Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Azira Brace Buries Riverhounds, Charleston 2-0 Pittsburgh

After the final whistle Saturday night, the exhausted Pittsburgh Riverhounds weren't the only ones panting for breath.  Lead official Dustin Thorne had his work cut out for him with this gritty matchup, and with foul counts well into the twenties, I'd bet he was tired of the sound of his own whistle before it was all over.  Even though it may have been an "ugly win", Charleston finished the evening with all three points, and it'll do to be going on with.

The Riverhounds entered Blackbaud having suffered a 2-0 reverse the night before at the hands of the unbeaten Charlotte Eagles.  Perhaps their squad was a bit fatigued but Pittsburgh coach (and former Battery player) Justin Evans had no intentions of making life easy for Charleston.  The home team carried possession in the opening stages of the match, earning a pocketful of free kicks.  When the Riverhounds began to push back, the Battery held firm as skipper Colin Falvey and veteran defender John Wilson both recorded a couple of nice digs.  In the 13th minute, Charleston earned another free kick deep into Pittsburgh territory.  Salvaging an attacking throw-in, the Battery managed a chance on goal, but Paterson's header was wide of the mark.

Things began to get dicey in the middle of the park and neither team pulled their punches in terms of meaty challenges.  Jamaican speedster Dane Kelly earned a free kick just outside the box, but Paterson's lightning strike was pawed over the bar by the College of Charleston product, keeper Hunter Gilstrap.  The Battery would see a corner kick effort put just wide of the goal in the 20th, and the first of three Pittsburgh players, Mike Seth, finally received a yellow card for a cheap foul a minute later.  In the 24th, Wilson air-mailed a cross into the box which was deflected high above an open net, as the Pittsburgh players lost track of the ball's trajectory.  However, one Mike Azira was on hand to tidily nod home the wandering ball, giving the home side the advantage in what had so far been a hotly contested affair.

Jarad Van Schaik lifted a super-cross near the half hour mark, but Zach Prince's hurried volley soared wide.  Moments later Prince found himself scythed down in an awful challenge by Pittsburgh's Motagalvan, warranting the game's second yellow.  The visitors soon pressured Charleston and Odisnel Cooper tallied a fine punching clearance from a Riverhound's corner.  With about five minutes to play, Falvey was forcefully struck and play was halted for a moment.  The skipper was unwilling to leave the pitch, and the Battery created a few more opportunities before the break.

Pittsburgh introduced two substitutes at the restart, but the Battery continued to carry momentum with Kelly nearly scoring in the 46th.  The Riverhounds would soon turn the tables, narrowly missing the net from a set piece, and then striking the crossbar shortly after.  But as the half wore on, Charleston were able to resettle and maintain possession once more.

Winning the ball on the left flank, Prince charged into the box.  Slipping the ball back with expert timing, Prince allowed Azira to collect his brace with a thunderous shot from close range.  Gilstrap was beaten all ends up and the ball was punched into the roof of the net.

Surprisingly, Pittsburgh showed more fight after the score than at any other point in the game.  Cordoves relieved Kelly who had quietly had a fantastic evening.  Adjety, on loan from Vancouver, came on for Prince late in the game and showed real promise in kind with 'Caps loanee Ben Fisk.  The final ten minutes of the fixture were probably the most exciting of the game.  The  run of play was swift and uninterrupted, real end to end stuff.  In the 82nd, Paterson fed Wilson into the final third and a sliding Azira nearly bundled home his cross for a hat trick.  The rebound shot was popped wide right by Griffith.  After the miss, Pittsburgh threw everything at the Battery, forcing some good work from Cooper in goal as well as several close clearances by Charleston's backline.  In the end, it was hardly enough, and the home side totaled their second consecutive clean sheet.    

Grit and discipline aside, the story of the match was unquestionably the opportunistic talents of the Battery's Ugandan starlet, Mike Azira.  A dependable player in Charleston's 2012 title run, the young footballer looks even sharper than last season.  Obviously scoring the winning goal of the USL PRO title match will always be a career highlight, but this young man has plenty more glory in store!!

