Striker Jose “Chiva” Cuevas, the USL PRO Rookie of the Year who assisted on the Battery’s 2012 Championship-winning goal, will forego a return to Charleston to pursue a job in MLS or Europe, the 23-year-old Californian confirmed Saturday.
Battery General Manager and Coach Mike Anhaeuser revealed on Thursday that Cuevas’ contract, which included an offseason option, had not been renewed. The Battery boss said the option clause was “pretty high” and indicated the parting was based largely on the constraints of the club’s projected budget. “In fairness to him, though, talking to him and his agent, it looks like he’s going to try do do something internationally.”
Cuevas agreed that returning to Charleston would have been “a pretty good year for me money-wise,” but said he and his agent had indicated his desire to be released. “Nothing against the Battery,” he said. “The soccer’s good. I just wanted to try something different next year.”
By my quick math, Cuevas appeared in 51 USL PRO and U.S. Open Cup matches for Charleston, chipping in 12 goals and receiving official credit for nine assists. Those totals don’t reflect his play in the Carolina Challenge Cup, where Cuevas put North American soccer on notice with a sparkling professional debut in 2012. He started 2013 with another quality CCC, and his performance during the Battery’s preseason was nothing short of spectacular.
But Cuevas pulled a hamstring in the season-opener, missed several games, and never really reached full fitness in 2013. His assist to Amadou Sanyang in the team’s playoff loss at Orlando on Aug. 30, however, was one of his finest moments as a professional, and showcased the potential he had flashed in his rookie season.
Cuevas said his goal is to play soccer at the highest level, and that his preference would be a move to MLS to gain additional experience. His agent is in contact with some clubs, he said.
Cuevas is also looking at a potential move to Germany, or one of the other European leagues. And while Cuevas made his first attempt at a professional career in Mexico, he said Saturday that he’s not actively considering a move to Central or South America.
None of these opportunities are a sure thing, Cuevas said, and he did not rule out a return to USL PRO or the Battery for 2014, although he expressed doubt that the club would take him back. Anhaeuser did not rule out a return by Cuevas when asked about it earlier in the week.
Meanwhile, Cuevas’ longtime teammate, center back Cody Ellison, finds himself in a slightly different position with the club. Anhaeuser said that Ellison was the other 2013 player whose contract option had not been picked up by the end of October deadline. However, Anhaeuser cautioned, Ellison’s contract was still being negotiated and was “kinda on a bubble.”
I left Ellison a message on Saturday, but haven’t heard back from him yet. Cuevas and Ellison share the same agent and live in the same region of California. Ellison helped anchor a Battery back line that was among the league’s best in 2014. While teammate Colin Falvey won USL PRO Defender of the Year honors for his heady play in 2013, Ellison’s staunch physical presence in central defense certainly contributed to his captain’s individual success.
The rest of the club
With Nicki Paterson‘s recent transfer to Ottawa, Cuevas released, and Ellison likely to be playing somewhere else, the Battery head into Anhaeuser’s prime 2013 scouting season with multiple question marks.
However, he also enters the player-evaluation season with a quality core under Battery contracts.
Signed players include Falvey, midfielder Mike Azira, center back Shaun Ferguson, winger Quinton Griffith, midfielder Amadou Sanyang, and midfielder Jarad van Schaik. Anhaeuser considers the club’s three Cuban players from 2013 to be something of a special roster category, and two of the three — goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper and forward Heviel Cordoves — are signed for 2014. Unsigned midfielder Maikel Chang, who missed most of 2013 with recurring injuries, is something of a wild card, but he and Cordoves are playing indoor soccer in Wichita this winter, and the club is monitoring his progress.
Top-scorer Dane Kelly is also in the Battery’s 2013 plans, based on the terms of the club’s 2013 loan agreement with Jamaican side Tivoli Gardens, which holds his rights.
Players who are currently out of contract include utility defender Taylor Mueller, right back Mark Wiltse, midfielder Zach Prince, forward Austin Savage and goalkeeper Kevin Klasila. Veteran left back John Wilson is a special case, Anhaeuser said, because he has played on a series of one-year contracts and has a role with the club that goes beyond the field.
Only Klasila has indicated that he will not return. The California keeper returned home in September with plans to stay in shape and figure out whether he intends to continue his professional career elsewhere. But knew he would not return once the club committed to Cooper.
Mueller, a native of Washington state, remained in Charleston longer than most of his West Coast teammates because he was rehabbing a late-season knee injury, but recently returned home. Wilson, Wiltse, Prince and Savage are all Charleston-area residents.
For the group of local players, the Battery are probably under less pressure to get deals done. And Mueller said Saturday that he plans to return to Charleston in January and compete for a roster-spot and a two-year contract. Anhaeuser said the fact that these players are out of contract should not be interpreted as a lack of interest in them for 2014.
On the other hand, several of the players currently under contract are no lock to return.
Falvey is expected to draw an invitation to an MLS camp in January. Azira scored for Seattle in the Sounders’ final reserve game of 2013, and van Schaik scored twice for San Jose’s reserves this fall. Sources say both have played well, and could be offered chances to compete for spots with the MLS clubs this winter. Sanyang, who played for several MLS teams before injury concerns sidetracked his career, is spending the offseason in Seattle. And Dane Kelly had a trial with Philadelphia, and could figure in the Union’s 2013 plans. He’s also been linked to at least one NASL club.
What about the Whitecaps?
Though the Charleston Battery and the Vancouver Whitecaps never made it official, the two clubs acted the part of an affiliated couple in 2013. Vancouver sent Charleston wing Ben Fisk, fullback Emmanuel Adjetey, and midfielder Bryce Alderson. Charleston sent Falvey to Vancouver for a midseason reserve-league peek.
But will that relationship continue in 2014? The answer to that question will likely go a long way toward shaping Anhaeuser’s off-season scouting plans. The Battery were clearly pleased with the contributions of their three Whitecaps, with Fisk and Alderson flashing game-changing ability, and Adjetey emerging as one of the top fullbacks in the league.
Then again, Anhaeuser pointed out that the firing of Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie could affect not only the future of the partnership, but also the player evaluations that would generate Charleston’s loaned player list.
For Anhaeuser, the heavy-duty scouting season began this weekend, with the Battery coach and GM hitting the road for the college playoffs. He’ll also be traveling to Jamaica, probably in December, and could extend that trip to include Trinidad. He’ll attend both the USL PRO and MLS combines, and could go to Europe in January. Plus the club will schedule its own combine for some of the players who wind up on Anhaeuser’s board.
It’s a system that has served the Battery well over the years, but with NASL, USL PRO and MLS all involved in an unprecedented series of expansion moves, Anhaeuser acknowledges that the offseason process of building a team is becoming more competitive.
“We’re not going to get in a bidding war,” he said. “A player’s got to fit the club and our budget restrictions. And some of the players I’ve talked to are talking to other teams, and some of them are going to get offers that are probably going to be bigger than what we can do… It’s been a little quiet, but now with the NASL finishing up, I expect (things will start to heat up).
“For me, the bad news is we have a lot of good players (that other teams are scouting). So I have to be very patient. I can’t go out there and just sign players, because we’re not quite there yet with all the pieces that might be available. (Expansion) offers more players an opportunity, and it does make it difficult for us as clubs, but that’s how it should be. But it’s hard, I’ll admit. I have to be more selective. I have to try to think, how is it going to work out come February?”