Thursday, August 30, 2012

Battery Advances to Semifinal with First-half Comeback over Islanders

The Charleston Battery have done it again, advancing to the league Semifinals with a stylish comeback victory over the Harrisburg City Islanders.  Last Saturday, the fans at Blackbaud experienced the full gamut of sporting emotions as they watched Charleston fall behind early, tie the match with a dramatic penalty, and then take the lead, all before the end of the first half.  
The story began in the 15th minute when Harrisburg's Brian Ombiji, easily one of the most dynamic forwards in USL this year, caught the Charleston defense napping, stroking home a goal on the back post.  And while the Islanders had their tails up for sure, that was to be the end of their scoring exploits on the evening and for the 2012 season for that matter.  Recovering quickly from the sucker-punch goal, the Battery seized possession and began turning the screw.  Our Low-country boys were rewarded about five minutes before the half.  Nicki Paterson fed Tony Donatelli who clanged a brilliant shot off the upright, resulting in a free-for-all inside the eighteen yard box.  The officials sighted a Harrisburg handball it was none other than Paterson who took the spot.  Hammering the ball low into the left corner of the net, Charleston were back on terms and the comeback was underway.  Donatelli and Jose Cuevas shredded their way through the Islanders defense using impressive one-two passing with Cuevas supplying the insightful through ball allowing Donatelli to lift the Battery with another goal just before the whistle.

Harrisburg went into the break reeling from the whirlwind first half but emerged stronger than before.  The Islanders tested Charleston's defense in every possible way, but under the Captaincy of the fiery Colin Falvey, the Battery's backline were miserly in the second period.  Nearly adding to the total in the final minutes of play, defender Mark Wiltse erupted in a landmark run streaking half the distance of the field in a sparkling individual effort.  In the end his shot trickled inches wide but the result was good enough to move on to the next round.

Here a look at the best of the action from last Saturday's playoff tie:

Friday night Charleston face the Rochester Rhinos at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester with the winner playing for the USL PRO Championship match.  Remember, not three weeks ago the Battery traveled north handing the Rhinos a 4-0 shellacking at Sahlen's with former Rhino Tony Donatelli leading the charge.  While Rochester will be eager to avenge that embarrassing defeat, the Battery can take the field with confidence in their history against the Northern foe.  Orlando City hosts the Wilmington Hammerheads Friday night...and Wilmington are the only team to defeat the Lions in regular season play.  If the Hammerheads manage the upset, and Charleston have their way with Rochester, that means the Battery would play host to the Championship game!!!  So lets dream big, go out and CRUSH the Rhinos!!! 

BE SURE you catch the game, Friday night August 31, on UNATION

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Rams Make History with Dramatic Win

It was truly an epic night for the CIU Rams Men's Soccer Team and for the university as a whole.  Fans arrived hours before the match and the pitch was ringed with layers of lawn chairs.  Generous giveaways meant a good 80% of match attenders were wearing bright gold "Ram 'em Rams" t-shirts.  After some obligatory thank you's and the national anthem, the players were announced and much to the delight of the home fans, history was in the making and the match was underway.

Because of the nature of the grounds, its difficult to say just how many were in attendance, but my guess would be in neighborhood of 400-500, and the Rams' faithful were making themselves heard throughout the night.  Both sides were tentative in the opening stages but the pace of play increased with each passing minute.  CIU had a handful of shots before the quarter hour mark and were it not for some alert goalkeeping, Toccoa Falls would've been buried early on.  However the TFC Eagles could give as well as they received and stung the hands of Stephen Replogle more than once throughout the half.  The Rams persisted and slowly gained control of the match, dominating possession and creating opportunities in the final third.  Rufus Afropong commanded a strong midfield presence and his insightful passing sparked several good drives down the flanks.  All the home side lacked in the first period was a touch of finishing polish.  Several efforts flew wide of the mark and the shots on target were all smothered by Toccoa's GK.

