Sports are at their best when they bring people together. People of different backgrounds and beliefs uniting for one cause: supporting their team. The great unifying tool that is sports often shines brightest after a tragedy, and this was on display Saturday in several games, including at the Battery-Independence match in Charlotte. The soccer community made clear it stood with Charleston after an attack June 17 on Emanuel AME Church that left nine people dead.
That night the Battery played an insanely entertaining game against MLS team Orlando City in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. It was as intense as they come, with eight goals, two 15-minute extra periods and a 10-round shoot-out. Charleston’s narrow loss and the long-standing rivalry between the two teams made for an emotional finish.
As fans headed home or up to the Three Lions Pub, early reports out of downtown Charleston became news that put soccer in perspective. A rumor of a shooting on Calhoun street became a story of increasing horror: fatal shootings at a historic black church. The Orlando City team could not return immediately to their hotel, which was across the street from the crime scene, as police searched the area for the suspect and responded to a bomb threat. After midnight, the mayor and police chief announced the terrible news that nine members of Emanuel Church had been murdered. Over the next few days, the city reacted to the tragedy, with memorials and events that drew thousands. And while things were far from normal, the Battery had to get back to work preparing for a Southern Derby game at the Charlotte Independence.
When Saturday came around, about 40 Battery fans met outside Blackbaud Stadium and rode on a bus up to Charlotte for the third meeting between the teams this season. (Charleston won 3-2 in the first game, and tied 1-1 in the second.) This was the first game in Ramblewood Park, which is Charlotte’s temporary home stadium. It was supposed to be ready in mid-April, but problems acquiring work permits left only one side of the stadium completed in time for Saturday’s game.
Charlotte fans welcomed traveling Battery fans and players, displaying banners of support and collecting donations for Emanuel Church. There was a moment of silence for the victims before kickoff, and supporter groups and commentators held another one in the ninth minute. During that silent minute, Jack’s Militia of Charlotte released yellow smoke on the opposite end of the stadium from where the Regiment and Queen Anne’s Revenge were standing.
It was one of the coolest things I have seen at a game. It was a very small tribute, but both sets of fans felt like they had to do something. Then, after the game, the fans of both sides took pictures together, then got a few players from each team to join them in the stands for a group picture.
It was an amazing thing to see, and admittedly, a relief after dealing with Orlando City last week. Saturday’s game showed what soccer in this country is really about. Jack’s Militia was congregated around the entrance to the stadium, and when the Charleston supporters marched in they started up the “we love you, Charleston, we do…” chant and we joined in. Goosebumps.
The tributes were not limited to Ramblewood. In Richmond, Louisville and even DC, signs were held up to support the city of Charleston through one of its sports teams. The photos are posted below. Soccer blogger Chad Hollingsworth recounts the tributes as well at ScratchingThePitch.com.
To the soccer
After all of that, what actually happened on the field hardly seems important, but this is a soccer blog after all, so let’s talk about happier things.
Charleston had a good chance to make up points Saturday after the first-place Rochester Rhinos tied Harrisburg 0-0. Instead, Charlotte scored a goal in the 90th minute and came away with the 2-1 win, moving them to eighth place in the East. Charleston stays in third with 24 points, while Richmond has 25 and Rochester 29.
Mike Anhaeuser put out a different lineup Saturday, starting with Kevin Corby replacing Odisnel Cooper in net. Cooper had a long, tough game against Orlando. He was called for fouls on two plays that led to penalty kicks and Orlando scores. (Don’t get me started.) The game went into a 10-round shoot-out in which all 20 shots were on frame. CharlestonBattery.com has the full story.
For the Charlotte game, Charleston kept four defenders at the back, but Forrest Lasso got the start over Taylor Mueller, who played all 120 minutes in Wednesday’s game. It was the second time in league play that Mueller did not start, although he’s had minutes in every game. Shawn Ferguson joined Lasso as the other center back. Emmanuel Adjetey started at left back and O’Brian Woodbine at right back. Ferguson has played every minute of every league game. (Love stats? Check out the team’s official numbers.)
Quinton Griffith made his first appearance since knee surgery in April on the right side of midfield. He played 55 minutes before being replaced by Maikel Chang. Charleston staff said they would not rush him back, and he looked like he was fully recovered, so it was good to see him get eased back into the lineup. He had a good cross to Kelly early in the game, but the forward wasn’t able to direct it on goal.
