The team from Charleston began the 2013 USL PRO campaign with big dreams. And then Richmond slapped those big dreams in the face with an enormous, smelly flounder.
Perhaps you recall. It was April 13th, and Charleston was opening its season in Richmond. Nicki Paterson was buzzing around the field like the Energizer Bunny on a Segue. Jose Cuevas’ passes looked like they’d been calibrated by lasers.Dane Kelly and Quinton Griffith and Michael Azira were all… well, you get my point. Charleston went to Richmond with an open, attacking game plan, and the Battery boys dominated play in the early going.
And then, in the 24th minute, 32-year-old MLS veteran Joseph Ngwenya took a pass off a quick counter and changed everything. Richmond went on to win 4-1, and the carefree, risk-taking Battery team of March hunkered down in subsequent road matches.
Richmond, on the other hand, just kept winning, and drawing, and then winning some more. And though the margins got smaller, the successes kept coming, until eventually Orlando stumbled. In was late July, and the undefeated Kickers found themselves alone atop the league table.
Of course, Richmond’s success always seemed to come with an asterisk. Sure, the Kickers’ record looked great, but the schedule-makers had given them almost the entire first half of the season at home. Know- it-all-conventional-wisdom wags like me kept saying “Just you watch. Once they start going on the road, they’ll look a lot more average.”
Result so far? Richmond is 7-0-3 on the road. That’s better than they’ve played at home. And it makes them the best team in the league, with 48 points on 22 matches. Ngwenya’s goal in the 72nd minute last night gave Richmond a huge 1-0 road win at Charlotte.
Which means the two teams that play tonight at Blackbaud Stadium are coming off very different experiences. Charleston dropped a disappointing 1-2 road loss at Wilmington after winning three straight at home.
I think it also means one other thing, though I can’t prove it. It means Richmond comes to town without a loss in 22 consecutive matches. Which means Charleston has an opportunity to avenge its season opener, while earning the distinction of being the first team to beat Richmond.
Last meeting: 1-4 win over Charleston at Richmond, on April 13
Last match: 1-0 win at Charlotte, Aug. 3
2013 record: 48 points, 13-0-9, 41 goals for, 16 goals against
Home: 24 points, 6-0-6, 25 goals for, 9 goals against
Away: 24 points, 7-0-3, 16 goals for, 7 goals against
Last five: D-W-W-D-W
Top scorers: M Joseph Ngwenya, 16 games, 8 goals, 3 assists; Brian Ownby, 18 games, 5 goals, 5 assists; F Michael Seaton, 13 games, 5 goals, 1 assist; M Luke Vercollone, 21 games, 5 goals, 1 assist… eight players have more than one goal. eight more have one goal.
By comparison, Charleston has 12 goal scorers, only four (Quinton Griffith, Mark Wiltse, Colin Falvey and Shawn Ferguson) have a single goal, and only three players (Dane Kelly, 7 goals, 2 assists; Nicki Paterson, 7 goals, 3 assists; and Heviel Cordoves, 6 goals) have five or more goals.
This is one of those rare games when both the host and the visitor face off on short-rest. Which means that who played how long last night is a bigger deal than just about anything else.
So let’s start with who’s rested for Charleston. John Wilson sat out last night’s loss, which makes him almost certain to play a full game tonight at left back. Bryce Alderson wasn’t part of the Wilmington 18. And nine guys split time last night: Azira, Cuevas, Kelly, Ben Fisk, Jarad van Schaik, Zach Prince and Cordoves, plus Shawn Ferguson, who spelled Colin Falvey in the 82nd minute.
All of those guys have to be considered likely contributors, if not outright starters.
But that does mean that someone off the back line (most likely Emmanuel Adjetey or Taylor Mueller) is going to have to start tonight after playing last night’s full 90, and that player is likely to line up at right back — unless Mark Wiltse is somehow declared ready to play with his new protective face mask.
One player who won’t be in the lineup: Quinton Griffith, who picked up a straight red at Wilmington.
Meanwhile, Richmond didn’t do nearly as much rotating last night. Eight of its starting field players went 89 or more minutes at Charlotte.
A few players we should expect to see tonight: Midfielders Conor Shanosky and Mike Callahan, plus veteran forward Matt “Deli” Delicate, who is heating up after missing much of the season. Each participated last night, but had manageable minutes. And last year’s Battery goalkeeper, Andrew Dykstra, has been a rock between the pipes for Richmond this season. His goals-against average going into Charlotte was a stellar 0.647, and only got better following his ninth clean sheet of 2013.
Twelve players have logged more than 1,000 minutes for Richmond, and midfielders Callahan, Nathaniel Robinson and Luke Vecollone (a former Battery man) have appeared in each Kickers match this season.