Looking ahead, Charleston go on the road this week to face the in-form Harrisburg City Islanders Wednesday night and then skip over to challenge the Dayton Dutch Lions Friday, only to turn around and defend their title in Charleston's Dragonboat competition Saturday morning!  The Battery will have their hands full in Harrisburg who recently demolished Rochester 5-1 in a historic home opener in Pennsylvania.  Charleston will be without the services of Jose Cuevas and Ben Fisk for this road trip.  However, the club have just announced their agreement with the Vancouver Whitecaps for the loan of Midfielder Bryce Alderson, who will be available for selection this week.

With a whopping six league matches in the month of May, not to mention an interleague fixture with the Houston Dynamo and of course the Lamar Hunt Open Cup, roster depth and keeping the boys fresh will be critical in the coming weeks.  But the great news is, no matter what happens, Battery fans will have a month full of football!!

photo credit: Battery facebook page

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Open Fire!! Charleston 4-0 Antigua

The Charleston Battery got the ball rolling in the right direction, delivering a big win over Antigua in their home opener Saturday night.  The good guys netted four unanswered goals before a delighted home crowd of 4,546 at Blackbaud Stadium.  Prior to the match, team owner Tony Bakker presented the returning players with their 2012 Championship rings, as the Regiment proudly displayed their new banner, encompassing nearly the entire E10 section.  The win effectively rinsed out the bad taste of last week's loss to Richmond and the Battery can now set their sights on a firm USL PRO title defense in 2013.

At the opening whistle, Charleston were chomping at the bit and wasted no time in putting the Barracudas under pressure.  Having played at Wilmington the night before, the fatigued Antigua squad did their best to keep the hosts at bay, but the night was largely characterized by the Battery's goal-seeking offensive endeavors.

It was a nervy opening for the visitors and Charleston were unlucky to avoid the scoresheet in the first five minutes.  Nicki Paterson's screamer rose just over the bar in the 4th minute, followed by a good crack from former Barracuda, Quinton Griffith.  Cordoves and Azira joined the fray as well, taking full advantage of Antigua's shaky defense.  In the 11th minute, Paterson played in for Griffith who instantly smashed the ball into the net.  However, the joy was short lived as the play was ruled offside.  Moments later Cordoves followed suit, with his would-be goal dismissed for an even tighter infringement.  The Battery were on the front foot and it seemed they were managing nearly a shot a minute.  The breakthrough would come in the 21st minute when Ben Fisk lobbed an early ball, springing Antigua's offside trap.  Collecting the cross, Cordoves cooly drove a low shot past the keeper into the bottom left corner of the net...this time with no whistle.  "And the crowd goes wild!!"  Two minutes later, Fisk called his own number and tallied his first goal (of many!) in a Battery shirt.  Receiving the ball in the midfield, the youngster from Vancouver tore down the left flank and burned the Antigua defense like a jet-puffed marshmallow.  His low shot to the far post put the home fans in a frenzy.  Fisk managed another fine breakaway moments later and Charleston eventually earned a corner from the play.  On the half hour, Cordoves spurned a chance on an open goal as he failed to hit the target from close range.  In the 32nd, Patterson nodded in a magnificent diving header only to have the goal reversed by yet another dubious offside ruling.  The Battery went into the break content and yet frustrated, as their 45 minutes of target practice could have resulted in a 5-0 deficit.

Only seconds after the restart, Griffith was shown a yellow card for an aggressive challenge on the Barracuda's keeper.  Thankfully, after convincing the official of the "severity" of the foul, Antigua's number two in goal seemed to be just fine.  The visitor's suddenly began pressuring Charleston, looking sharp on the offensive, but the push forward led to a counterattack by the Battery.  In the 51st, Fisk threaded in a ball for Paterson and with a fine effort, the Scotsman found the net...only to have the goal ruled offside again.  Odisnel Cooper logged a top-drawer save in the 54th, only just nudging the ball past the post from full stretch.  They don't this Cuban net-minder "El Gato" for nothing!  Antigua were now clearly spent and Charleston resumed the offensive.  In an excellent run of play in the 65th minute, Cordoves rattled the crossbar and Nicki Paterson's rebound effort missed by inches.  Antigua's keeper had faced a firing squad already, but things were about to go from bad to worse.  Dane Kelly and Zach Prince came on for Cordoves and Fisk (the man of the match) and their impact was felt immediately.  What could have been described as a barrage had now become a full-fledged cannonade.  Prince earned free kick after being battered just outside the 18 and with Patterson and Griffith subbed off, he took the set piece himself.   Despite a blatant hand ball, Charleston were awarded a corner for their efforts.  In the 78th, Kelly neatly converted Prince's corner to put the Battery three goals in the clear.  To their credit, Antigua forced the issue and pressured the hosts to claw back some dignity, but the final nail in the coffin came five minutes from time.  Prince found the ball in acres of space and buried the ball with a highlight reel finish.

