A 4-2 win, and then some

A 4-2 win, and then some

Ralph-Lundy-soccer-sponsorship-message-2Here’s what the box score will tell you: A Wilmington team with a woeful record came to town and got dispatched 4-2 by the resurgent Charleston Battery.

But the box score doesn’t convey how euphoric Charleston’s first 30 minutes of soccer actually felt. It doesn’t reflect how tough the Wilmington Hammerheads played in the second half. The scoreline certainly won’t communicate how heated things got late, or how very, very easily this game could have ended in a draw.

So if you missed it, I’m here to emphasize not the score, but the match. For my money, it was the Battery’s most complete performance of 2013, and our first extended look at what this immensely talented group is capable of doing to opponents when this team is purring like a finely adjusted machine. Yes, the second half had its ugly moments, but the physicality was mutual, the Hammers played some inspired football, and the Battery proved that they could take a punch without losing their composure.

With a bang

History will record that Man of the Match Nicki Paterson got things rolling in the 2nd minute when he played ahead to forward Dane Kelly, who burst into open space, shrugged off a challenge from veteran Gareth Evans and nailed his second goal of the season. What it will likely forget is that about 45 seconds earlier, a Hammerhead player got his foot into a second ball off an errant Battery throw-in. His shot bounced off the right post.

Kelly’s score not only temporarily erased the memory of that nearly disastrous start, it also put the Battery in an offensive groove that lasted almost 30 minutes.

Paterson scored a goal 11 minutes later, running down a pass from team captain Colin Falvey on the right side of the pitch and veering toward the net right in front of the E-10 Supporters Section before burying the resulting shot. It was Paterson’s third goal in three games, and his first at Blackbaud in the 2013 regular season.

Then in the 21st minute, it was midfielder Zach Prince’s turn. The fourth-year man out of the College of Charleston got the start in place of Jose Cuevas, and found himself near the left corner of the penalty area as an attacking Battery possession turned into a series of block and attempts. When the ball came his way, Prince managed to turn on it and rifle a right-footed shot to the far post.

Finally, left  back John Wilson finished off the Battery scoring in the 29th minute when right midfielder Quinton Griffith made one of the night’s best passes. Spotting Wilson deep, Griffith switched the field with a long diagonal pass that homed in on Wilson like a fire-and-forget missile. The left-footed Wilson blasted a right-footed shot from somewhere between 25 and 30 yards. It was his second goal of 2013, and the third goal in Wilson’s record-breaking Battery career.

And how the official scorer doesn’t award an assist to Griffith for the pass that created that opportunity, I’ll never understand.

What this account doesn’t convey is just how dangerous Kelly looked. He almost scored a second goal less than a minute after scoring the game-opener, and seemed half a step shy of breaking the game open on half-a-dozen plays in the first half. It leaves out how close the Hammerheads came to equalizing in the 9th minute off a beautiful shot (not sure if it was Steven Perry or Kyle Greig) that curved just wide.

And it certainly doesn’t communicate the stout-hearted defensive performances turned in by ostensibly offensive-minded players like Kelly, Paterson, Griffith and Prince. Or how Falvey flipped a switch from his hoof-and-run road-game passing style and spent much of the night passing calmly to players in the midfield, initiating attacks.

Weathering the storm

The standard storyline suggested by the stat sheet is that Charleston came out flat in the second-half and the Wilmington Hammerheads made a valiant comeback. But the truth is that in the 47th minute, one Battery possession touched Wilson, Prince, Paterson, Jarad van Schaik, Falvey and Mark Wiltse — some of them twice — before finally being lost out of bounds in Wilmington’s territory.

The Hammers came out fired up and focused, but it’s not as if the Battery looked complacent or sluggish. Though there were some defensive mistakes in the Battery back line, both of Wilmington’s second-half scores were high-quality goals from the run of play.

In the 53rd minute, Perry found a small amount of space right of goal and centered back to midfielder Paul Nicholson, who made a brilliantly timed run down the center of the defense and buried the assist. The final goal of the night, scored in the 59th minute, lacked the grace of the game’s five previous scores, but it came from the run of play and punished the Battery for a bad clearance and a moment of defensive confusion (speaking of confusion, the goal was announced in the stadium as coming from defender Mike Daly, but the official league box score credits Nicholson).

From the hour mark on, the game turned increasingly contentious, and though momentum appeared to be on the Hammers’ side at this point, their failure to break through despite concerted effort eventually caused them to recede.

With the Hammerheads pushing forward boldly, the Battery repeatedly attempted to punish the supposedly fatigued North Carolina side — which lost at home to previously winless Rochester on Friday night — on the counter. But those balls into space for Griffith and Kelly weren’t producing threats, and with Wilmington winning the midfield battle, the Battery found themselves clearing threat after threat.

In the 66th minute, Coach Mike Anhaeuser made his first substitution of the night, swapping defensive-minded Emmanuel Adjetey for Prince. Adjetey immediately added fiesty energy to the mix. Two minutes later, Falvey tucked-in on a tough sliding tackle right in front of the Wilmington bench, and as tensions rose, cards followed. In the 69th minute, the side judge called a hard foul on centerback Cody Ellison, and after some discussion, the big California cowboy was shown the team’s first red card of 2013. Wilmington’s Perry received a yellow for his role in whatever happened.

The Hammerheads’ one-man advantage proved short-lived. Three minutes later, Wilmington veteran defender Gareth Evans picked up a red for a hard challenge on Kelly. Kelly stayed down for almost a minute, then subbed out for attacking midfielder  Jose Cuevas. It was Cuevas’ first game action since injuring his hamstring on April 13, and Charleston fans welcomed him back loudly.

In the final 15 minutes, Chaarleston did a better job of possessing the ball, and  the Hammerheads would only generate two significant chances: A punch-save by Odisnel Cooper in the 74th minute, and a 81st minute chance off a stolen throw-in that rimmed off the Battery crossbar.

More Sunday

I’m tired, and odds are you won’t be reading this until later on Sunday. Please check back for more notes, quotes and photographs in my follow-up post.

TOP IMAGE: Battery forward Dane Kelly celebrates his second goal of 2013 in the second minute of the Battery’s 2-0 win over Wilmington. Dan Conover photos.