Battery state their case, sweep Houston

Battery state their case, sweep Houston

Ralph-Lundy-soccer-sponsorship-message2Charleston ended its longest home stand of the 2013 season with a breakout performance against the Houston Dynamo reserves, winning 4-1 and extending one of the more notable streaks you’ll see in American professional sports at the moment.

In matches against teams from Major League Soccer this season, the Charleston Battery  — from the third tier of North American soccer — have a combined 4-2-0 record. They’ve won their last four matches against MLS teams, including the three matches that actually count for something.

But here’s the thing about Saturday’s victory. The usual template for a soccer underdog is to make the game as ugly as possible, frustrate the higher-ranked squad with slug-it-out defensive play, and hope to get lucky. But the Battery did the exact opposite — and that’s probably because they didn’t consider themselves the underdog.

Colin Falvey

Colin Falvey

“Some people (will) look at this like a surprise result,” Battery Captain Colin Falvey said after the match. “I don’t. I fully expected us to win the game.”

Ask anyone from the engaged — and at times ecstatic — audience of 2,988 Battery fans who witnessed this showcase of Lowcountry soccer talent and they’ll tell you: The Charleston Battery’s veterans outclassed a talented young Dynamo Reserve squad in a match that counts in the standings for both teams. Charleston climbed into third place, while Houston — the first place team in the MLS Eastern Conference Reserve league — remains undefeated against MLS squads, but 0-2 against the Battery.

The typical game story isn’t the story

Top: Nicki Paterson steps up to take a free kick in the 18th minute as a six-man Houston wall tries to cut down his angle. Below, left: His shot beats the wall and bends toward the right post. Center: Houston keeper Tyler Deric dives to make the save. Right: Paterson's shot curls the back of the net.

Top: Nicki Paterson steps up to take a free kick in the 18th minute as a six-man Houston wall tries to cut down his angle. Below, left: His shot beats the wall and bends toward the right post. Center: Houston keeper Tyler Deric dives to make the save. Right: Paterson’s shot curls the back of the net.

The basic game story for this one goes like this: Midfielder Nicki Paterson scored off a wicked free kick in the 18th minute to gain Charleston the early upper hand, setting up a second half in which Charleston midfielder Jose Cuevas and Houston midfielder Brian Ownby exchanged goals just after the hour mark, before two brilliant late scores by Paterson and Quinton Griffith slammed the door on Houston’s rally hopes.

But that really doesn’t explain what happened.

Charleston came into this game riding a 1-1-2 record in the home stand that began here with a frustrating 0-0 tie against slumping Rochester on May 25. Remove their upset U.S. Cup win against the San Jose Earthquakes and their record in league play was a disappointing 0-1-2.

The Battery also came into Saturday night with just 18 healthy players and with 20-year-old attacking virtuoso Ben Fisk in an airplane headed back to Vancouver for a medical evaluation that could shut him down for 2013. They’re facing a schedule that includes three road games between Wednesday night and Sunday night, including a mid-week U.S. Open Cup showdown with Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium.

june-8-alderson

Bryce Alderson, a Canadian international on loan from the Vancouver Whitecaps, pressures the ball.

Which meant that, between injuries, fatigue and tactical considerations, Coach Mike Anhaeuser fielded a makeshift lineup Saturday for the second time in four days. He put central attacking midfielder Jose Cuevas and utility man Zach Prince out wide. He moved left midfielder Jarad van Schaik inside to defensive mid. He gave 19-year-old Canadian U-23  midfielder Bryce Alderson his first start at Blackbaud Stadium. And he put Taylor Mueller — a dependable defender who has played right back and center back for Charleston — into the left back slot that typically belongs to 35-year-old John Wilson.

Result? One of the best performances the Battery have turned in all year.

Jarad van Schaik, Colin Favley, Taylor Mueller and Cody Ellison shut down Houston's reserves on Saturday.

Jarad van Schaik, Colin Favley, Taylor Mueller and Cody Ellison shut down Houston’s reserves on Saturday.

“It worked because Jose could play any position,” said Paterson, whose brace and inspired all-around midfield play earned him Man of the Match. “He’s a guy that, just because of his ability, you want to get him on the field and sometimes if you put him out wide then he’s got a little bit less defensive responsibility. He can focus on going forward.

