BLACKBAUD — Up a goal but down a man for most of the second half, the players of the Charleston Battery fought their way to the team’s first regular-season home win of 2014 Saturday night, beating the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1-0.
“We said it all week, we said it again tonight in the huddle, before the first half, before the second half: Do what it takes tonight,” said Battery Captain Colin Falvey. “Graft it out, grind it out, don’t care where we find it. And that’s what I’m proud about tonight, from each and every one.”
The winless Riverhounds (0-6-3) — who fired their coach on Monday and arrived in Charleston fresh off a 5-1 battering in Wilmington Friday night — controlled the tempo and flow of the match for the first 10 minutes, threatening to pluck a page from the Hammerheads’ playbook and score a game-changing early goal.
But Charleston (3-4-4) turned the tide in the first half hour, often bypassing the midfield with long passes to forward Heviel Cordoves. The 6-4 Cuban repeatedly posted up on the Riverhounds, won the team several free kicks, distributed the ball to his teammates, and gave a sputtering Battery offense an effective place to go.
The approach almost paid off in the 35th minute when Cordoves’ strike partner, Jamaican forward Dane Kelly, finished a Battery jail-break for the apparent 1-0 lead. The officials waved off Kelly’s goal with an offsides call, but the Battery continued to press the issue, and five minutes later found their game-winner.
It came in the 40th minute off a patient build-up directed by midfielder Jarad van Schaik, who fed Cordoves a ball he passed ahead to defensive midfielder Amadou Sanyang in the box. Sanyang was well marked, yet got off a quick shot that beat his defender and froze Riverhounds goalkeeper Michael Lisch. It was Sanyang’s second goal of 2014.
But before the half, Kelly would pick up a yellow card, and just five minutes into the second half, he collided with a Riverhound near midfield, picking up his second yellow of the game — and the automatic ejection and one-match suspension that comes with it.
Kelly’s departure left the Battery facing a a tough task: Defend a 1-0 lead for more than 40 minutes against a team hungry for its first win of the year.
Yet the Battery didn’t simply bunker in, and came close to extending the lead on several occasions.
“We still attacked,” said Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser. “We could have had the one or two chances down there.. We did our defending, we still attacked, and we put them under pressure.
“They played last night, so they were a little tired. But you’ve got to take what you can get. Because I don’t think that was a red card. But our guys did a great job defending with 10 for a long time. One-zero, three points, we’re moving on.”
Anhaeuser had a right to feel relieved. The Riverhounds squandered several golden chances — including a missed free-header at the far post on a cross from 2013 USL PRO assist leader Matt Dallman, who subbed on in the second half. And the Riverhounds actually got past Battery keeper Odisnel Cooper (three saves on 10 shots, for his fourth clean sheet of the season) in the 66th minute — only to have surprise center back starter Taylor Mueller track back and clear the ball off the line.
Yet for all the drama of Charleston’s outnumbered defensive stand, this game will be remembered as The Match the Battery Had to Win Twice.
Roughly two minutes into four minutes of second-half stoppage time, referee Patrick O’Brian blew his whistle to end the contest. Children swarmed out onto the field for the fireworks display. PA announcer Richard Todd celebrated the victory and announced the Man of the Match. Yet the teams didn’t leave, clustering around O’Brian instead to argue about the sudden ending.
After a relatively short discussion on the field, the stadium announcer asked everyone to clear the field, and the game restarted. Pittsburgh pressed ahead with everything — only to have Mueller head away their final two entry passes.
“I’ve never seen that in my life,” Mueller said of the restart. “I don’t think that’s legal, but the rest of us, we got back together. Mentally you have to be prepared for anything. And they just threw it in the mixer, and you’ve just got to get it back out.”
Falvey, who appeared to have been knocked woozy on a late corner kick late in the second half, was on Bliss Mountain after the final final whistle.
“They threw everything — kitchen sink, grandmother’s sink, they threw everything they had at us. They played last night. But 40 minutes, I think it was, with 10 men? That’s quite impressive.
“I’m a little bit dizzy still from the knock, but I don’t remember Cooper having really to make a big, big save to keep us in it. They had a lot of territorial pressure to keep them in it, but I thought our shape, our discipline, our commitment was absolutely fantastic tonight.
“It’s wins like that, they’re the best ones for me. They’re the ones that give everyone belief that anything is possible.”
TOP IMAGE: Amadou Sanyang wins a header in the second half. Dan Conover photos.