Well, that was bad.
The Charleston Battery had two road games over three days and lost both of them by a combined score of 6-3. First, they lost a two-goal lead against St. Louis and lost 3-2, then were ransacked 3-1 by Louisville City.
The losses mean that the Battery has earned just two points in the last six games. The last win was on July 18 against Wilmington. Throughout that stretch, the problem was that the team wasn’t producing goals. In the four games between the July 18 win and the game against St. Louis last Thursday, Charleston scored one goal and was shutout three times.
But throughout those games, the defense kept up its consistency, as they allowed one goal to Toronto and Rochester and shut out FC Montreal. The offense showed up last week, but then the defense slipped up.
The Battery defense had not allowed more than two goals in any league game this season, but did so in consecutive games. Rochester (5o points) and Louisville (45) have separated themselves atop the table, so Charleston’s chances of a second-place finish appear to be gone. The team will have to recover mentally from the two losses, because they have another crucial game coming up on Saturday.
The Richmond Kickers host Charleston on Saturday night, and both teams have 36 points through 24 games played. With only four games remaining, every point matters. And the schedule doesn’t get any easier after that, as Charleston will go to Pittsburgh on Sept. 5. The Riverhounds are currently in sixth place, the final playoff spot, with 32 points. However, they have played one less game than the Battery.
Charleston then closes out the regular season at home against Louisville and Charlotte. Charlotte is making a playoff push of its own, but is currently sitting in seventh place with 29 points through 21 games.
So that’s a summary of the fallout of the two losses and the future implications. But what happened in those games?
Thursday, vs St. Louis FC (3-2 St. Louis)
Corby, Adjetey, Lasso, Mueller, Griffith, van Schaik, Portillo, Boyd, Garbanzo, Chang, Cordoves.
Almost a normal starting lineup, with a few exceptions. Defender Shawn Ferguson was unavailable because of yellow card accumulation, so Forrest Lasso got the start in his place at center back. Heviel Cordoves, who came off of the bench and scored a much-needed goal to tie the game against St. Louis in Charleston last week, started in place of Dane Kelly.
Kevin Corby started in goal over Odisnel Cooper, and that’s another cool story. Corby is a native of St. Louis, so coach Mike Anhaeuser gave him the starting spot in his hometown.
Things started off very well for Charleston, and they found themselves up 2-0 after just 18 minutes. Cordoves put his team ahead in the 10th minute when he finished off on a cross from Ricky Garbanzo. Then Chang was brought down in the box and Charleston was awarded a penalty kick, which Justin Portillo took. He beat goalkeeper Alex Kann to double the lead.
The Battery has not lost a game in which they led all season, so what transpired in the rest of the game was shocking. St. Louis drew one goal back before halftime when Mike Ambersley took a penalty kick for the home team, making it 2-1 at the break.
Time continued to pass by and it was looking more and more likely that the Battery would take all three points. However, Sam Fink headed home a ball in the 83rd minute to tie the game. His goal came on the end of a great cross from Patrick Doody, a player on loan from the Chicago Fire.
The home team was awarded a free kick outside of the box four minutes into stoppage time, and the ball bounced around in the box before falling to Aaron Horton near the top of the box. He was able to bring the ball down with his chest and fire a shot past Corby to stun the Battery and send the home crowd into a frenzy.
It was only the second home win of the season for St. Louis, which is now in ninth place with 26 points. The late collapse had to be damaging to the morale of the Battery, but they didn’t have time to dwell on it as they had to face second-place Louisville City on Saturday.
Saturday, vs Louisville City (3-1 Louisville)
Cooper, Adjetey, Mueller, Ferguson, Griffith, Thuriere, van Schaik, Marini, Rodriguez, Prince, Kelly.
The biggest difference in Saturday’s lineup was in the midfield and attack. Besides captain Jarad van Schaik, the entire midfield was rotated. Memo Rodriguez got the start in the center of the midfield, where he has been used most often this year. He played as a defensive midfielder in the last game in Charleston, switching with Sebastian Thuriere. But Saturday saw Thuriere stay back instead of going forward.
Dante Marini joined the attack on the left side of the field, while Zach Prince controlled the right and Dane Kelly played up top. It was the smallest lineup possible, height-wise, but what it lacked in size it made up for in speed. Defensively, there were only two tweaks, as Cooper was back in goal and Ferguson returned from his one-game suspension.
The Battery looked like the stronger team for most of the first half, controlling play and not allowing the home team to do much of anything on the attack. The Louisville commentators kept talking about how they were impressed with Charleston’s defense and fitness, calling their pressing “very intense.”
And it was working, until right before halftime when Bryan Burke made a run to the right. His cross found Matt Fondy in a perfect position between both center backs, and he was able to easily head it past Cooper.
The goal, coming in the 45th minute, was a deflater just before halftime, but the Battery didn’t fold up in the second half. However, since they had to press forward in hopes of scoring a leveler, they left themselves open to counter attacks, and Louisville City took advantage. Magnus Rasmussen made it 2-0 in the 75th minute and Fondy ended all hopes of a comeback with his second goal of the night in the 83rd.
Chang’s goal in the 85th minute saved the Battery from being shutout, but it was a small consolation for the team that had been comfortably in second place for the majority of the season.
So what is the problem? Almost all of the players are healthy. (Austin Savage and O’Brian Woodbine are the only players still injured, and Woodbine is listed as doubtful for this week.) The Battery sent out some interesting statistics from the last six games.
Despite the lack of goals, Charleston has been shooting the ball on average two more times per game in the last six games than their season average. However, the shots are not turning into goals. The team has only turned 4.8 percent of the shots in the last six games into goals, compared to the season average of 12.5 percent.
Overall, it seems as if the team is forcing shots and settling for shots outside of the box, as opposed to working the ball around and choosing shots. Several times in this stretch, Kelly has received the ball atop the box and has launched a shot towards goal, not seeing any better options. He is certainly capable of scoring from distance, as he has tallied a few incredible goals this season, but it is obviously less effective.
Personally, I’m not as worried about the defense. They had two bad games, true, but it was historically bad in the context of this season. Like I wrote earlier, the team had not given up more than two goals in a single game all year, but did so in back-to-back games. They had not lost a game in which they led, but did that against St. Louis.
Second place looks too far gone now, but third place is still up for grabs. Charleston just needs to find its rhythm again. A win would go a long way towards that, but they face a stiff test at Richmond.
It’s a big game, between the two oldest, continuously operated professional teams in U.S. soccer. Just another meeting in the Richmond-Charleston rivalry. The teams have met twice this season, and both ended in draws, 2-2 in Richmond in May and 1-1 in Charleston in June. It will be interesting to see how the teams approach the game, as both are in need of points to hold off New York and Charlotte.
Top image: St. Louis’ Charles Renken tries to work the ball around Charleston’s Maikel Chang. Credit: St. Louis FC.