“And Taylor can play anywhere on the back line. He’s flexible. He showed that again tonight.  But I mean, Bryce came in, and he was awesome, I thought, tonight. Jarad has been, in my opinion, our most consistent player. Him and Colin have been the spine of our team this year.

“I’m mad we gave up a goal. I don’t think we deserved to lose one. But I think that was a really strong team we played tonight. Coach got it right again.”

BTW, the numbers back Paterson up. Charleston out-shot Houston 16-4, forcing Deric into four saves to keep the score as low as it was. On the other side of the field, Falvey and Company kept goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper clean all night. He recorded one save on the evening.

Cuevas gets it rolling

Forward Dane Kelly and midfielder Jose Cuevas work the ball into the attack in the first half.

Forward Dane Kelly and midfielder Jose Cuevas work the ball into the attack in the first half.

Loyal readers of this site know the stat, because I repeat it all the time, but Cuevas put up nine goals and four assists in 12 preseason games before leaving the season-opener with an hamstring injury. He missed the next five games, then started the next six before sitting out the Charlotte match (2-2 on Wednesday) with a bruised heel. He looked better each week, but hadn’t found his finishing touch.

Until Saturday.

An Alderson corner kick skipped high across the the box and deflected out to Cuevas on the right, where the young Californian pounded it back with a downward strike that confounded Houston keeper Tyler Deric.

Cuevas had two assists coming into the match, and though he didn’t record another, his passing and free kicks repeatedly played his teammates into dangerous areas. But getting his first goal of the season was a big deal.

With Bryce Alderson (left) playing centrally, Jose Cuevas moved back out to the wing position he'd played for three years in PDL. Result: His first regular season goal of 2013.

With Bryce Alderson (left) playing centrally, Jose Cuevas moved back out to the wing position he’d played for three years in PDL. Result: His first regular season goal of 2013.

“It’s like a dry spell,” Cuevas said. “It’s so dry, and you finally get that rain. Get that rain, get those fruits, vegetables growing and uh – that’s the only way I can describe it! I worked in that, so that’s the way to describe it!

“So definitely, I hope all those fruits and vegetables can keep coming, and I just keep doing my thing. (It’s) definitely a confidence builder, and hopefully Wednesday (at Salt Lake City for the Open Cup) I can get more goals and keep it going.”

One of the more memorable moments Saturday was the crowd reaction to Cuevas’ goal. Battery fans seemed to appreciate what the score meant to the player, and cheered him wildly.

“I can feel it. I can definitely feel it. Every time I got the ball, and I loved it. There’s nothing better than that. That’s what kept me going. To be honest, coming back, getting fit, I was a little tired (during the) last 10, 15 minutes. I heard the crowd, and they kept me going, man.

“Usually our crowd’s pretty quiet, pretty quiet until we score. But today it was just a great atmosphere. Hopefully we can keep it coming. And I think another thing to that was, we played great ball. We played great ball all over the field — one, two touches, diagonal passing, everything looked good. I mean, 4-1 against an MLS team is big time.”

The Q Factor

Quinton Griffith

Quinton Griffith

In the preview of this match, I brought up a weird little stat about Quinton Griffith, the Battery’s speedy off-season acquisition. With him in the lineup, the team averaged 2.33 goals per game. With him out of the lineup since May 11, the team has averaged just 0.85 goals per game.

In this case, the the Battery had already scored by the time Griffith entered the game in the 57th minute. But he would figure directly in two of the three goals the team scored during his 33 minutes of play.

After Cuevas and Houston’s Brian Ownby exchanged goals in the 62nd and 63rd minute, Griffith gave the team the spark it needed in the 77th minute when Houston gave him enough room on the wing to look up and spot Paterson make a move toward the central channel. He pulled up and launched a long pass into the box, where Paterson broke free and put his head into it.”

“What a ball from Quinton Griffith,” Anhaeuser said later. ” Just over the top of the defender, and then (Paterson) headed it on the near post, which was just a good finish.”

With his first assist of 2013 in the books, Griffith paired it with his first goal of the season about 13 minutes later. After a nice play in midfield by van Schaik, Cuevas passed long to center forward Heviel Cordoves, who found midfielder Michael Azira near the goal line on the left. Somehow Azira managed to find a passing lane back to Griffith on the right, and the Antiguan international volleyed it in confidently for the 4-1 final.

