The Charleston Battery pushed their unbeaten streak to 10 matches Saturday as they won the second match in their home-and-away series with the Carolina Railhawks and closed out the 2013 preseason with a 9-2-1 record.
Attacking midfielder Jose Cuevas once again provided the necessary scoring punch, but the story at Blackbaud Stadium was more about a series of physical battles across the pitch as the Battery and the NASL Railhawks hounded each other with an intensity that resembled a regular season match. Though the Railhawks dominated possession in the second half and kept pressure in the attacking third, Charleston’s defense harassed attackers, intercepted passes and blocked shots.
The Battery took their first shot at the Railhawks on March 14 in Cary, N.C., bringing home a welcome 2-1 road win. Once again the two squads looked well matched, although the contest often resembled a series of individual duels over 50-50 balls near the midfield line. Railhawks midfielder Floyd Franks set the tone for the Railhawks in the opening minutes when he aimed a few high-decibel F-bombs at the referee for a non-call on a Battery challenge, and several of his teammates followed suit, complaining loudly about the officiating and accusing Battery players of rough play. But the Battery didn’t back down, and once the Railhawks’ verbal barrage subsided, both sides spent the rest of afternoon aggressively disrupting each other’s rhythm.
For the most part, the second-tier Railhawks seemed content to try to possess the ball with square passes, eating up clock but seldom putting the ball on frame. The Battery seemed more willing than usual to go direct, chipping long balls ahead to midfielders Quinton Griffith and Jose Cuevas, who spent most of the match playing underneath lone striker Dane Kelly. With Nicki Paterson making secondary runs and Griffith getting wide, Charleston’s effective counterattack repeatedly rocked the Railhawks on their heels.
That long-ball game put the Battery on the board roughly midway through the first half when right back Taylor Mueller sent a cross-field pass to Paterson, who headed it back across the face of the goal to Cuevas. The ball initially looked like it would elude Cuevas and roll out for a goal kick, but the 2012 USL PRO Rookie of the Year somehow managed to dig it out and force a point-blank shot past his man and the Railhawk keeper at the near post.
“It all started before the ball even moved,” Cuevas said of the goal. “Me and Nicki were already talking on the back post. We were like ‘Hey, if the ball’s coming in to me, I’m coming right back across,’ so when Taylor played that beautiful ball in to Nicki, I read off of it. Good thing the ground was kinda sticky, so the ball held there and I just had to finish it off. ”
The goal was Cuevas’ eighth of 2013, and his third in six games against professional opponents.
“A lot of it has to do with the chemistry that we had from last year,” Cuevas said. “A lot of it is we know how to run off each other now and find those holes, and the guys got to know me a little better so they know the movements I make. To be honest I’ve got to give all the credit to the team, because they helped me play that game that I’m playing, and then I help them play the game that they’re playing. So pretty much it’s just all the chemistry that came in from last year … and it’s even better now.”
Coach Mike Anhaeuser recognizes that his young star from California is on a hot streak. “I’m sure he will (keep it going),” Anhaeuser said. “He has that knack to get into the box and score goals. And the good thing is we’re having other players create chances, too. But it’s always great to have one guy who scores goals for you.”
Cuevas subbed out for Austin Savage late in the second half as Anhaeuser played most of his starters about 65 minutes before making liberal use of his bench. One of the first players to sub in was right back Mark Wiltse, who trotted onto the field about 10 minutes after the start of the second half. It was his first appearance in a 2013 preseason he’s spent rehabbing a nagging MCL strain, but if there were any concerns about his effectiveness, Wiltse put them to rest with an active, gutsy performance.
“I felt great to be out there,” he said afterwards. “I’ve been out for a month and I’ve been in the weight room by myself rehabbing. This past week I’ve gotten to come out with the team again and train.
“With an MCL I could run in straight lines and I could sprint as hard as I wanted, but passing with the inside of my foot as a good pace was kinda difficult. This past month I’ve been able to strengthen that and it felt good out there. I hit a couple of long ones, drilled some passes in there and it felt good.”
The only players to go the full 90 were the Battery’s three oldest veterans: Paterson, team captain Colin Falvey and club captain John Wilson. It wasn’t by accident.
“They’ve gotta play 90,” Anhaeuser said. “I’ve been substituting (in previous preseason games), so I wanted to create this like a game situation. (In other games) we’ve had guys that come in (to start the second half) and sometimes that brings energy, whereas you saw today, we didn’t have that much energy. We had the same eleven go back out there. So that’s a teaching (thing). We gotta talk about it. You can’t come out that way, even through you’re winning 1-0.”
Despite that relatively low-energy start to the second half, Anhaeuser kept his postgame comments in a larger context. “(The Carolina Railhawks are) a very good team, and they moved the ball well. So I’m very pleased. We have a lot of depth, we have a lot of players who can play in some (different) positions, which is great and what you need in the regular season. But now we’ve got to make sure we get ourselves ready for the first game, because it doesn’t matter what we’ve done now. Because there are no statistics on the boards and there’s no games played or anything. And it’s going to go right back to zero.”
Check back later for more game notes and a preseason wrap up.
BATTERY STARTERS: Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper. Defenders: Right back Taylor Mueller, left back John Wilson, centerbacks Colin Falvey and Cody Ellison. Midfielders: Defensive mid Amadou Sanyang, center-mid Nicki Paterson, attacking-mid Jose Cuevas, right-mid Quinton Griffith and left-mid Jarad van Schaik. Forward: Dane Kelly. Substitutes: Mark Wiltse, Sean Ferguson, Mike Azira, Austin Savage, Zach Prince, Kevin Klasila, Chris Thomas.
TOP PHOTO: Midfielder Quinton Griffith goes all-in for a midfield 50-50 Saturday in a choppy, chippy game full of close-fought duels. Dan Conover photos.