The hosts picked up where they left off in the second, resuming offensive pressure against the Eagles.  Temperatures cooled as the sun went down, but the match began to heat up.  Having established a good  rhythm, CIU were intent on finding the net.  TFC fielded a couple of big fellas in the back line and their physical defense and size advantage made it difficult for the Rams to break through.  About midway through the half, the Rams unleashed a barrage on the opposing net.  Forward Daniel Mallard led the assault and an immediate result was a multitude of corners.  I've never seen so many corner kicks in one game and there were probably at least twenty total before the end of the match.  The game became more physical in the latter stages with tackles aplenty and fatigue taking its toll on both sides.  Toccoa managed to find their second wind and the Rams were under the cosh for a good ten minutes.  While there were a few close scrapes, CIU withstood the pressure and played smart counterattacking football.  On one such counterattack, in the 76th minute, the Rams forced a full-stretch save from the TFC goalie who deflected the ball but was unable to make a clearance.  The opportunistic Daniel Mallard was on hand to neatly nod home the sloppy ball and give the hosts a historic one goal lead.  Euphoric tumult rose from the stands as the players drank in the glory of their first competitive goal.  Try as they might, the Eagles earnestly sought an equalizer but it was too little too late.  The lone goal was enough to plunge the CIU Rams to victory and the impressive opening day crowd witnessed history as their boys far surpassed expectations and certainly got the right result.
While I definitely had high hopes, this Rams squad proved to be far sharper than I could have imagined.  Particularly impressive were Replogle's game changing stops in the first half.  Twice I remember thinking, "Oh no...thats going in."  But somehow he managed to claw the ball out of thin air.    While there is always room for improvement, this first showing was an incredibly bright start for the Rams an if given a week or two, those close calls and near misses will undoubtedly be winding up in the net.

(photo credit: CIU Men's Soccer FB page, CIUAthletics site)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Coming to a Pitch Near You...CIU Rams Soccer!!

I'm proud to announce that my alma mater, Columbia International University, will be fielding their men's soccer team against Toccoa Falls this Saturday evening at 7:00, kicking off their inaugural season and marking the first inter-collegiate sports event in school history!!

Boasting young talent from Cambodia, India, Burkina Faso, Liberia, as well as a bumper crop of homegrown players from the Palmetto State, the Rams twenty-one man squad will certainly by peppered with an international flavor.

Coach James Whitaker comes to CIU from Clearwater Christian College where he led CCC to back-to-back NCCAA D-2 National titles in 2009 and 2010.  Whitaker is joined by Assistant Coaches Jeff Crews and Tyler Spraul, both joining the Rams from CCC as well.  Crews has spent time in administration with the Philadelphia Union and Spraul finished his collegiate career as the most decorated player in school history at Clearwater Christian.

CIU's eighteen match schedule begins Saturday August 25.  The Rams will need to hit the ground running as they will play three games in their first week of competition.  Eight matches will be home games and will be played at CIU's newly constructed soccer-specific athletic facility.  The regular season concludes with Columbia's homecoming match against Talladega November 3.  Regional tournaments begin mid-November with the national tournament kicking off at the end of the month.  Take a look at the full schedule here.


Unsurprisingly, the Rams already have a strong fanbase and I know from personal experience the international nature of the student body tends to have a good concentration of football fanatics.  Fans can look forward to great season; these boys have been working hard all summer.  While seating may be scarce (bring a camping chair), the Rams are promising plenty of atmosphere in a family-friendly environment.

The Rams home-opener is absolutely FREE so come check the Palmetto State's newest collegiate soccer team this weekend!  My crew will definitely be there and we will see you at the match!!

For more info check out the Ram's Athletics website:  CIU Men's Soccer

(photo credit: CIU Men's Soccer Facebook Page)


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Firing Blanks

Saturday was an interesting day of football to be sure.  To the delight of countless fans around the globe, the morning held the kickoff of the Barclay's Premier League with my Gunners taking on Sunderland in one of the early games.  Saturday evening saw the close of the regular season (for several teams) in the USL PRO league as Charleston faced off against the Dayton Dutch Lions with serious playoff implications hanging in the balance.  