Any remaining doubt from Charleston's humbling defeat to the Kickers was dashed to pieces with the frenzied 4-0 landslide win and the post-match fireworks were well deserved.  The Battery host Pittsburgh this Saturday and will look to build on their momentum from last week.  The Riverhounds are winless in three and will be keen to get their first points of the season.  Oddly enough, the visitors have strong ties to the Lowcountry.  Pittsburgh's head coach, Justin Evans, served with the Battery in 2002 and the Riverhound's Renaissance man, Jason Kutney, (administrator, owner, and midfielder!) also spent time with Black and Yellow as well.  Taking a road swing through the Carolina's, Pittsburgh will first face the Charlotte Eagles on Friday.  While the deck is certainly stacked in Charleston's favor, they will again be without the services of Jose Cuevas, who is still recovering from a hamstring injury.  I simply can't wait for another Battery game and our boys look primed to work their magic Saturday night at Blackbaud.  I'm not sure about you, but my money's on Nicki Paterson to find the first goal of the game...if not the first three!!

Also, check out the post below for first half highlights and a look at the Regiment's sweet new tifo!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rivalry Reverse, Richmond 4-1 Charleston

Ouch.  Last Saturday the Kickers ran wild, handing the Battery their worst finish against their rivals in 17 years.  Thats almost as long as the rivalry has existed.  But after a  long preseason characterized by confidence and goalscoring, maybe a black eye on opening day is just what the Battery needed to set their sights on defending their USL PRO title.

Here's how it happened.  Despite controlling possession in the opening stages, the Kickers punished some careless defensive positioning and struck an early lead, heading the ball past Odisnel Cooper in the 23rd minute.  In the 32rd, it was two-nil after Brian Owenby's incisive run triggered the go-ahead goal from Casey Townsend.  Flipping the switch immediately, the Battery surged and seemed to have earned a penalty in the 39th minute as Jose Cuevas was dropped in the box.  However the call was not given and even a few Richmond fans graciously admitted that a PK had probably been warranted.  Not to be denied, Charleston would find the scoresheet in the final minute of the first half.  The ageless John Wilson stole a march on defenders and deftly playing a one-two pass with Azira, lodged a furious shot firmly into the net.  Interestingly enough, Wilson scored against former Battery teammate Andrew Dykstra who is on loan to the Kickers from DC United.

At the restart, Charleston were looking more like themselves, controlling the ball and creating chances.  Ten minutes on, Paterson managed a lightning strike shot from a distance of about twenty yards, but the ball struck the post and the would-be equalizer soared to safety.  Midway through the half, Charleston's comeback hopes were dealt a blow when Townsend scored again from close range.  The Battery were frustrated in the final minutes as things went from bad to worse when Cody Ellison inadvertently turned a ball into the Charleston net.  The own goal unofficially signaled the end of the contest as the Kickers completed a dream home opener.

Now its our turn.

While there's a lot to be said about last week's result, perhaps the most helpful is "At least that's out of the way!"  There's not much sense in dwelling on the loss on reading into things.  Its simply time to do better.  Blackbaud looks primed for a sellout for the Battery's home opener against Antigua Saturday.  Although the Barracudas finished at the bottom of the table last season, the Caribbeans can prove to be a prickly pear, having managedseveral upsets throughout the summer.  That being said, it'll be a fantastic day to cheer on the Battery.  With free t-shirts and fireworks, who could resist??  And if you can't make the match but are watching the live stream, keep your eyes on E-10...the Regiment has something special planned for ya!

