(Check back for the big game wrap and gallery later on Sunday… includes interviews with Omar Salgado, Amadou Sanyang, Jarad van Schaik, Justin Portillo and Mike Anhaeuser. — dc)
A quick-hitting counter in the 65th minute set up a brilliant individual goal by Charleston Battery newcomer Mamadou Diouf, but the league champion Orlando City Lions leveled their account when a shot by Austin DaLuza deflected into Odisnel Cooper‘s goal 10 minutes later.
Cooper, who received credit for five saves on the night, weathered a barrage of set pieces , including a stunning 17 corner kicks.
Charleston held on to preserve the draw despite losing right back Quinton Griffin to a red card ejection in the 90th minute.
Diouf’s ice-breaker came at a moment when control of the midfield — and the match — was swinging Orlando’s way. But when Griffin came up a recovery at the Charleston end, his pass to 2011 MLS No. 1 overall draft pick Omar Salgado along the right sideline sprung the gifted Whitecaps winger into swaths of open grass.
Salgado held off his marker, cut toward the middle of the field and lifted an accurate diagonal pass that switched the field to his Vancouver teammate, former University of Connecticut forward Diouf.
Though closely marked inside left boundary of the box, Diouf’s three-second display of individual skill opened up just enough room to get off a blistering shot that beat Lions keeper Miguel Gallardo at his near post.
Second-half substitutes Diouf and Salgado were among five Whitecaps who made their USL PRO debuts for the Battery, joining starting winger Adam Mena and substitutes Aminu Abdallah, a midfielder, and Jackson Farmer, who replaced starting center back Taylor Mueller when he left with an injury late in the contest.
Rookie Justin Portillo of Coastal Carolina, who signed with the Battery last week, also made his professional debut professional debut. And Maikel Chang, who joined the Battery last winter, got his first regular season start. It was also the first time that all three Cubans on the Battery started a game together.
Battery Captain Colin Falvey missed the match as he served a suspension from last season’s playoff loss at Orlando.
The scoreless first half had a back-and-forth rhythm, with Charleston generating more chances, even while Orlando seemed to have the advantage in possession. Swapping out Heviel Cordoves for Salgado at the start of the second half gave the home side fresh legs, but while Salgado flashed game-changing talent during his 45 minutes, the Battery’s midfield began to lose edge. Even with four substitutes in the match, Charleston struggled to win and maintain possession, and after playing some particularly attractive soccer this month, the team went direct repeatedly, booming the ball out of their defensive third more like they were clearing it from danger than trying to start an attack.
Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser said this was largely because of fatigue in the second half, and spoke of the need to get his new players into shape.
TOP PHOTO: Mamadou Diouf, a rookie striker from UConn and Senegal, is mobbed by his teammates as he celebrates the first goal of the Battery season with the team’s Supporters Section Saturday night. Dan Conover photos.