BY JOHN ACE
Dane Kelly’s hat-trick may have stolen the show, but the Battery’s 4-0 drubbing of Pittsburgh was nothing short of a hard-fought team performance.
The Jamaican opened the scoring on 37 minutes, placing the ball into the top corner after a great ball from Zach Prince played him in. Odisnel Cooper also produced heroics on the stroke of half time, when he saved a penalty low to his right, even after the referee demanded the kick to be retaken as the Cuban keeper was off his line for the first attempt.
The Battery’s number nine added to the home side’s lead two minutes into the second half, this time set up by Jose Cuevas, whose run from deep inside his own half beat three players, before he laid the ball off to Kelly on the wing, who cut in, beating his man with pace and guiding his second goal of the evening into the bottom corner.
Dane made it three on the night, and three for him, when Zach Prince’s long ball took away the Pittsburgh defense completely, and Kelly latched on to the ball, made sure he beat the offside trap, and also beat goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap, who was rushing out, and eventually prodded the ball home from about two yards out.
Zach Prince would also get his name on proceedings as he put the icing on the cake with just under 20 minutes left in the match. A great team move was kept alive by Quentin Griffith, and Jose Cuevas and Justin Portillo both thought about taking pops at goal before the ball eventually fell to Prince, who beat his marker while shifting the ball to his right foot before unleashing a shot from all of 20 yards, leaving Gilstrap in goal grasping at air as the ball went past him and into the net.
The home side were on the front foot from minute one, earning a free kick on the right side of the field, which was cleared for a corner, which Jose Cuevas couldn’t do much with.
Pittsburgh would then have one of their only looks at goal after 19 minutes, when a speculative shot from just about 40 yards rose high over Odisnel Cooper’s bar.
Jose Cuevas would then lay a ball off for Justin Portillo, who took a touch on the right of the box and fired straight at Gilstrap, who cleared the ball behind for a corner.
Five minutes later, Cuevas would be involved again, who laid the ball off to Zach Prince after cutting in well on the wing. Prince then found Dane Kelly who was posted on the outside shoulder of his marker, and Dane beat his man with pace and power before intricately placing the ball into the top corner to give the home side the lead.
And they nearly added to the lead just three minutes later, as Cuevas would chase down a backpass and attempted clearance from Gilstrap, but the ball would only ricochet off of of him and out for a goal kick.
Pittsburgh would then gain a bit of a foothold in the game, on 41 getting a one-on-one, beating the Battery defense’s offside trap with a good through ball, but Odisnel Cooper in goal would clean it up in spectacular fashion, making a save with his hands as the attacker tried to round him, and completing the clearance with his feet, almost in one movement.
But they would get an even better chance in first half stoppage time, after a penalty was given by the referee as he deemed Quinton Griffith to have committed a foul inside the box.
The same player who went down took the penalty, and the first attempt was saved, only to be smashed home on the rebound, but the referee adjudged Cooper in goal to have come off his line to early, and demanded the kick to be retaken.
And this time, Cooper would save and clear the ball out for a corner, as the taker went down low and to Cooper’s right on both occasions.
And so both teams went off for half time, Cooper getting himself a standing ovation and countless high fives as he left the field of play, knowing that, with a win, the Battery would earn a place in the playoffs, after at one point looking like that feat was an impossible task.
Insurance on that lead would come only two minutes after the break, as Jose Cuevas, who seems to be able to create chances by sheer will power at times, motored his way past three players in a great run from deep in his own midfield third, before laying the ball off to Dane Kelly on the left side, who beat his marker in another impressive display of pace and strength before calmly finishing into the far corner.
The Battery were surely punishing the visitors for their missed chances, and looked to be firing on all cylinders. Cuevas and Kelly, as they’d done so well in the past in Jose’s first stint, were easily interchanging between roles up front and on the wing, and as their tails were up, you could visibly see the lift it gave to the players around them.
It didn’t take long, just six minutes in fact, for the Battery to further cement their lead. On 56, it was Zach Prince playing a ball from just inside his own half, beating the defense, much like Pittsburgh had done in the first half, and Dane Kelly latched on. Where the Riverhounds attack failed, however, Dane succeeded, rounding Hunter Gilstrap, who was rushing on to collect the ball, taking a touch, and finally prodding home from close range for his hat trick.
Kelly was surely having the game of his life, but he and Cuevas were quickly subbed after that, coming on for Heviel Cordoves and Dante Marini after putting in impressive shifts, and both came off to standing ovations.
The game quieted down for a period after that, but the Battery still weren’t done. a good team move was eventually saved by Gilstrap, but was kept alive near the left edge of the box, and was pulled back for Justin Portillo, who required too much time on the ball, and it was half cleared before Dante Marini once again kept the ball alive, playing the ball to the other side of the box for Zach Prince, who let the ball drift onto his right foot, beating a man as he did so, and finding the space to have a pop, unleashing a bullet into the back of the net from a full 20 yards.
Ten minutes later, Pittsburgh’s best chance came off a cross from the left, met by a free header at Cooper’s near post, which looked certain to go in. Cooper however, would reach out at seemingly the very last second to preserve that clean sheet which is all important at this stage of the season.
Two minutes from time, Pittsburgh would have one final chance at snatching a consolation beginning with a good counter which found it’s way to the left edge of the box, but the shot from range went high and wide.
And so, the Battery, following that win, have officially made the playoffs. They currently sit at fifth in the USL Pro standings, however, cannot finish higher than that position, with the LA Galaxy II having consolidated that position.
Despite there not being a chance to move higher than they are at the moment, you can be quite confident that the Battery are just happy to be in the playoffs, after the postseason looked all but lost for the yellow-and-black just a few short months ago.
The Battery’s next match is also their last of the regular season, at home against Harrisburg City Islanders on Friday, the 5th of September at 7:30 PM.
TOP IMAGE: TAYLOR MEULLER AND DANE KELLY SHARE A MOMENT OF TRIUMPH FOLLOWING A STRONG PERFORMANCE FROM BOTH PLAYERS ON SATURDAY NIGHT. VIN DUFFY PHOTO