A little day-after-the-end-of-the-Battery-preseason notepad clearing, along with some other things thrown in for good measure:
GOOD CROWD: I’m sure it had something to do with it being a Saturday, with a noon start time on a day with nice spring weather, but there was a respectable crowd in the stands at Blackbaud Stadium yesterday. At least when you consider that the only way to really know about the match was via social media, blogs and the Battery website.
It was not so big that you couldn’t hear everything the players were shouting at each other and the refs, but big enough that the crowd had an effect when Battery fans started laughing at and heckling the Railhawks’ complainers. I’m not the most experienced sports fan, but seldom have I heard whining about calls go from zero to WAAAA-AH so rapidly. The good news is the Railhawks got their sudden bitch-surge under control after a few minutes and finished out the afternoon with combative class. Good on ya, boys.
MAN OF THE MATCH: I’m usually hesitant to call out one player, typically because I tend to be attracted to shiny things and over-emphasize offense. Quinton Griffith and Jose Cuevas were definitely shiny Saturday, with Cuevas adding an 8th goal to his preseason tally, but after sleeping on it, offense wasn’t the story of this game. Defense was.
Only this wasn’t one of those matches where the keeper saved the day over and over, or some heroic back-line guy made lots of dramatic individual clearances. The tenor of the game was more of a series of midfield battles, with zero style points, little in the way of offensive flow and few gasp-inducing threats. So with that in mind, I’m calling out Nicki Paterson as Man of the Match. He went the full 90, had a brilliant assist to Cuevas in the first half, and looked like himself again after missing about a month with a groin injury. It wasn’t his most spectacular game, but he looked back in form as a true box-t0-box player who went about his business fearlessly.
I can’t say that those of us watching didn’t have some fear, though. I heard people around me wince audibly at least twice as Nicki extended himself awkwardly in challenges for 50-50 balls. Paterson is such a key to the Battery, and so close to making the leap to Major League Soccer, that you’d hate to see him re-aggravate that groin in a preseason match. But all’s well that ends well.
Honorable mentions: Taylor Mueller, Amadou Sanyang and Colin Falvey.
SO LONG TO GIBSON BARDSLEY: One of the things I’ll remember about this spring was learning to appreciate Gibson Bardsley, an attacking midfielder who showed up in Charleston as a trialist after leading the Dayton Dutch Lions in scoring last season. He didn’t instantly jump out at me, but the more I watched him — both in practices and in games — the more I could see that this was a quality USL PRO player.
The question wasn’t whether he could play, but whether he could find a home on a deep and talented 2013 Battery roster.
Bardsley scored a couple of goals for the Battery this preseason and often seemed to have a positive effect when he entered matches in the second half, but by the time we had our first and only casual conversation (at the season ticket-holders’ meet-and-greet on March 13) I was already beginning to worry about his chances. Some injured players with great potential were starting to get healthy, and the numbers were stacking up against him. And new challengers were about to arrive.
After a lackluster performance in the Battery’s 0-0 draw with the College of Charleston, Bardsley’s postgame body language told the story. I got to shake his hand in the parking lot afterwards and wondered whether that would be the last time, but he was on the bench again versus the Wilmington Hammerheads on the 23rd. It turned out to be only a temporary reprieve (and probably a classy move by the club).
Coach Mike Anhaeuser confirmed Bardsley’s rumored return to Dayton yesterday afternoon. “Obviously, you know, we got Ben (Fisk) in, and a couple of guys,” Anhaeuser said. “So the best situation for him was to go back to Dayton and be able to play.”
There are several signs that this Battery team will compete for hardware in 2013. The fact that a third-year USL veteran like Bardsley is back in Dayton, despite a pretty solid preseason, is probably one of them.
MORE VANCOUVER RUMBLINGS: In addition to Ben Fisk, there are three more names from the Vancouver Whitecaps being bandied about in connection with the Charleston Battery … and none of them were on the sidelines for the home team yesterday. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep an eye out for more Canadians.
Here’s Anhaeuser, responding to my question about Chris Thomas, a high-scoring college forward who joined the team on trial before the Wilmington match:
“He’s doing alright. We’ll probably make a decision here over the weekend and see, you know, with our guys, you know, fortunately we might have a few other Vancouver guys coming in. So we’ll see. And unfortunately I’ve got my two Cubans sitting on injured reserve again. So I do need another striker. (Evier) Cordovez got injured again yesterday. Maikel (Chang) is getting close, he’ll probably start training this week. With those two it’s going to be tough, but unfortunately I don’t know what I’m going to have.”
FIND THE RING, WIN A PRIZE: So while covering a couple of South Carolina United Battery Academy matches on Friday, College of Charleston coach Ralph Lundy Jr. introduced me to several soccer coaches in the stands, and I wound up have a nice conversation with Blackburn College coach Aydin Gonulsen. Gonulsen won three national titles as the coach of Sangamon State University (now the University of Illinois Springfield), leading the Prairie Stars to titles in 1986, 1988 and 1993.
But Gonulsen wasn’t in town for soccer. He came down to visit with his daughter’s family as it makes its move to Charleston. His son-in-law, Mitch Pugh, began his job as the new executive editor of The Post and Courier last month. And during his vacation here, Gonulsen took his 8-year-old grandson to Sullivan’s Island last week and got down in the sand with him and played.
It was only after he got back from the beach that Gonulsen noticed that his NAIA Sports Hall of Fame ring was missing.
So here’s the thing: Gonulsen is a class act, American soccer royalty, and if there’s any chance of getting that ring back to him, we ought to do that. He reported the missing ring to local authorities, so he’s taken the first step. But here’s the ask: If you’re heading out to Sullivan’s Island this week, why not poke around a bit near Station 21 and a half? Based on his description that’s where Gonulsen took his grandson. And if you happen to know someone with a metal detector, that would be a good spot for a Good Samaritan to go hunting.
If you find it, contact me and I’ll contact Gonulsen. Then I’ll feature your story here, and give you a limited edition CHSSoccer.net T-shirt.
By the way, Lowcountry soccer fans may be interested to know that the local daily’s new editor is a bone fide soccer fan who is interested in getting to know the local soccer scene. According to Gonulsen, Pugh covered soccer when he was a young reporter in Springfield, too. And apparently he was in attendance in the executive suite on Saturday, too. You can follow Pugh on Twitter here.
Great day for soccer at Blackbaud Stadium. twitter.com/SCMitchP/statu…
— Mitch Pugh (@SCMitchP) March 30, 2013
MY TURN TO WHINE: I’m gonna get killed in the Regiment’s MLS Fantasy Soccer Manager league this week. Twenty-nine points, no keeper, and I left Graham Zusi on the bench because returning internationals haven’t always played for Sporting KC.
With only a seven-point lead over Mikey Buytas’ team going into the weekend., it looks like Xarktopia LLC’s three-week run at the top of the table is about to come to an end.
Top photo: Mark Wiltse, in his first action since injuring his MCL, pushes the ball upfield against the Railhawks Saturday. Dan Conover photo.