The head game

Zach Prince turns as he blocks Houston left back Mike Chabala's long pass in the first half. Prince got on the nerves of the occasionally hotheaded veteran -- and rendered him largely ineffective.

Zach Prince turns as he blocks Houston left back Mike Chabala’s long pass in the first half. Prince got on the nerves of the occasionally hotheaded veteran — and rendered him largely ineffective.

Casual soccer fans might likely assume that players from the top-level league would be not only more talented, but more savvy than their lower-tier cousins. But on Saturday night, Battery players seemed to get into the heads of their opponents and stay there.

In the 28th minute, Battery midfielder Zach Prince annoyed MLS journeyman left back Mike “Chewy” Chabala so much that Chabala slapped him. He continued complaining to the officials about Prince so insistently that the referee finally stopped the game and called both players over for a conference. And while Chabala ranted, Prince kept his cool — walked away grinning.

In the 55th minute, another brilliant combination put the Battery in a danger area when Alderson played ahead to forward Dane Kelly, who initially held off a challenge from a Houston defender before tumbling to the ground in the six-yard box. The referee didn’t call a foul and possession went to Houston, but when Kelly didn’t get up fast enough for Deric’s liking the big keeper reached down, grabbed Kelly by the torso, and rather abruptly picked him up, apparently while berating him. The two came out of the clinch in full confrontation mode, but it was Deric who got the well-deserved yellow.

Speaking of Deric, Battery fans spent the first half chanting “jail-bird keeper” at Houston’s 24-year-old reserve. That’s because members of The Regiment had found a reference to a 2012 news story about Deric’s arrest for assaulting a police officer outside a Houston bar.

No wonder he was in a touchy mood.

The elephant in the room: MLS scouts

So the Battery roster is full of guys who want to play in MLS. Does it make them play better against MLS competiton? Apparently.

“Our guys, you could see,” Anhaeuser said. “We had a little extra bit of energy that we didn’t have the last few games, just because they know. They’re showcasing what they can do (for) the coaches in Houston, and they’re watching also, and some of the MLS teams. These guys all want to get there, and some of them deserve to be there. Even more than a few.”

Said Paterson: “Colin said it before: We personally don’t think that there’s much difference between the fringe MLS guys and the guys in our league. I think there’s a couple of guys here that should be playing on the other team right now, you know what I mean? And every time that you’ve got a chance to prove it, you just seem to find another gear. We do it in the Carolina Cup every year, but we’ve beat (Houston) three times this year…

“I mean, it’s not that we don’t have that mentality against USL teams. It’s that MLS teams give you a certain amount of respect, because they want that respect, so they let you pass. And tonight we showed that we can pass and play and break things down. And sometimes you play a USL team and they put 11 guys behind the ball and they make it scrappy. I mean, it’s a better game when we play an MLS team.”

Falvey, who hopes to make the jump this offseason after earning a reputation as one of the best defenders in USL PRO, said it’s probably a big ask for MLS to put its young talent — much of it a product of an NCAA system that gives college players limited experience — up against veteran pros at the top of their game.

“Obviously it’s the coaches who make the decisions, but my opinion – and it can’t be a money thing, because the minimum contracts are more than USL anyway –(but) I don’t understand why they wouldn’t go and get someone who is a seasoned pro, or someone at least who has got a couple or years or games under his belt, than take a young kid straight out of college… All you can do, I keep saying, all we can do is keep performing. These are the games that they do watch because they see. If you can play against the fringe players, you’re good enough to get a roster spot.”

In their own words

MIKE ANHAEUSER: 

Mike Anhaeuser

Mike Anhaeuser

It kinda makes up for the things that happened the last couple of games. All along we know we’ve got guys who can score. The great thing is that Jose got his goal, so that could get him rolling, and I’ll tell you what: We showed that we’ve got it all around the pitch. That was a good team, and we did the same thing in Houston. It’s nice to get another three points, because we need it, especially from Wednesday’s draw in the last minute.

This is a great result for us because it gives you confidence going into that Open Cup game. We know we have to play at a high level going into Salt Lake, but we’re going to go in there to win the game. We have a good roster of players. Hopefully we get a few guys healthy that we know that we’ll have them come in later, the guys that don’t go on the trip to Salt Lake, and we’ll get ready to play Pittsburgh on Saturday night. But we’re going to play Wednesday first, hopefully get the job done, and then we move to our two games at Pittsburgh and Rochester.

