ORLANDO — In the 70th minute at the Florida Citrus Bowl, with the Charleston Battery hanging onto a 1-1 draw at league-leading Orlando City, veteran Lions midfielder Jamie Watson lined up over a questionably granted penalty kick and shot hard toward the lower right corner.
Charleston keeper Odisnel Cooper read Watson’s intent and dove to his left.
And the entire audience — Orlando fans and Charleston fans alike — jumped to their feet. Battery fans because it looked like Cooper had delivered a clutch save against long odds. Orlando fans because they could see that the ball had somehow squibbed under Cooper’s save and trickled into the net.
Cooper’s near-save stands as a metaphor for Charleston’s frustrating 1-2 loss to Orlando. On the one level, it was an excellent effort — the right read, the dramatic athletic move. On another, it was a head-scratching disappointment. Even now I’m not quite sure how Watson’s shot managed to find its way past Charleston’s first-year keeper.
I’m writing this from a Florida time-share with a rather sketchy web connection, and I’m not in a good situation for transcribing the interviews I recorded after the match. But if you watched the match on the live-stream and were wondering what the mood was like on the field afterwards, it boiled down to something akin to bewilderment. I spoke to eight Battery players and coaches in the aftermath, and every one of them expressed the belief that they’d outplayed their opponents.
And to report it fully, it’s not possible to write about this match from a Charleston perspective without mentioning the officiating. Coach Mike Anhaeuser acknowledged that it was a problem. Quinton Griffith referred to the referee as Orlando’s 12th man. And an exhausted Dane Kelly, who was brought down under heavy contact in the Orlando penalty area at least three times, simply shook his head in resignation.
Then again, it was not as if the Battery didn’t generate the chances they needed to equalize or even bring home full points. Nicki Paterson, who came close on a bending free kick in the first half, missed wide on a golden opportunity in the 77th minute. Substitute hero Heviel Cordoves had two threats in the late going. Even John Wilson found a heart-stopping volley in the waning seconds.
Watson scored both of the Lions goals, finishing competently on a well-played through-ball from midfielder Christian Duke in the 29th before burying the 70th minute penalty.
But for the second match in a row, Charleston out-shot Orlando by a significant margin (16-11) yet managed only one goal on the night. The Battery’s came on a perfectly timed secondary run by left midfielder Jose “Chiva” Cuevas, who took Michael Azira’s slide-rule centering pass in stride and knotted the scored in the 54th minute.
Thursday’s showdown featured a new wave of reinforcements from Sporting Kansas City, headlined by 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong, a forward who has struggled to regain his scoring mojo and his minutes after a series of injuries.
But for the second consecutive match, the Lion who came up biggest was their 20-year-old goalkeeper Jon Kempin, who recorded five saves. Odisnel Cooper came up with four — and the fifth trickled just beyond his grasp.
The Battery get the night off on Friday, but then play VSI Tampa Bay FC at the club’s home field (the Cincinnati Reds former spring training ball park) in Plant City.
More on the match, with extended quotes, tomorrow.
TOP IMAGE: Newly arrived loaned forward C.J. Sapong and homegrown goalkeeper Jon Kempin battle for an aerial ball in the early going Thursday night at the Florida Citrus Bowl. Dan Conover photos.