So let’s keep this one simple.
Today Charleston plays its final regular-season road match of 2013 at Phoenix’s Reach 11 Sports Complex, the “largest soccer complex of its kind in Arizona,” with a start time moved up from 7:30 local to 4:30 p.m. (that’s 7:30 p.m. here in Charleston) because of a conflict with a previously scheduled event.
Which means that the Battery men will square off against the Phoenix FC Wolves at the height of the day’s predicted 104-degree heat. The good news on the weather? Thanks to the arid desert climate, the temperature will only feel like a balmy 98 degrees.
So these are hostile game conditions, and it’s the second game of a West Coast swing that included a disappointing 1-2 loss at Los Angeles that sounded like it came “against the run of play.” I can’t offer an opinion, since nobody outside of UC Irvine saw what happened.
Here’s what it means for Charleston: Assuming a win in the Battery’s final home match against winless (and drawless — I hate to say pointless) Antigua on Aug. 15, a win tonight would give Charleston 45 points on the season and give the team a good shot at the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. A draw would open the door for Charlotte to claim a Top 4 finish. And a loss could drop the Battery to as low as 6th.
There’s even a nightmare scenario where the Battery could drop all the way to 9th, although that would require losing to Antigua at home — with everything on the line.
As for the Wolves, tonight boils down to one thing: Pride.
Phoenix is winding down a bumpy first year in USL PRO. It started with an exciting show of local fans support and 4,200 in attendance at their home opener at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium. It proceeded with a very expansion-like level of play, plus growing alarm over the team’s finances.
Team ownership invested $600,000 to expand seating at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium from about 1,000 to more than 5,000 in the off-season, but then lowered that capacity to 3,600 a week before the season opener. In early July the team apparently sent back the rest of the temporary seating, dropping capacity down to the original 1,050 (significantly less than the team’s average attendance in June). Finally, on July 29, the club announced that it would be moving all its home matches to the city’s 18-field soccer complex.
The excellent Phoenix soccer news site Phoenix Kicks It has done a good job of covering the team and the ongoing rollback of expectations there. And we sincerely hope the Wolves get a chance to make this work. Phoenix is a promising market and a great addition to a growing USL PRO.
But at the moment, the whole thing makes for less-than-optimal conditions for the Wolves and the Battery tonight. Here’s hoping the Wolves’ downgraded circumstances don’t extend to their video feed, as we’ve certainly had enough of that problem this season, thank you very much.
Last meeting: Charleston 5, Phoenix 1
Phoenix was just what the doctor ordered for a be-funked Charleston team on July 24. After moping through a series of uninspired, low-scoring results, the Phoenix match was one of those “get-well games” that teams find every now and then.
The match also allowed Coach Mike Anhaeuser to rotate his roster a bit in anticipation of the next match against the LA Blues, so it was notable for who played, as well as how they played.
The freakishly still, humid weather was a home-field advantage for Charleston, just as the heat looms as an issue this afternoon in Phoenix. “They play in 115-degree heat, but they don’t play with any humidity,” Anhaeuser said afterward. “So I’m sure if you talk to their players, the humidity wears you down, and you just can’t run the same.”
Meanwhile, Colin Falvey and Amadou Sanyang chipped in goals, Phoenix Captain Scott Morrison scored once for each team (an own-goal that could just as well have been credited to Heviel Cordoves) and Dane Kelly scored twice. The brace moved Kelly back into a tie for the team scoring lead, and in the weeks since the Jamaican has been on a scoring run. He now leads the team with nine on the season.
Phoenix is one of three teams that have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they’re on a roll of sorts.
“Our form and results of the last 10 games has been encouraging in which we were undefeated in seven of the last 10,” Coach David Robertson said in the club’s preview of tonight’s game. “The players still have a lot to play for in the next two games including roster spots for next season. We also owe it to our supporters to finish the season strong.”
They’re bolstered by new arrival David Armstrong, a midfielder on loan from Colorado, but will be without leading scorer Donny Toia, who is serving a suspension of yellow-card accumulation.
Charleston, on the other hand, has been up and down over the past month, winning big at home but losing on the road. Much of their scoring punch has come from Kelly, who scored at LA on Thursday. But it sounded like Kelly whiffed on some open chances Thursday, shooting 1-for-6 on the night.
If Anhaeuser holds true to form, this will be a start for backup keeper Kevin Klasila.
Michael Azira, Nicki Paterson, Emmanuel Adjetey, Colin Falvey, John Wilson, Jose Cuevas and Kelly all went the full 90 minutes in the midweek loss.
Trainer Bobby Weisenberger said Saturday that the team picked up no injuries at Los Angeles, but that the temperature on the field is expected to hover around 108 degrees, presenting a potentially dangerous situation for the players. Weisenberger said he will be speaking to the officials about providing the teams a short hydration break in each half, just for safety’s sake.
Watch party at Molly Darcy’s
This could, of course, be the last time Battery fans gather to watch an away game at Molly Darcy’s in 2013 — not likely, of course, but possible.
Tommy Snee and his staff have been great hosts all season, and I just want to make sure that we take this opportunity to give them a shout for their efforts.
Here’s hoping you’ll come down and join us. It’s actually a huge night for the Battery, and I know I’m basically in playoff mode from here on out.