The Charleston Battery played a nearly flawless game on the road against one of the best reserve teams in MLS Sunday morning in at BVBA Compass Stadium, riding a first-half strike by Dane Kelly to a 1-0 victory.
With the Battery (6-2-0) coming off a bitterly disappointing 0-1 road loss at Charlotte on Tuesday, this signature road win not only prevented back-to-back losses, it also served notice to the upper tier of USL PRO and anyone from MLS who scouts the lower leagues for talent: This 2013 Battery squad is skilled, deep and mentally prepared.
With five players from the 22-man roster at home in Charleston — including regular starters Quinton Griffith (injury) and Cody Ellison (league suspension) — the Battery came out fluid and confident in the opening 15 minutes, battling aggressively in the midfield and maintaining sharp concentration on set pieces and Dynamo threats. Captain Colin Falvey and midfielders Amadou Sanyang and Michael Azira each put up solid individual defensive plays in the opening minutes, twice ending threats by Dynamo midfielder Brian Ownby — the same player who bedeviled the Battery on April 13 while on loan at Richmond.
After goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper came off his line to kill a chance in the 15th minute, the momentum shifted decisively in the Battery’s favor. In the 16th, the Battery played ahead to forward Kelly, whose run to the ball brought Houston keeper Erich Marscheider charging up as Ownby closed down the runner. Marscheider took the ball high as he collided with Ownby, and when the keeper hit the ground the ball bounced free to Jose Cuevas. Recognizing the opportunity, Cuevas took one touch and fired, but the shot drifted wide, and the 2012 USL PRO Rookie of the Year but his hands to his face in disbelief.
The Battery would challenge again with significant threats in the 24th , 25th, 26th and 28th minutes, producing well-played but off-target strikes by midfielders Nicki Paterson and Jarad van Schaik before Cuevas recorded a second near-miss after a great first touch from 16 yards out.
The Dynamo managed to mount an attack in the 30th minute, producing a punch-clearance by Cooper and a few anxious moments as Falvey was slow to get up after colliding with his keeper. Falvey left the field under trainer Bobby Weisenberger‘s supervision, but looked none the worse for wear as he sprinted back on about 30 seconds later.
Seconds after Falvey’s return, Kelly managed to stay onside before running down a through-ball just outside the box. A snappy Kelly-to-Cuevas-to-Paterson series set the Scotsman up for a strike, and only a save by Marscheider kept the Battery off the board.
The only goal of the game began with Sanyang winning a free kick after a great play in the Battery defensive third. The resulting possession set van Schaik up with the ball on the left side of the pitch in Houston territory, where he won a free kick in the 35th minute.
With the Dynamo packing back to defend either a shot or a pass into the penalty area, Cuevas noticed an opening on the left and alertly played the ball short to left back Emmanuel Adjetey, who had come up for the set piece. Adjetey’s short burst found room for a long pass that switched the field, and a stellar first-touch by Kelly put the ball at his feet about 10 yards out on the right. The Jamaican’s low shot sizzled back across the turf to score at the far post.
Houston came close to equalizing less than a minute later, forcing a rare save by Cooper in the 36th minute, but the Battery responded by choking the fight out of the home team with a long possession that advanced the ball up the field against the top-tier club and came within a few degrees of a second Battery goal when a long volley by Sanyang drifted slightly off course.
Veteran MLS star Brian Ching managed to latch onto the ball with his back to the goal on the right side of the penalty area in the 44th minute, but as promising as the chance looked initially, it came to nothing as Adjetey, Sanyang and centerback Taylor Mueller closed down the center forward and cleared to safety.
The Battery closed out the half with 10 men behind the ball in their area, but this was no hoof-and-run mindset. After winning the ball back, the Battery drove the Dynamo nuts with efficient passing triangles, advancing the ball past midfield with an extended game of keep-away.
Punches and counterpunches
The second half never strayed far from the template the Battery established in the first. Though the Dynamo came back from the break energized throughout their usually effective midfield, the Houston reserves couldn’t solve the Battery defense. Meanwhile, Charleston’s sharp passing and general calm continued to take time off the clock and work the ball into dangerous positions.
