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

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