(On Nicki’s play)

It was nice, even for him. I’ll tell you: What a ball from Quinton Griffith. Just over the top of the defender, and then he headed it on the near post, which was just a good finish. Man, we almost had one there at the end for Cordoves, because he’s been rolling and playing well.

It was great to get these fans – because we had a good crowd tonight – and show them that we’re able to score three or for goals.

(On Jose’s first goal)

It was big. Any player, you put pressure on yourself as a goal scorer, but that was a finish. Straight off the corner, bounced to the wide side and he hit it, almost like how Dane scored against Hosuton at their place. It’s great to get him going. He played out wide today, and we can move some guys around. It just makes it more dangerous for us. I know the guys ain’t gonna want to go in and have a 0-0 draw in Salt Lake.

 (Best performance of the season?)

I think we played just as well in Houston. They gave us time and space. They thought maybe we’d sit back, but we want to play. And our guys, you could see. We had a little extra bit of energy that we didn’t have the last few games, just because they know. They’re showcasing what they can do (for) the coaches in Houston, and they’re watching also, and some of the MLS teams. These guys all want to get there, and some of them deserve to be there. Even more than a few.

It’s a great result. Great performance, and both times we’ve played Houston we’ve had solid performances.

You want to beat the team, because let me tell you: The other teams don’t beat the reserve teams. That’s six points that we picked up now.

 NICKI PATERSON: 

Paterson controls the ball in the attack. The Battery outshot the Dynamo reserves 16-4.

Paterson controls the ball in the attack. The Battery outshot the Dynamo reserves 16-4.

(On playing in front of MLS coaches)

Colin said it before: We personally don’t think that there’s much difference between the fringe MLS guys and the guys in our league. I think there’s a couple of guys here that should be playing on the other team right now, you know what I mean? And every time that you’ve got a chance to prove it, you just seem to find another gear. We do it in the Carolina Cup every year, but we’ve beat them three times this year. I’m glad we don’t have any other MLS teams to play. We’ll take the six points and move on.

 (On four in a row against MLS)

Yeah, I wish we had the same record against USL teams (laughs). I mean, it’s not that we don’t have that mentality against USL teams. It’s that MLS teams give you a certain amount of respect, because they want that respect, so they let you pass. And tonight we showed that we can pass and play and break things down. And sometimes you play a USL team and they put 11 guys behind the ball and they make it scrappy. I mean, it’s a better game when we play an MLS team.

(Why did the makeshift lineup work?)

Taylor Mueller marks Houston goal scorer Brian Ownby.

Taylor Mueller marks Houston goal scorer Brian Ownby.

It worked because Jose can play any position. He’s a guy that, just because of his ability, you want to get him on the field and sometimes if you put him out wide then he’s got a little bit less defensive responsibility. He can focus on going forward. And Taylor can play anywhere on the back line. He’s flexible. He showed that again tonight. Maybe (Anhaeuser) is trying to keep John Wilson a little bit for Wednesday. But I mean, Bryce came in, and he awesome, I thought, tonight. Jarad has been, in my opinion, our most consistant player, him and Colin have been the spine of our team this year.

I’m mad we gave up a goal. I don’t think we deserved to lose one. But I think that was a really strong team we played tonight. Coach got it right again.

 (0-2-1 in last three league home games. Relief?)

I mean, we we were very annoyed. I feel like I lost against Charlotte. Not being on the field, not being able to do something about it, is hard, but, I mean, Harrisburg came in here and stole some points as well. It’s all about streaks in this league. Sometimes you go on a five or six game winning streak. Harrisburg and Orlando will do the same thing as well.

JOSE CUEVAS:

(Does it make a difference to get that first one?)

Yes, definitely. It’s like a dry spell. It’s so dry, and you finally get that rain. Get that rain, get those fruits, vegetables growing and uh – that’s the only way I can describe it! I worked in that, so that’s the way to describe it! So definitely, I hope all those fruits and vegetables can keep coming, and just keep doing my thing. Definitely a confidence builder, and hopefully Wednesday I can get more goals and keep it going.

(On the crowd’s reaction to him)

Cuevas brings the ball into the attacking third.