But I'll see you at the 'Baud!!

(photo credit: USL PRO facebook page)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sounders Make History in CCL

Been following the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals??  You should be.  The Seattle Sounders sent shock waves through the North American soccer world Tuesday night by upsetting the Tigres and becoming the first MLS side to knock out a Mexican opponent in CCL competition.  Despite going down a goal, the Sounder's second half surge, complete with a trio of majestic goals, lifted the West Coast warriors to a 3-2 aggregate win over the Tigres.

Relive the glory at CenturyLink Field here:

In the other quarterfinal fixtures, Monterrey mastered Guatemalan side Xelaju (4-2 aggr.) and Santos Laguna dropped the Dynamo like a bad habit (3-0; 3-1 aggr.).  The LA Galaxy eased past Herediano 4-1 at the Home Depot Center, advancing with a landslide victory.

The semifinals will feature two Liga MX vs. MLS showdowns, with LA forcing a grudge match with two-time defending champions Monterrey.  The Sounders have their own axe to grind; the last time they faced Santos, they were chewed up and spit out in a 6-1 thrashing in Torreon.

Mouthwatering stuff to be sure...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Battery Trio Shine in CCL Semifinal

In yet another wild night in Mexico, three former Charleston Battery players led the charge as the Seattle Sounders finished 1-1 with Santos Laguna in Torreon.  The draw means the Cascadians are eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League (2-1 aggregate) in the semifinal round.   While the Sounders will be kicking themselves for surrendering to Santos in the Semis once again, at least this time they can return to the States proud of their grit, with their dignity in tact.

Instrumental in Seattle's struggle to reach the Champions League final were three young men who not long ago graced the turf of Blackbaud Stadium.  Osvaldo Alonso, Alex Caskey, and Lamar Neagle shined for the Sounders in last night's exciting, albeit disappointing tie with Santos.  Caskey and Alonso  featured prominently from the starting whistle, while Neagle played the role of super-sub.  Caskey flitted in dangerous crosses throughout the match while Alonso's commanding midfield presence allowed Seattle to press the attack.  Despite controlling the opening stages, the visitors were punished in the 21st minute, as Santos cashed in on some sloppy defending.

Now battling to overturn a two goal deficit, Seattle clicked on from the second half restart.  It was Alonso who lit the fire, with a dazzling run in the 47th minute but his powerful shot was extinguished by Laguna's Sanchez and the chance went begging.  Neagle took the pitch in the 61st minute and things began to open up immediately.  Initially playing the ball in for Steve Zakuani, Neagle poked home the deflected shot in the 73rd to pull Seattle within one.  Ten minutes later, Caskey looped in a deadly cross that was met by Shalrie Joseph at close range.  However, the headed ball was snatched up by the ever present Sanchez and Santos would coast to victory in the final minutes.

The result comes as a hard pill to swallow, but its a marked improvement from being eaten alive in the same fixture a year ago.  And it may come as little consolation, but a 1-1 draw is a respectable finish considering the Estadio Corona is among the most brutal arenas on the continent.  With full bias intended, the Sounders could not have done it without the aid of their former Battery players.  Its exciting to see our Charleston alums flourishing at the top flight of the American game and I'm sure many more will follow in their footsteps!

Well done lads!!  And as always, UP THE BATTERY!!!

(photo credit:  Sounders Facebook page)

We're Almost There!!

As the preseason draws to a close, the Charleston Battery have been busy doing what they do best: winning.  Sometimes the preseason can be a false indicator of how your team performs when the games begin to count, but if the Battery performs even half as well as they have in the past month, we've got nothing to worry about.  With many returning veterans and new recruits quickly gelling in the squad, this Charleston outfit might just be the best we've ever seen! (Lamar Hunt Cup, anyone?)