Navion Boyd played on the opposite side of the field from Griffith, and Memo Rodriguez got the start in the attacking-midfielder role. Captain Jarad van Schaik and Justin Portillo also played in the midfield, but stayed deeper for the most part.
Dane Kelly was the forward up top, and Charleston tried to find him on long balls and counters for most of the game, but he never had a great scoring chance. The Battery controlled possession for much of the first half but wasn’t able to do a lot with it. They tried playing it down the wings and crossing it into the box for headers, but Charlotte had such an advantage in height that they had no problem clearing the balls away.
45th minute, GOAL Charlotte (Finley, assisted by Martinez.)
Charlotte was held in check offensively for most of the first 45 minutes, but towards the very end the Independence earned three consecutive corner kicks. The third one was one too many for the Battery defense as Ryan Finley knocked home a goal from a corner kick delivered by Enzo Martinez from the left side.
It beat Corby, who had made a good save on Andrew Ribeiro on the previous corner kick. Ribeiro had gotten a light touch on the ball right in front of goal but Corby was able to deflect it with his shin.
53rd minute, GOAL Charleston (Van Schaik, unassisted.)
The captain equalized the game eight minutes into the second half off of a corner kick, scoring his first goal in the league this season. Van Schaik swung a ball in from the right side and Charlotte goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap knocked the ball into his own net when he tried to make the save.
Lasso nearly gave Charleston a lead three minutes later on another corner kick, but Gilstrap made the save at the far post that time. The goalkeeper, who played collegiate soccer at Clemson and the College of Charleston, was making his first appearance for the Independence after being loaned out from the Carolina Railhawks. He had a rough game despite only allowing one goal. He gave up bad rebounds on most of the shots he faced, and if Charleston had been able to put more shots on goal and get more players in the box they might have had a favorable bounce.
Some of Gilstrap’s problems could be blamed on the field, as it was not in the best condition to begin with, and it rained about two hours before kickoff.
90th minute, GOAL Charlotte (Zahorski, unassisted.)
Tomasz Zahorski scored his first-ever USL goal in the 90th minute to give Charlotte all three points. The buildup to the goal started at the midfield, and included 10 completed passes. Jorge Herrera played the ball in from the right side towards Zahorski, who was clearly in an offside position. But Portillo deflected the pass, so it was not called.
Instead, Zahorski collected the ball, turned, and shot it past Corby while falling down.
Charleston has two games at home before its next road trip. Harrisburg comes to town this Saturday, and then the next Friday is the big one — the Rochester Rhinos, who sit at the top of the standings. The quality of opponents that Rochester has played has been questioned, so that game will be very interesting.
Club president Andrew Bell has announced that the Charleston Battery will match all donations to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund collected Saturday night during the game versus Harrisburg. Get match tickets here.
The Battery doesn’t have to worry about the Open Cup anymore (unfortunately) so they will likely be able to field a regular lineup in both contests. The Battery has struggled to score lately in league games. They have not scored more than one goal in the last seven matches. The last time they scored two or more was on May 9 in a 3-1 win over Pittsburgh. Oddly, the last two games of Open Cup, against higher division teams, the Battery have scored more goals than they have in the last six USL matches, scoring 4 in the ridiculous game against Orlando City that ended in a draw after 120 minutes of play.
In the five games before the Pittsburgh meeting, Charleston scored twice in all but one game — a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls II. So, the point is, Charleston needs to find new ways to score against USL teams. It seems like teams have started to figure what Charleston is going to do. It doesn’t mean they have to completely abandon what has been working, only that they could use a few more tools going forward.
Griffith’s return will add depth and a speedy option on the outside. He can play defense or midfield, so he might provide a change of pace.
In other news, midfielder Sebastien Thuriere has been tapped for CONCACAF Gold Cup duty and is practicing with Haitian Nation Team hopefuls in Bradenton, Fla. He could be unavailable for Battery play for several weeks.
Justin Portillo’s screamer score in the Orlando game was selected as one of the USL goals of the week. (Jorge Herrera of Charlotte had a beauty selected as well.)
Top photo: Tomasz Zahorski celebrates his game-winning goal Saturday. Credit: Charlotte Independence.