For Arsenal, still adjusting to several new summer signings, not to mention the departure of Robin Van Persie, there were some opening day nerves, but all in all the Emirates was brimming with confidence and optimism.  Both teams began the match cautiously, but once the Gunners settled in, it was all Arsenal, perhaps the final sixty minutes of play.  The fiery newcomer Santi Cazorla led the charge, peppering the Black Cat's defenses and containing them within their own final third for extended periods throughout the match.  Despite a whopping 23 shots and nearly 75% of possession, the boys in red were unable to find the net.  The only player who might hang his head would be Olivier Giroud, who missed a high-profile go-ahead goal in the dying moments of the match.  While it might not have been the desired result, there was plenty of potential in the Gunners display Saturday morning.  They still have a couple games before facing any of the Premier League giants and it looks like they're going to be adding a few more to the squad before the transfer deadline is up.  And even with an opening day draw against a quiet Sunderland side, its still great to be a Gooner!!!

Now on to the exploits of the Charleston Battery.  Sometimes a draw can feel like a win, but other times it seems just as good as a loss.  The Battery were frustrated in the goalless tie against the Dutch Lions but it was not for lack of trying.  Holding possession and momentum nearly the entire match, Charleston boasted many chances on goal but somehow were unable to hit pay-dirt.  Jose Cuevas had a few fine cracks at goal, narrowly missing a one-touch shot in the first half.  Early in the second period Nicki Paterson earned a penalty and although his shot was spot-on, Dayton's Matt Williams guessed right and somehow managed to claw it away.  In the dying seconds of the match, Cuevas looked to score the game-winner only to have a brilliant shot clang off the right post.  It was spirited stuff from the Battery and although the end result was less than favorable, its good enough for the time being.  

The USL PRO playoffs have been drawn and Charleston have earned the No. 3 Seed.  This means we will host the Harrisburg City Islanders this Saturday evening.  The winner advances to face Rochester in New York, and the semi-final winner will likely be pitted against the Lions in Orlando City.  

Two games.  Two draws.  One hundred and eighty minutes.  No goals.  My wife will tell you its the most annoying thing about soccer and for the most part, sports fans will agree.  But on the day, I wouldn't change those results if I could.  Its pretty neat to see the promise of a new Arsenal season unfolding while witnessing the close of another chapter for the Charleston Battery all on the same day.  Even though both of my teams wound up firing blanks, everything looks great from where I sit.  Another fantastic year of football both beginning and ending, and I've got so many more reasons to be thankful than I did this time last year.  I now have an even better job, financial freedom from repaid school loans, two amazing little girls laughing and crawling all over my living room, and a beautiful wife who is an awesome mom and is still patient with her soccer-obsessed husband.  I'm thanking God for what's behind and what's ahead, and as always, thank you for reading The Beautiful Game.



(photo credits: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/santi-cazorla?before=1345307378, USLPRO facebook page)

Friday, August 17, 2012

All Things Arsenal & EPL Preview

Its been a very busy summer in London but for Arsenal Football Club it has had very little to do with the Summer Games.  There are several new faces among the ranks of the Gunners, another successful preseason term has finished, a revolutionary new kit style has been launched, and we are on the eve of the kickoff to the new season!

New Boys in North London


Kyle Bartley- Ok, so this young defender is not exactly "new", but the Arsenal youth has been promoted to the first team after gaining valuable experience during a successful loan season with the Glasgow Rangers.

Santi Cazorla- The Spanish international comes to London after eight years of terrorizing defenses in La Liga play.  The quick-footed midfielder has featured for Villarreal and the Spanish national team, but the 2007 Spanish Player of the Year has most recently spent time with Malaga, finishing his best season to date with nine goals en route to Malaga's Champions League Qualification, the first ever in club history.

Lukas Podolski- Undoubtedly Arsenal's biggest summer signing, the deadly left-footed forward is well known for his exploits with the German national team as well as his signature strikes in the Bundesliga. Coming of age in Cologne's youth system, the Polish-born footballer made a name for himself there.  After spending a season with Bayern Munich, Podolski returned to Cologne and has established a record of scoring nearly every other game.  His experience and eye for goal will prove instrumental in the Arsenal attack this year.

