So everyone says that when the Battery and the Hammerheads meet on the pitch, its a battle. And the talk leading up to Saturday’s game at Blackbaud Stadium has emphasized the 2012 USL PRO Championship rematch angle. OK, I hear you.
But it’s also preseason. And everyone is still sorta figuring everything out. And there’s not a professional coach alive who wants to be accused of preparing his or her team to “peak in the preseason.” Particularly when you’re managing a fist full of nagging, annoying injuries.
So what should fans expect when they show up for Saturday’s 6 p.m. start?
Goalkeeper: Newly signed Kevin Klasila is typically the starter, and talented backup Odisnel Cooper usually takes over in the second half. Cooper has had the more dramatic performances this preseason, but were it not for a clutch save off the line by defender Colin Falvey on Tuesday, the College of Charleston would have snuck a late game-winner past Cooper.
Defense: With right back Mark Wiltse still rehabbing an MCL injury, Coach Mike Anhaeuser’s top defensive group has typically been Taylor Mueller at right back, team captain Falvey and 6-3 Cody Ellison in central defense, and veteran John Wilson returning to his left back position. On paper, the defense looks like the most settled group on the squad, but the depth is shallow and Anhaeuser has played everyone from Zach Prince to Quinton Griffith and Michael Azira in defense this preseason.
BTW: Earlier this week Anhaeuser said there was a chance Wiltse might play in this one. I wouldn’t hold him to that.
Midfield: The strength of the 2013 Battery is stockpiled at midfield, which boasts returning stars Nicki Paterson, a box-to-box player who still managed to lead the team in scoring, Amadou Sanyang, a former African prodigy who spent time with Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders before arriving here as a defensive mid, and 2012 Rookie of the Year Jose Cuevas, a central attacking midfielder/striker who has spent the past month playing a deeper role with additional responsibilities. When Paterson is healthy — and he hasn’t been since Feb. 23 — it frees Cuevas to push forward.
The rest of the group is versatile. Prince has emerged as the team’s utility player, and new-kid Jarad van Schaik has been used mostly on the outside. But the two midfielders who’ve stood out to the team captain this preseason are Michael Azira and Quinton Griffith.
“Last year was (Azira’s) first year pro, and he wasn’t always a starter,” Falvey said. “But he got some minutes under his belt last year, got good experience, ended up playing in the championship game and getting the winning goal. He looks like he’s got a spring in his step since he’s come back. He’s playing with a smile, he’s playing with confidence, he’s really comfortable on the ball. I think he’s going to have a standout year. I think he feels like he’s a starter now, and he’s got that presence about him.
“(Griffith) is young. Just turned 21. He’s already got two screamers in preseason. His goal up in Raleigh last week was as good as you’ll see anywhere. I think he’s so quick it’s not even funny. He’s got some wheels, I’ll tell you. He’s going to be one who does really well this year. There’s already some MLS clubs sniffing around him.”
Also in the mix: Ben Fisk from Vancouver is an attacking player who spent most of his debut out wide against College of Charleston. Flashy Maikel Chang has sparkled in short appearances, but is expected to miss this match with a reinjured hamstring. And we could have two more Canadians on the roster soon, based on unconfirmed reports out of British Columbia.
There’s a possibility that Nicki Paterson will play in this match. He he goes, it will be interesting to see how the midfield responds after a month of learning to play without him.
Forwards: Currently there are only three players listed at forward: Jamaican Dane Kelly, Cuban Evier Cordovez, and Summerville rookie Austin Savage. Cordovez is injured and may not play, so expect to see plenty of Kelly.
That said, player labels don’t mean much in Anhaeuser’s system. In the first couple of games last month he started with Cuevas up top in a striker role.
Cordovez has impressed the staff with his powerful shot, but the standout at forward so far is second-year man Kelly, who looks stronger and more assertive this season.
“I think he took a year or so just to settle into Charleston, since it’s obviously a lot different than Jamaica, but I think he’s finally settled and happy here,” said Falvey. “You can see he’s joking around the locker room, as where before he was kinda quiet, kept to himself. He’s started the preseason well. He’s scoring goals.”
Four of them in nine preseason games, to be exact, a tally that trails scoring leader Cuevas by one.
We’re really excited about our upcoming season. We’ve been a little slower than most in putting together our team and starting our preseason (we’ve only had one preseason match thus far), but now that we have such a talented roster we’re excited to see the boys play together.
We have long returning players like Gareth Evans, Paul Nicholson, Tom Parratt, and Mark Briggs that offer so much to the team in the way of leadership and experience, and are such a solid core for this team. 2012 players like Daniel Roberts and Christian Davidson are coming back to us as well; it’s always great when you’ve got guys that have already played together for a season back on the roster together.
We’ve been extremely lucky to have Troy Hernandez come back to us in goal; he really showed what he was made of last season when it counted, and is coming off of a championship win with the Baltimore Blast. We’ve got new players like Jamel Wallace, who we can’t wait to see integrate his skills with the team. We really feel that our combination of returning players plus newer blood is going to make us strong.
People seem to be worried that we’ll miss (USL PRO 2012 scoring leader) Corey Hertzog (now with Vancouver) this year. Well, who wouldn’t miss Corey? Honestly though, watch out for Cody Arnoux and Steven Perry. Cody has so much passion for the sport, and so much potential, and we’re thrilled that he’s back with us for 2013. We’re expecting fantastic things from him. Steven is another one that impressed us every time he set foot on the pitch last season. He’s fast! They’re both extremely skilled, and these two together are going to make a great combo for us on the front lines.
As far as this weekend’s preseason match goes, you may see a few of us (Wilmington supporters) straggle in. Preseason can be tough when it’s far away and requires a lot of travel/overnighting. But you’ll definitely see us for our regular season matchup on May 11th. Charleston is one of our favorite teams to play, and our best rivalry, so we’ll be there in force!
LAST MEETING: CHARLESTON 1, WILMINGTON 0
But then all you Charleston fans knew that.
UNION DUES PRESEASON RANKING (AVERAGE): Charleston No. 2, Wilmington No. 5
OFFICIAL BATTERY GAME PREVIEW: Battery to play Wilmington Hammerheads Saturday
Any other questions? If not, we’ll see you on Saturday at the stadium.