A freak own-goal by an Antigua defender in the 33rd minute snapped the Charleston Battery out of a fever-dream opening to their final regular season match, and team scoring leader Dane Kelly added a brace in the second half to guide the home team to a crucial win against the league’s last-place squad.
Charleston spent the first half hour generating chances, but with Antigua keeper James Molvin on top of his game and the Battery attack stuttering like a fifth grader at a middle-school dance, all they produced was frustration. The field began the night a soggy sponge after 24 hours of on-again, off-again downpours, and with more rain on the horizon, the worst-case scenario hung over Blackbaud Stadium with increasing weight. Would Charleston, with everything to play for, fall prey to a night of missed chances, sloppy mistakes and unhappy surprises? At a moment when the Battery should be sharpening their edge for the playoffs, would they stumble and surrender a point to USL PRO’s ultimate underdog, 0-24-0 Antigua?
The anxieties came to a head in an intense span of two minutes. In the 31st minute, a well-weighted pass from left back John Wilson sprung forward Jose Cuevas near the right post, only to force a point-blank reaction save by Molvin. The rebound landed at the feet of defensive midfielder Amadou Sanyang with Molvin out of the play, but his shot missed wide left from close range. Less than two minutes later, Wilson repeated the performance, setting Cuevas up for another excellent scoring chance — only to have the young Californian’s shot slam off the far post. For a few moments, it seemed the fates were aligning darkly.
And then, just that quickly, the darkness lifted.Seconds late, winger Quinton Griffith, playing for just the second time against his former Antiguan teammates, lifted a crossing ball from the beyond the penalty box on the right. Barracudas defender Karanja Mack rose to head it away near the top of the area, yet somehow mistimed his leap. Instead of arcing away from danger, Mack’s grazing header acted as a flick-on accelerator, redirecting the ball toward the upper far post. Molivn never had a chance.
(For the record, USL PRO officially lists the own-goal as occurring in the 26th minute and credits it to another player, midfielder Lawson Robinson. The Battery list the goal as coming in the 34th minute, as stated by the stadium announcer. My notes have the event occurring in the closing seconds of the 33rd, with No. 4, Mack, as the own-goal victim of the freakish deflection. Right or wrong, that’s what I’ve got to go with until I see the replay — dc).
Kelly extended the lead in the 50th minute off a corner kick by Cuevas, who played it low to Colin Falvey at the near post on the right. The ball bounced off the Battery skipper under tight marking and went back out to Kelly’s feet. The Jamaican’s shot snuck through the legs of at least two defenders at a tight angle to reach the back of the net.
Kelly’s second goal of the night looked remarkably like the first, though the setup was quite different. In the 65th minute, with the rain falling and field conditions deteriorating, substitute Ben Fisk worked the ball down into the left corner and unloosed a cross that looked like it had Heviel Cordoves‘ name on it. But Cordoves lost his footing in the box and fell, and with the defense reacting to his threat, the pass wound up sneaking across the face of goal for Kelly on the right. Once again, his finish was low and remarkably accurate.
Antigua put pressure on Battery keeper Odisnel Cooper twice in the early going, and late in the second half the Cuban had to make a dramatic dash 20 yards beyond his area to clear a back -pass that died in no-man’s land when standing water on the field sucked it to a standstill. Rain swept across the stadium shortly after the start of the second half, turning the game into slip-and-slide affair, particularly in front of the Antigua goal.
The Barracudas, for the most part, declined to press for an equalizer in the second half, keeping 10 behind the ball even when they found themselves two goals down.
With the win, the Battery finished the 2013 regular season with a 13-7-6 record, good for 45 points and — for the moment at least — third-place in the 2013 league table. Fourth place Harrisburg can reclaim the third spot on Saturday with a win or a draw at Dayton, and fifth place Charlotte still has a chance at passing both Harrisburg and Charleston if it can win Friday night at VSI Tampa Bay and Saturday night at Orlando.
Game wrap tomorrow.