Olivier Giroud- The French striker joins the Gunners from Ligue 1 champions Montpellier.  It was a banner year for the title holders and for Giroud as well, leading the league with 25 goals in 43 appearances.  Already teammates with Laurent Koscielny for Les Blues, Giroud is sure to fit well into the Arsenal system and at 6'3, his height will lend itself to an already stacked Gunners offense.


Preseason Results

14Jul
Pre-season FriendlyASouthampton11
(This was a 45 minute match)
14Jul
Pre-season FriendlyAAnderlecht10
(This was a 45 minute match)
24Jul
Pre-season FriendlyAMalaysia XI21
27Jul
Pre-season FriendlyNManchester City02
29Jul
Pre-season FriendlyNKitchee FC22
12Aug
Pre-season FriendlyAFC Cologne4  0
Winning the Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup, Arsenal began their preseason campaign on the right foot  with scrimmages against Anderlecht and Southampton.  Then embarking on another Asia tour, the Gunners revisited Malaysia XI, challenged Manchester City in a marquee match in Beijing, and finished the trip with a draw against Hong Kong's Kitchee FC.  Ever fielding a youthful starting XI, Chuks Aneke and Thomas Eisfeld were particularly impressive throughout the campaign.  Pleased with the tour, Wenger believes the physical challenge of the summer tour will give Arsenal an edge heading into Premier League play in August.  Rounding out the preseason with a friendly against FC Cologne, Lukas Podolski put two past his former club in an impressive debut with Arsenal.  

The Gunners will open the 2012/13 Season at home hosting Sunderland this Saturday at the Emirates.  Thomas Vermalen, the 'Verminator', will lead the squad with Mikel Arteta serving as vice-captain.  Sunday August 26 Arsenal will travel to face Stoke City, premiering their bold "Purple Reign" away kits.  While Robin Van Persie's defection to Manchester United is incredibly disappointing, this season promises to be as exciting as ever as the Gunners will take on four different competitions, looking to end a recent trophy drought.
  

EPL Preview


That being said, here's a rundown of the other sides you'll see in the English Premier League this year:  

Aston Villa-typically a mid-table team, Villa will search for consistency and perhaps a berth in the Europa League.

Chelsea-the Blues lifted the Champions League crown last year despite turmoil on and off the pitch.  Could Torres and Co. come up big with another trophy this year?

Everton-another mid-table contender, Everton have an interesting mix of international talent and are always fun to watch.

Fulham-with Clint Dempsey at a personal best after a scoring frenzy last season, Fulham have the potential for some major upsets if that form carries over the break.

Liverpool-still retooling from the financial fallout of recent years, the Reds have struggled to reestablish their identity on the pitch.  If money troubles are left behind, Liverpool are usually tough at home and away.  

Manchester City-defending title holders, City will look to build on last year's success.  But even with all the cash pumped into their lineup, I'd still hesitate to call it beautiful football.

Manchester United-smarting from an empty-handed campaign, United look to challenge opponents on all fronts...now with the aid of Robin Van Persie.

Newcastle United-The 'Toon are on the ascendency.  Premier League beware, they may just be the team to beat.   

Norwich City-surprising most with an impressive season in top flight, the Canaries will aim even higher this year, perhaps challenging for a Europa spot.  

Queens Park Rangers-QPR surprised us last year by surviving the drop.  The right results could mean the Rangers are up to stay.

Reading-returning to top flight after several year's absence, Reading will be pleased to stay afloat.  

Southampton-these guys are the real danger coming up from the Championship.  Despite the odds, their lightning offense may well undue their EPL foes.

Stoke City-for better or worse, Stoke have lodged themselves firmly in the middle of the pack in recent years.  Look for another repeat performance.  

Sunderland-the Black Cats have a lot of talent, but it will take some effort to turn potential into the right results.  

Swansea-the Welsh side thrived in their Premier League debut, claiming several premium scalps.  Another season at the top will only strengthen this team.

Tottenham Hotsp*r-I've nothing good to say here, but that should be expected.  The perennially disappointing Spuds are set to underwhelm again this term.  

