By Corbin Ensminger
Charleston put on a convincing performance against Harrisburg City last night, and was rewarded for their attractive playing with a 2-0 victory that saw them improve to 3-0 on the season.
The Battery is still atop the USL table after the weekend thanks to goals from Heivel Cordoves and Dane Kelly. The two strikers both scored in the second half, although Charleston looked the stronger side for almost the entire game.
Harrisburg came to Charleston after taking a 5-2 thrashing from Pittsburgh in their season-opener last week, and played like a team determined not to have a repeat performance. The visitors appeared to play in a 4-4-2 formation and played very defensively, as you might expect a team that gave up five goals to play on the road against a team that has scored six times in two matches.
Because of that, the Battery controlled the game for the most part. Harrisburg had a handful of chances to score on counterattacks, but the defense stifled those chances before they could turn into a legitimate scoring opportunity. Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper only had to make one save the entire night. It was the first clean sheet of the year for Charleston, which allowed two goals in each of the first two games.
Charleston manager Mike Anhaeuser said it was good to see his defense improve over the last two games.
“This is more what I like,” he said. “Two-zero, not 3-2. It was great to see our defense get back in line, too.”
Cordoves opened up the scoring in the 61st minute on a fast counter, and then Kelly, who was subbed on for Cordoves, made it 2-0 10 minutes later.
It might have been less dramatic than the first two games — no stoppage time winner or barrage of corners from the other team — but this performance was the kind a very good team puts on against a team they should beat.
Charleston captain Jared van Schaik said the team emphasized playing a cleaner game than the first two matches.
“I think we put in a much more professional performance out there. Not very many mistakes, no big ones, a lot cleaner,” he said. “I thought it was a really big improvement over our first two games.”
Let’s go over the lineup, and then the goals.
Mike Anhaeuser used a combination of the lineups from the first two games of the season for Saturday’s match. Every starter had started at least one game this season, and seven of the players were making their third start in as many games.
Full back Quinton Griffith was still unavailable, so O’Brian Woodbine took his spot at right back. Adjetey played left back, just as he did last week. The two centerbacks remained the same as they have all season — Shawn Ferguson and Taylor Mueller.
The defensive midfielder pairing remained the same, as van Schaik and Justin Portillo prowled the area. Both players get forward, but it seems like Portillo plays slightly higher up on the field when Charleston goes on the attack.
Cordoves started up top in the lone striker position, while the midfielders behind him were Navion Boyd, Ricky Garbanzo and Maikel Chang.
There was only one change from the lineup Anhaeuser put out against Charlotte last week. Zach Prince played right back in that game, but he started Saturday’s match on the bench as Woodbine was back on the field. Prince eventually did come on in his more familiar position in the midfield for Boyd in the 72nd minute.
Houston Dynamo loanee Memo Rodriguez came on for Garbanzo in the 74th, and Sebastien Thuriere replaced Chang in the 85th.
Boyd and Chang helped power a lot of the Battery attack, and Chang especially had a great game. He was always involved going forward, and had the assist on Kelly’s goal. He played one of the best passes I’ve seen this season in the first half to Cordoves. It was one of those passes that makes your jaw drop, a long through ball that found the feet of Cordoves in the box, somehow curving around the defender at just the right time.
Chang almost had another assist on what would have been a spectacular play in the 51st minute. He chipped a ball in to Cordoves from the left side of the box. Cordoves went up for a bicycle kick, but the Harrisburg defender was able to deflect it away with his head.
“He’s got the ability to play balls in with either foot and he makes those forwards score,” Anhaeuser said. “If we can get it from the wing with him, Navion (Boyd), Zach (Prince)… all the guys who’ve been playing out wide have been doing a great job of getting it in to the forwards.”
Charleston was pretty much able to do what it wanted with the ball for most of the match. They barraged the Harrisburg goal, outshooting the visitors 13-6.
— 61st minute, GOAL Charleston (Cordoves)
Charleston was finally able to break through in the 61st minute on Cordoves’ goal. But the whole thing started with solid defensive play in the back. Harrisburg’s Garret Pettis played a ball toward forward Czenan Catic on the right side of the box. Mueller did a really good job of closing down the space to Catic, and was on him before he had a chance to make a move. He forced Catic outside of the box, but the Islander was able to then get around Mueller.
He slipped for a second, but then Adjetey came in to help out his teammate, dislodging the ball from Catic’s foot. It bounced to where Mueller was, and he was able to clear it by lobbing it up to Cordoves, who beat two Islanders for a flick-on header to Garbanzo at midfield.
Garbanzo took a touch and played a fantastic through ball towards a streaking Cordoves. The Cuban used his speed to blaze by Yann Ekra and towards the goal. There were two other defenders between Cordoves and goalkeeper Nick Noble, but they were too far away to cut off Cordoves. Plus they had to worry about Garbanzo and Boyd, the latter of whom absolutely flew down the field and probably would’ve been in position for a tap-in if Cordoves’ shot had been off the mark.
But it wasn’t. Noble came to the edge of his 6-yard goal area when he saw his defenders were beaten, but it was too late. Cordoves was able to slide it by him and into the bottom right corner of the goal. It was very similar to the two goals he scored against Charlotte last week. All three have come from almost the same spot on the pitch.
— 71st minute, GOAL Charleston (Kelly)
Kelly came on for Cordoves in the 66th minute to make his first appearance since suffering an ankle injury in the season opener against Toronto FC II. He looked ready, and his hustle led to his eventual goal. Portillo took a free kick from near midfield that bounced around the box before a Harrisburg defender took control of it. However, Kelly stayed with him and was able to win it back and pass it Ferguson, who in turn earned a throw-in in Harrisburg territory.
Chang took the throw in, and dropped it to Portillo who immediately gave it back to Chang. Facing two defenders, he used a couple of juke moves before playing the ball between the two Islanders and to van Schaik, who did a good job of coming back to provide an option. Van Schaik one-touched the ball and pushed it into the path of Chang who was running down the left wing.
He then found Kelly open in the box and crossed it right to his feet. Kelly took it on his right but moved it to his left before blasting a shot in the same corner as Cordoves did earlier.
It was a great team goal that came from the pressure Charleston put on Harrisburg’s back line and some of the best teamwork you will see. Charleston’s combination passing has been particularly impressive so far this season, which is not that unexpected for a team that is so used to playing together.
Charleston is off this week and doesn’t play again until April 18 when New York Red Bulls II come to town. Anhaeuser will have to make some decisions when it comes to the attack. Go with the assumed starter in Kelly, or stay with Cordoves, who has scored three goals?
Either way, the player who starts on the bench will probably still get a decent amount of playing time as a sub. Griffith will likely be back and able to rejoin the back line, but besides that, I would expect the lineup to stay the same. If it ain’t broke…
— Charleston is 3-0-0 on the year. The last time the team won its first three games was 2003. That team won its first four and didn’t lose until the sixth game.
— Attendance was reported as 3,026.
TOP IMAGE: Third-year-man Maikel Chang carves up space in the Harrisburg City Islanders midfield Saturday night. Vin Duffy/Charleston Battery photo.