Sometimes we find consolation in cliches, particularly after unfortunate occurrence spoils a thing that was about to be beautiful. And of course I’m talking about last night’s Battery loss to the Chicago Fire, a defeat that felt like the sporting equivalent of a flat tire on prom night.
Cliches like, “We were punching above our weight,” and “Soccer is a cruel game” and “You can’t win them all.”
But after sleeping on it, I think I can put the cliches aside and get to the important stuff. Yes, winning is more fun than drawing, and every little win — even the ones that don’t count for anything official — count for something, even if it’s just the morale of the group. That said, it’s Thursday morning now, the palpable disappointment of last night is history, and the lasting takeaway from Wednesday’s match isn’t related to the final score in a preseason game.
To wit: This 2013 Battery squad has the makings of something memorable.
Here’s the reasoning:
RETURNING PLAYERS: As I’m quickly learning, lower-tier pro soccer in the U.S. is a free-for-all when it comes to players, contracts and careers. The “system” is so far from being systemic that good teams in USL PRO are lucky to return even the core of a winning squad from the previous season. This year’s Battery team has its stars from last season under contract already, including some players who keep proving, night after night, that they deserve a shot at the next level. The more people I talk to, the more I begin to appreciate how rare this level of stability is for a defending champion in the third tier.
NEW ADDITIONS: Battery fans have seen several of the players competing for the 2013 Charleston roster before — back when they were playing for other USL PRO teams. Quinton Griffith played for Antigua Barracuda F.C. last season, but he’s better understood as a national player for Antigua and Barbuda, a tiny island nation that plays well above its profile. Midfielder Gibson Bardsley saw his USL appearances jump from 2 to 23 (with five goals) when he moved from Charlotte to Dayton in 2012.
And though this is his first appearance in USL PRO, Midfielder Jared vanShaik was a member of the Portland Timbers U-23 squad that went undefeated in 2010 (I actually got to see their championship win that August), and he spent the last two seasons with Puerto Rico in the NASL.
All three of these young veterans look like they’ve got a solid shot at making the roster and earning minutes.
And that’s not to mention the Cuban contingent.
Cuba may have crashed out of the 2012 U-23 Olympic Qualifying tournament (one point from three matches, with a -10 goal differential) last March in Nashville, but a look back at the game reports shows that all three of the Cuban defectors now vying for a spot on the 2013 Charelston roster — goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, midfielder Maikel Chang, and forward Evier Cordovez (or Heviel Cordoves, or Evier Cordovez Gonzalez, as he’s sometimes listed) — started all three of the matches in Nashville. Their performance put them on Cuba’s senior squad last fall, which put them in Toronto last October and gave them a chance to seek political asylum.
And as Cordovez demonstrated in his brief appearance last night, the potential they represent is intriguing. Cuba may be overmatched against the USMNT, but you have to figure that the island nation could field a pretty dominant USL PRO team.
With Dane Kelly (who is in the mix for a spot on Jamaica’s national team) back in Charleston and management trying to work out a deal to keep him here through the season, the Battery have the potential to field a team that features six current or former International players. That’s not too shabby at any level of North American soccer.
COACHING: Every team — particularly early in its training season — is going to fall flat every now and then. But seldom do you see a team make the kind of improvement we’ve watched the Battery make since its nearly panicked first half against Vancouver. Since the start of of the second 45 minutes in its first CCC game, the Battery have scored 3 goals and surrendered 3 goals against two playoff teams from MLS. And let’s call it what it was: Charleston outplayed Chicago in the first half last night. It was beautiful soccer against a team that played to win Wednesday (unlike the Houston-Vancouver match, which saw both teams trot out reserve-heavy sides while resting their studs).
Much of that is the players, of course. But you’ve got to credit the coaching staff for putting the team in a position to win games like this one, even if it’s just by keeping the space between their ears properly tuned.
And what makes it more impressive is the fact that Mike Anhaeuser has been managing his rotations and game plans with an eye toward the regular season, not wins.
NICKI PATERSON: He’s been everywhere for two matches in a row, attacking, defending and leading the tournament in flying turf divots. So long as upper-division clubs continue their myopic focus on Superdraft prospects, we’ve got a good shot at keeping him around.
On the other hand, he’s come close to leaving before, and with performances like these in front of MLS club executives, you have to assume it’s only a matter of time.
If he stays, he’s an excellent candidate for League MVP. If he leaves, he’s a big fee transfer for the club — and that could equate to wins down the road, too.
So yes, we lost last night.
Featured image from the Chicago Fire.