West Bromwich Albion-considering the strength of the opposition, the Baggies will do well to avoid the drop, but they seem to be no stranger to surprising results.  

West Ham United-the Hammers have broken out of the Championship yet again, lets hope they keep their heads above water.  

Wigan Athletic-oh Wigan...with one of the fieriest managers on the island, can Wigan put together a solid run?  Or will their play test the health of their faithful fans?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Catching up with the Battery

Let's face it.  July was a pretty rough month for the Charleston Battery.  Out of a possible eighteen points from six matches, the Black and Yellow brought home only three.  The victory over Wilmington marks the only bright spot in a rather grim period for our boys.  As things went from bad to worse, at the end of the month the Battery's exhibition with Nottingham Forrest was cancelled because of a management shift across the pond.  Unfortunately, the negative trend continued into August as Charleston drew and then dropped their next two matches.  The results are as follows (match reports linked with each score-line) :

7/1/2012@ Antigua Barracuda FCL 0-1
7/6/2012
Charlotte EaglesL 0-2
7/7/2012
@ Charlotte EaglesL 0-1
7/14/2012
Wilmington HammerheadsW 3-1
7/19/2012
Orlando CityL 1-2
7/27/2012
@ Orlando CityL 0-4
8/3/2012
Wilmington HammerheadsD 2-2
8/4/2012
@ Wilmington HammerheadsL 1-2
8/8/2012@ Harrisburg City IslandersL 0-3


Yep, there it is...silver lining!!
While all this leaves fans with little to cheer about, we may have just seen our silver lining.  In their last outing, the Battery tanked the Rochester Rhinos four-to-nil in New York.  Tony Donatelli led the charge with two goals and an assist, effectively ripping his former club a new one while earning USLPRO player of the week honors at the same time!!

The win awards Charleston with a playoff berth, but seeding will depend on the final week's results.  The Battery can still secure second place with win and a Rochester loss/draw.  That would give Charleston a bye to the league semi-finals.  Even if things don't go our way, we've still made the playoffs.  I'm already anxious to see who we'll draw.

But first things first, we've one match to play in the regular season.  Charleston host the Dayton Dutch Lions Saturday evening in our season finale.  While the Lions will be playing for pride, much more is at  stake for the Battery.  Contention for the final three playoff spots is incredibly tight as Richmond, Wilmington, Charlotte, Harrisburg, and Los Angeles are all still in the running.  With a win, we're practically guaranteed to host our playoff match(es).  A draw or loss opens the door for other teams to overtake Charleston in the standings.  We have a good record against Dayton and defeated them 1-0 back in June.  With so much at stake and so much uncertainty in the table this year's playoffs may prove our most exciting yet!

COME ON BATTERY!!!  Cage the Lions, then on to the postseason!!!

(photo credit: chas battery website)

Monday, August 13, 2012

"...And We're Back!"

Don't worry! We're back!
As you may have noticed, the creative cannons at The Beautiful Game have fallen silent in recent weeks.  Due to circumstances beyond our control (kinda tricky to blog without internet access), the site has been out of commission for a good month or so.  That being said, we're back in action!!  Now a lot has happened in the past several weeks so we've got some catching up to do!!  Here's what you can look forward to upcoming posts:

The Charleston Battery

While I am unable to provide match recaps for every game missed, I'll certainly hit the highs and lows of the past month and what's ahead for the Black and Yellow.

Arsenal

The Gunners have just finished their preseason run and there are several new faces at Asheburton Grove.  I'll have all the details as well as a preview for the upcoming English Premier League kickoff.

SC Soccer

Look for season recaps from the Palmetto State's two new clubs, Palmetto Bantams FC and the Myrtle Beach Mutiny.

Euro 2012

All the best from this year's European tournament.

London 2012

A glimpse at what transpired in the world of football at the Summer Games.

Major League Soccer

Finally, a rundown of league happenings and the push for the MLS playoffs.

I'm also in the process of retooling our facebook page, more on that in the coming weeks.  Thanks for your patience during our recent absence, and here's to the beautiful game!!!

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