Of the two teams on the schedule for the Charleston Battery’s first multi-date road trip of 2013, the one that looked like the toughest job was undefeated Harrisburg. Last night the Battery beat the City Islanders 2-1 in what had to be their most difficult assignment since losing to Richmond in the season opener.
This morning the team boarded their bus for the eight-hour trip to Dayton, Ohio. When we last heard from them, the boys were watching Django Unchained as they rolled across Western Pennsylvania.
But what awaits them tomorrow night when they step onto the pitch at Beavercreek High School in the Dayton suburbs? And what does Ohio have to do with Holland?
As Dutch as they wanna be
I’m a fan of Dutch soccer, so the thought of an American program owned by a Dutch franchise from the top flight in The Netherlands (FC Twente) automatically gets my attention. Unfortunately, this recent addition to USL (the Dutch Lions joined the league in 2009) has yet to produce FC Twente-like results in league play — although the team did make a memorable U.S. Open Cup run last year, beating the Columbus Crew before falling to eventual champions Sporting KC.
And yes, there’s a distinct Dutch flavor to this franchise. Dutch owners, coaches and technical directors. Orange shirts. Several players from The Netherlands.
But the lineup they field is no more international than our Charleston roster (11 of of Charleston’s 22, representing seven countries, are from outside the U.S., although five of those players count as domestic under USL PRO rules), and several of their Netherlanders have yet to earn significant game minutes this season.
When it comes to results, the team has been rather un-Dutch, too. With three goals in three matches (one from Gibson Bardsley, another from Dutch substitute forward Remco Klasse, and the most recent from American Brandon Swartzendruber two games ago), the Dutch Lions aren’t exactly tearing up the scoring charts.
MAKE IT COUNT: Instead, their 2-1-0 record is build on a truly bizarre statistic: Dayton has been out-shot in each game to the tune of a combined 19-to-55 shot disadvantage. They started by being out-shot 19-11 in their dramatic 2-1 home-opener against Pittsburgh, in which the Lions scored in the final seconds despite playing most of the match with 10 men. Then they won a frugal 1-0 road game at VSI Tampa Bay FC, despite being out-shot 17-6.
They then drove across Florida and backed into the Orlando City buzzsaw. The Dutch Lions got off two shots, while the Florida Lions took 19 and won 4-0.
Charleston fans who showed up for the preseason know that Bardsley is a talented striker who led Dayton in scoring in 2013 and knocked in a couple for the Battery in February and March before getting squeezed out by the local influx of Cubans and Canadians. Several other attackers on the roster appear to have talent. But a look at the minutes-played statistic over their three matches tells the real story.
IT’S THE DEFENSE, STUPID: Of the eight Dutch Lions to log more than 200 minutes so far, five of them are the goalkeeper and his starting back line. Keeper Matthew Williams and defenders Sintaro Harada and Gregory Preciado have all played max minutes. Only midfielder Joel DeLass joins that club. But defenders Taylor Lord and Shane Smith are not far behind, at 261 and 263 minutes, respectively. Georgian (the country, not the state) midfielder Irakli Khutsidze trails on 240, with Bradsley rounding out the group at 236.
So let’s keep this analysis simple. The Dutch Lions will be playing on a full week’s rest. They’ve got a four-man back line that has allowed five goals on 55 shots, and until we hear otherwise, that’s what they are. The 32-year-old Harada is a decorated Japanese soccer veteran who has earned multiple USL honors. They got dismantled in Orlando, but that’s not unusual.
Is it time for rotation?
For the Battery, the biggest question isn’t necessarily how they’ll play, but who. The team has surrendered one goal in the past three matches, emphasizes defenses on the road, and has one of the best back lines in USL PRO. So they’re going to make it hard on attackers.
But who will get the starts?
Only one available Battery regular — 35-year-old John Wilson — sat out the Harrisburg game, so with the club on less than 48-hours rest Friday, Coach Mike Anhaeuser will have some decisions to make, and they could have a lot to do with fitness. It’s not like he has to stockpile rest for players because of another quick turnaround (the Battery won’t play again until the 11th against Wilmington), but health and injury are always concerns when you’re planning for a long season and a deep U.S. Open Cup run.
The Battery will likely field a familiar-looking defense, although if Wilson returns it could be someone else’s night to take a breather behind RB/CB Taylor Mueller if Anhaeuser is feeling particularly rotational. Coach has also pulled a Heviel Cordoves-for-Dane Kelly starting swap at forward earlier this season, and that would be no surprise here, either.
The more interesting question is how he’ll manage his midfield. Nicki Paterson, Michael Ariza, Jarad van Schaik and Quinton Griffith have started all four games this season, and one or more of them could be due for a rotation to the substitute bench. Zach Prince is also coming off two consecutive starts.
Several interesting options are waiting on the sideline. Amadou Sanyang made his season debut last night and should be ready to return to the lineup as needed. Emmanuel Adjetey made his second appearance and first start on loan from Vancouver Whitecaps, and could fit in at left midfield, a spot often filled by the versatile van Schaik. The attack-minded Maikel Chang sat out last night’s match and might not be a guy Anhaeuser wants to run the full 90 minutes, though he could be an intriguing substitute.
The big question mark hangs over new arrival Bryce Alderson, a sturdy Canadian 19-year-old who came down from Vancouver late last week after successfully rehabbing a knee injury. While the currently injured Canadian youth international Ben Fisk has plenty of fans, Alderson appears to be one of the great young hopes of Canadian soccer. He was on the U-23 team that came to Nashville in March 2012 and essentially knocked the U.S. team out of the Olympics with a 2-0 upset, and though he didn’t play in that match, Alderson pitched in on Canada’s 0-0 draw with El Salvador.
Will Alderson get his USL PRO debut Friday night? Where would he play? How does he fit into the Battery’s plans this season?
For the thrilling answers to these and many more heart-pounding soccer questions, join your fellow Battery fans at Molly Darcy’s on Friday night for the official team watch party. Drink specials. Three flat-screens. Friendly staff. Occasional outbursts.