweek and again on Saturday.  In our last meeting, we beat the Lions at Blackbaud.  But without giving them to much credit, the league leaders are coming off a win against EPL's Newcastle United having boasted a home crowd of over 10,000.  We may not have to win either game in Orlando to still make the postseason but we must stay above the Charlotte Eagles.  It looks like we may see an incredible high stakes season finale when we host the Eagles August 12th.  That match will determine which side lifts the Southern Derby as well as who advances to the playoff.  Stay tuned Battery faithful, it should be an exciting week!!

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