You may watch a lot of soccer this week, but you’re not likely to see a goal any better than the opening score in the Charleston Battery’s gutsy 2-1 road win over the Harrisburg City Islanders Wednesday night.
After a Battery defender cleared to RB Mark Wiltse on the sideline near midfield, Wiltse spotted midfielder Michael Azira open downfield and hoofed a long diagonal pass his way. Azira advanced toward the ball and met it wide of the net on the left, redirecting its flight with a deft right-footed volley that dropped just over the outstretched hands of a diving Nick Noble into the upper right-hand corner of the Harrisburg goal.
It was one of those lightning-strike moments of direct football: Three passes, no dribbling, and a game-changing shot that stunned the Harrisburg crowd on City Island.
For the second match in a row, it also placed Azira in a rare state of statistical perfection. The Ugandan scored twice on two shots in the home win over Pittsburgh on Saturday, and finished with one shot for one goal Wednesday at Harrisburg. But while Azira’s goals against the Riverhounds were relatively simple finishes, this early score crossed the border into Goalazoland.
For the next 18 minutes, the City Islanders struggled to mount sustained possession, and even though the Battery largely seemed content to drive the ball as far away from their goal as possible, Charleston players still somehow seemed to be mounting most of the threats. This eventually led to midfielder Nicki Paterson‘s first goal of 2013, and it, too, would come in memorable fashion.
In the 38th minute, a long throw-in by Wiltse led to an inadvertent but obvious Harrisburg hand-ball in the penalty area. Paterson took the kick, driving it sharply into the extreme lower right hand corner of the net.
Yet for a moment, confusion reigned, as the net at the bottom of the goal was not properly attached, and Paterson’s shot — which nicked in just off the post — kept right on going through the frame and out the other side. The officials — who, frankly, had a rough night from start to finish — initially appeared to call the shot a miss before ultimately getting things right.
Though the City Islanders would pull back one score late in the half — a 43rd-minute rocket off the foot of Philadelphia Union homegrown player Cris Hernandez, his second score of 2013 — the home side spent most of the opening frame in a torpid stupor.
But Harrisburg coach Bob Becher’s squad came out on the hunt in the second half, and the tone of the game shifted as his talented attackers pressed for an equalizer. If the first 45 minutes were characterized by Charleston’s defense rooting the ball out of trouble zones and the attackers making something of it, the second 45 minutes plus four minutes of stoppage was a bit more hoof-and-reset, hoof-and-reset. Both of goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper’s saves came in the second half, as the Islanders got off seven shots. Yet while Charleston’s possession percentage seemed to drop, their longball attack still produced eight second-half shots, forced five saves and resulted in an apparent Colin Falvey score in the 61st minute. The referee waved it off on an offsides call that made no sense to anyone watching the livestream of the match at Molly Darcy’s.
The final dramatic act of the night belonged to Cooper, who found himself suddenly faced with a serious threat in the fourth minute of stoppage as the 3-0-0 Islanders surged forward to keep their three-game unbeaten streak alive. The big Cuban came off his line and snuffed it out, leading to the final whistle a few seconds later.
Wednesday night’s match looked an awful lot like the same lineup we saw on Saturday in Charleston, with one notable exception. Vancover loaner Emmanuel Adjetey, a left-footed back from Ghana, got the start at left back in place of veteran John Wilson. It was his first start in USL PRO, and Adjetey went the full 90.
HOME FLOP: Harrisburg City had been one of the top performers in USL PRO heading into this game, defeating Pittsburgh and the Colorado Rapids Reserves on the road to open the season, and then torching Rochester 5-1 in their home opener. With four MLS players from Philadelphia available to Becher, plus a three-goal scorer in forward Lucky Mkosana and the current USL PRO Player of the Week in Sainey Touray, the Islanders looked to have plenty of firepower to take the fight to Charleston. Yet this seldom happened.
Azira’s goal took the life out of an already flat home side, and though the Islanders played better in the second half, the Battery back line typically ended their attacks with thumping clearances.
SUDDEN SOCCER: With speedy Quinton Griffith lurking around midfield, several of those defensive resets turned into instant raids into Islander territory. None was more indicative of his game-changing speed than a late-game counterattack, when the Islanders’ push for an equalizer left Griffith open with only two defenders back and acres of turf ahead of him. Griffith got on his horse, outran the Islander pacing him, and tracked down a sizzling through-ball into all that space. He advanced it and passed to Paterson. The chance wound up coming to nothing, but continued runs like that one are sure to catch the attention of fans … and scouts.
OFF THE BENCH: Amadou Sanyang made his 2013 regular season debut in stoppage time. RB/CB Taylor Mueller subbed on for attacking midfielder Zach Prince in the 78th minute as the Battery went with five defensive players to close out the match. Heviel Cordoves was also a late sub.
THREE IN A ROW: Everyone I spoke with last week and before the team departed on Tuesday sounded like they would have been satisfied to escape red-hot Harrisburg with a draw. But this win put the Battery’s road record level at 1-1-0 and marked their ninth point in the past three games. The Islanders’ first-half score ended the Battery’s two-game stretch of clean sheets, but let’s not get greedy. The two teams are now tied after four matches, and will play each other in Charleston on the 31st.
TAPE? REALLY? Officials delayed the start of the match by several minutes after they determined that the Battery players who had put white training tape around their ankles but over their red socks were not in uniform. Okaaaaay…
But this was only the first officiating adventure of the evening. With the Harrisburg club putting up an excellent video livestream, complete with titles, multiple angles and instant replay, it was painfully obvious to the hometown announcers, as well as those of us watching at Molly Darcy’s, that the crew missed some rather obvious calls — from awarding the Battery a goal kick on what should have been a Harrisburg corner kick to calling a foul on the blatantly fouled Cody Ellison as he won the team a goal kick.
But the theme of the night was offsides, with eight calls going against the Battery against one call against the Islanders.
Molly Darcy’s Notes
I compared notes with Mikey Buytas, and we figured the number of Battery employees and fans at the watch party was between 25 and 30, depending on how you counted it. The bar provided Battery fans a $10 bucket of beer special, the service was excellent, and with three flat-screen televisions devoted to the match, everybody was happy. Bar owner Tommy Snee, a Battery fan himself, watched with the group, and we were joined by injured Battery star Jose Cuevas.
CHB: Michael Azira (Mark Wiltze) 10
CHB: Nickolas Paterson (NA) 38
HAR: Christian Hernandez (Lucky Mkosana) 43
CHA:Greg Jordan, 29
HBG: Morgan Langley, 45
HBG: Greg Jordan, 67
CHA: Michael Azira, 79
Referees: Ben Larason, Michael Piercey, Anton Shpilsky, Mark Treilman
Charleston — Odisnel Cooper, Colin Falvey, Cody Ellison, Mark Wiltse, Emmanuel Adjetey, Michael Azira, Jarad van Schaik, Zach Prince (Taylor Mueller 78th), Quinton Griffith (Amadou Sanyang 89th), Nicki Paterson, Dane Kelly (Haviel Cordoves 85th).
Harrisburg — Nick Noble, Stephen Basso (Don Anding 70th), Greg Jordan, Coady Andrews, Colin Zizzi, Andrew Ribeiro, Cristhian Hernandez, Jamiel Hardware (Jimmy McLaughlin 70th), Tom Mellor, Morgan Langley (Sainey Touray 64th), Lucky Mkosana.