Ownby’s frustration earned him a yellow in the 55th minute, and the Battery came close to cashing in with a goal when Kelly passed ahead to van Schaik on the left and made an abrupt run down the central channel, just missing high when van Schaik’s centering pass reached him in-stride.
Houston managed to generate more pressure through Ching, but Falvey was more than up to the challenge. After two clutch stops in the 59th minute, the Battery broke the Dynamo and nearly scored on a counter. Once again Marscheider came off his line to kill a through-ball — this time in front of right back Mark Wiltse — and once again miscommunication led to another violent collision with one of his own teammates. The keeper was slow to get up, and the delay meant Cuevas officially remained in the match until the 64th minute before yielding to Zach Prince.
By the 70th minute, with the Battery consistently controlling the flow and pace of the contest, even the Dynamo’s broadcast announcers began praising the visitors.
Kelly left the match minutes later, wincing as he walked off the field clutching at his back. His replacement, center forward Heviel Cordoves, forced another Marscheider save in the 77th after a four-pass series of runs and combinations set him up with a great chance. Cordoves would have another strike blocked in the 83rd minute, but otherwise the end of the match was a story of Charleston calmly closing out a win.
In the 79th, with Cooper diving to his left behind him, Falvey rose to head-away a sharply struck shot. It was a highlight-reel play, but Houston’s best chance at an equalizer came in the 82nd minute, when separate, simultaneous collisions forced both Sanyang and Adjetey to the sidelines on a play that resulted in a corner kick for Houston. Two men down on the road against an undefeated reserve team from a top-tier club known for clutch goals off of set pieces, and with future MLS Hall of Famer Ching still in the match, the Battery faced a classic opportunity for failure. But they withstood the threat when a closely marked Ching couldn’t get his near-post header on frame.
Cooper would step up to kill another threat in the 88th, and in the 90th minute the Battery took the ball down into Houston’s right corner and kept it there, with Paterson and Cordoves taking turns winning throws and corners at the flag. Their work ate up the first of four minutes of stoppage time.
The game would produce one more dramatic moment. Late in in stoppage, a Houston player managed to advance the ball to the end line, forcing Mueller to concede a corner on his emergency clearance. The Battery cleared the resulting set piece, but the second ball wound up at the foot of a Dynamo player roughly 30 yards from goal. Cooper pushed it wide.
Houston possessed the ball in the closing seconds, but advanced it back into the Battery side of the field slowly, almost reluctantly. And though the referee seemed to give them plenty of time to do something with it, the match ended almost in resignation.
The Battery will spend the night in Houston before flying up to Portland on Monday in advance of their Tuesday night U.S. Open Cup match against the Portland Timbers U-23 PDL team at JELD-WEN Field. Cody Ellison, who watched today’s game at Molly Darcy’s with about 20 other Battery fans, will fly out to Portland tomorrow to join the team.
While talking at halftime with Whitney Woods, the Battery’s marketing and communications director, I found out that the Portland Timbers have informed the Battery that they will not be livestreaming video from the match Tuesday night. Battery President Andrew Bell will be calling the match live on radio, but I was, to put it bluntly, a bit astonished that the Timbers — a first-class MLS outfit and my first soccer love (I was converted to soccer obsession in Portland in 2010, and I’ve been a dues-paying, card-carrying member of the Timbers Army ever since) would treat the U.S. Open Cup so shabbily.
So here’s what’s up next: We’re going to push back against this video no-show. We want to watch the Battery play at what is — for my money — the greatest soccer venue in North America. So the next thing I’ll be doing is writing a post that you can Retweet to @MerrittPaulson with the hashtag #streamthematch. Your help on Twitter is requested.
Check back tomorrow for a game wrap on Houston, and we’ll have a Timbers U-23 preview on Tuesday before the late game Tuesday night.
— CHS Soccer (@CHSSoccerNet) May 19, 2013