Cuevas brings the ball into the attacking third.

I can feel it. I can definitely feel it. Every time I got the ball, and I loved it. There’s nothing better than that. That’s what kept me going. To be honest, coming back, getting fit, I was a little tired last 10, 15 minutes, I heard the crowd, they kept me going, man.Usually our crowd’s pretty quiet, pretty quiet until we score. But today it was just a great atmosphere. Hopefully we can keep it coming. And I think another thing to that was, we played great ball. We played great ball all over the field, one, two touches, diagonal passing, everything looked good. I mean, 4-1 against an MLS team is big time.

 (Do you like playing outside?)

Yeah. I played three years in the PDL on the outside, and that’s why coach tried me out. He felt in the midfield, Bryce and Paterson had a good combination going, and he put me on the side. Especially with injuries and everything, it’s good to have flexibility like that.

(Can you create more easily out there?)

It gives me a lot more space, a lot more time to think, and I feel that’s when I’m most powerful with my passing, and with my creativity. When I’m thinking. Usually in the middle, with big bodies in this league – and I’m a smaller guy – I get bumped around a lot, so I don’t get to think as much. Out there I get the ball, I’m alone, and I do my thing.

COLIN FALVEY:

Colin Falvey (Kim Morgan Gregory photo)

Colin Falvey (Kim Morgan Gregory photo)

I think we had a little bit of an edge on them going into the game. Beating them over there, beating the first first team here in the Challenge Cup. We seemed to have their number this year.

Some people look at this like a surprise result. I don’t. I fully expected us to win the game. I’ve been saying this for years since I’ve come to the States. Their fringe players and reserve players are definitely, definitely on par, if not weaker, than the top two or three USL sides.

I don’t get it, because young kids come out of college who haven’t played a game and they’re expected to go and beat players who’ve been around the block, and players who’ve been playing overseas. And it’s not just ourselves. You look at Orlando, Rochester – maybe not Rochester this year but, you know, these are good, established franchises. Richmond. Good pros. Some of them on Richmond – the boy at the back a full international. So I think it’s a big ask for MLS to go and ask their young kids – and some of them are kids.

Obviously it’s the coaches who make the decisions, but my opinion – and it can’t be a money thing, because the minimum contracts are more than USL anyway. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t go and get someone who is a seasoned pro, or someone at least who has got a couple or years or games under his belt, than take a young kid straight out of college.

(His stellar sideline tackle in the waning minutes: Does play like that get noticed at the next level?)

You would hope so. All you can do, I keep saying, all we can do is keep performing. These are the games that they do watch because the see if you can play against the fringe players, you’re good enough to get a roster spot. But it will be interesting. If we keep going the way we’re going, we’re going well.

I think we hit a little bit of a bump. A rocky patch. But I think that comes down to games, as well, crammed in. A lot of games crammed in. I think it comes down to games. Listen, if that was a rocky spell, we’ve lost one out of three games. If that’s it, I’ll be happy that we lost one game.

Yeah, don’t get me wrong. We’re disappointed, but I’ll tell you what, on another month, you look at all three games, I think we shaded the Rochester game. I thought we were a little bit flat, but if anyone was going to win it, we would have one it one-nil.

 (Winning in U.S. Open Cup makes the schedule harder?)

It’s not hard, really. I know what you’re saying, but as for getting yourself going for a game like that, I don’t think you need too much. With the draw for the next round, I think it’s a big incentive if we can go there and set up shop and keep it nice and tight, you know, I think we’re great on the break. In fact, I think we’re better on the road, they way we played. We’ve got a lot of pace with Dane, Q now is back.The way we play, I think it suits us that we sit in. We’re good defensively, and we can break and cause teams problems.

I remember going to Chicago in 2010, played on the break, nil-all, won on penalties  Might have to be something like that (in Salt Lake). But you know, again, it might not. We’re capable of playing and scoring, as you can see.

To be honest, I’m delighted with the result, because there’s been a few performances this year that we just go over the line that we should have won more comfortably. And it was nice, as I was saying to Cody, it was nice to have a little bit of a breather and a cushion at the back, that you could put your foot on the ball and play that.

TOP IMAGE: Nicki Paterson celebrates his first goal of the night. Dan Conover photos.

1 Comment

  1. better than reading the Sunday morning paper. Love it!