 Since the USL PRO season officially kicked off a few weekends ago, its a good thing the Battery performing like they're in mid-season stride.
Here are the latest results:

Carolina Railhawks 1-2 Charleston Battery

The Battery were on the board in less than twenty minutes, owing largely to the pace and precision of Jose Cuevas and Jarad van Schaik.  The two combined, sliding down the right half and allowed Quinton Griffith the ball and space to work with.  The thunder-footed Antiguan wasted no time rifling home the opening goal from a difficult angle at 18 minutes.  On the half hour, Micheal Azira scored an opportunist's goal, seizing on an errant clearance and burying a volley from twenty yards out.  Reclaiming one goal at 70 minutes, the Railhawks pressured the visitors for the equalizer, but the Battery stood their ground and saw off their NASL foes at WakeMed Park.

College of Charleston 0-0 Charleston Battery

The Cougars gave our boys a good run for their money in a scrimmage at Patriots Point.  If the woodwork could be awarded man-of-the-match, that would have been the case, as the Battery were denied by the post at least twice, if not more.  The Battery set the tempo, finding several opportunities in the first half as Cuevas, van Schaik, and Kelly took turns barraging C of C.  However, the finishing was lacking as each shot skipped wide or was literally "on frame."  The defensive Cougars were emboldened after the break sought the scalp of their professional neighbors.  Late in the match, Colin Falvey stole a march on defenders, surging down the pitch, but his would-be assist was fired wide by Zach Prince.  However, Falvey was soon called on about 10 minutes from time, and his stretching goal-line clearance proved to be the decisive play in the game.  

Charleston Battery 2-0 Wilmington Hammerheads

Charleston bested Wilmington in a classic rematch of the 2012 USL title game.  Griffith and Kelly nearly found the mark in the first half, but fans were forced to wait until the 69th minute for the breakthrough.  Having just arrived from the Vancouver Whitecaps, Ben Fisk latched onto a through ball from Jose Cuevas and neatly finished to score the game's first goal.  Returning the favor, "Ben 10" served Cuevas five minutes later and Charleston's "Chiva" ripped home a low shot into the right corner of the net.

Coastal Carolina 0-2 Charleston Battery

Visiting the Chanticleers' stomping grounds in Myrtle Beach, the Battery repeated their result from the weekend, trumping this resilient university side two-nil.  Perhaps the best news from this game was Nicki Patterson's return to action.  Linking with Cuevas on a set piece, the Scotsman's precision was the decisive factor Charleston's first goal.  Sounding a bit a like a broken record, Jose Cuevas led the team and scored midway through the second half.  Taylor Mueller put the result beyond doubt moments later, scoring from a fine overlapping run down the left flank.

Charleston Battery 1-0 Carolina Railhawks

Rounding out an unusually busy preseason, the Battery recorded a dominant performance, grounding the Railhawks for a second time in as many weeks.  Patterson and Cuevas combined for the goal, coming early in the first half.  Quniton Griffith also logged an impressive individual effort, keeping the Railhawks on the back foot for the better part of the match.   


Of course, "all's well that ends well,"  but this is only the beginning.  Charleston have finished their preseason matches unbeaten in the last ten outings.  The boys netted an incredible 26 goals in only 12 games.  Eight of those are accredited to the 2012 USL Rookie of the Year Jose Cuevas, and as exciting as that is, its worth noting that twelve other players found the net, most of whom have already agreed to terms with the Battery.

Experience is key to the unity and effectiveness of any given squad, but especially considering the high turnover rate of talented players in lower division football.  And while Alec Kann and Ryan Richter will surely be missed (transfered to Chicago Fire and Toronto FC, respectively), Charleston have retained the majority of their 2012 roster, practically unheard of in a Championship year.  Some of these guys have been kicking around together for three years now and when you combine that with the swell of fresh talent signed this season, the Charleston Battery are going to be tough to beat.

This season will bring lots of new excitement and changes.  It will be interesting to follow the development of the young partnership between MLS and USL and the crossover matches with the MLS Reserves are sure to liven up the table this year.  The addition of two new franchises introduce new blood and more unique soccer culture with Phoenix FC and VSI Tampa Bay debuting in USL in 2013.  Improved venues (i.e. Pittsburgh's Highmark Stadium) will ensure that the  USL drama will unfold on the finest of stages.  An expanded schedule adds more length to the season, and what kind of fan could take issue with more matches??`