A week that began “hurt and angry” in Richmond ended with players and fans singing “Sweet Caroline” together on the darkened pitch at Blackbaud Stadium as fireworks burst overhead, celebrating a dominant performance in a 4-0 win against the Antigua Barracudas.
“I’ll sleep a happy man tonight,” said relieved Battery Captain Colin Falvey as he lingered on the crowded, darkened field during the post-game fireworks show.”We needed that one.”
Despite largely outplaying the Richmond Kickers in their 2013 season opener, the Battery stumbled to a 4-1 loss last week. The defeat left the club feeling “hurt and angry,” Falvey said. “Training was feisty all week. All week you could tell we wanted to get to the next game as quickly as possible.”
On a night when the Battery dictated possession throughout and created chances in rapid-fire succession, the 4-0 bottom line felt oddly disappointing. Coaches and players alike seemed to agree afterward that the story of the match was probably how many more goals the home team could have scored had the breaks gone its way. Between the handful of near-misses, two waved-off scores by Nicki Paterson, a thunderous blast that bounced off the crossbar and hit the goal line without crossing it, plus multiple off-sides calls and an obvious but unnoticed hand ball in the penalty area, it’s easy to imagine this game as the 8-0 blowout it felt like from the stands.
How bad was it? Antigua goalkeeper Corey Whisenhunt let four by, but the official scorer credited him with seven saves on the 27 shots he faced. To put that in context, Battery goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper officially faced five shots all night, saving three of them. And, frankly, that first number seems charitable. The exhausted Barracudas were so off their game Saturday that an essentially uncontested attempt at a cross in the 50th minute actually wound up hitting the stadium scoreboard.
The Man of the Match, for the the second time in as many games at Blackbaud Stadium this spring, was 20-year-old Canadian wunderkind Ben Fisk. Fisk made his regular season USL PRO debut last week in relief of injured attacking midfielder Jose Cuevas, and Saturday marked Fisk’s first league start. In his only previous match on the home sod, Fisk needed just four minutes to hang a goal and an assist on the Wilmington Hammerheads during a March 23 preseason friendly. On Saturday night, Fisk needed only two minutes to match the feat, assisting forward Heviel Cooper’s duck-breaking score in the 21st minute before notching his own in the 23rd.
It was no generic score, either. Within seconds of the restart, Fisk took a pass on the left wing, sized up his Antiguan defender, and then broke him down with a blinding display of oh-no-he-didn’t technical flash that gave the British Columbian just enough of an edge to get off a shot. He fired low to the far post for the 2-0 lead, and you could have rolled credits on the night then and there. Fisk’s nickname in Vancouver is “Ben Ten,” in reference to the cartoon boy-superhero, but a few more matches like this one and we’ll have to start calling him “Microwave,” because he just heats up so fast.
In retrospect it’s astounding that the first half finished with that score. Quinton Griffith’s pass back to Cordoves in front of goal in the 31st minute set the big Cuban up for an open shot at his second on the night, but he missed left. Two minutes later another Cordoves’s shot went wide, only to be headed home at the post by a diving Paterson. The sideline official waved off the goal, calling it off-sides — and the same call would negate another point-blank Paterson finish early in the second half, wasting what would have been another assist for Fisk.
“I basically had two onside goals that were called off-sides,” Paterson said later. “I was extremely frustrated, but at least we’re creating chances.”
For the most part, however, the final 30 minutes of the first half were The Ben Ten Show. Fisk repeatedly combined with Cordoves and Griffth, and came within about a foot of scoring on a screamer from 30-yards out in the 39th minutes.
In the opening minutes of the second half, Griffith seemed to take over the match against his former team. He picked up a yellow card in the 46th minute when his eye-popping run for a through-ball from Paterson ended in a collision with Whisenhunt, but just two minutes later Griffith dribbled spectacularly through traffic and beat the goalkeeper, only to have his shot skip just wide of the post.
Coach Mike Anhaeuser began substituting in the 67th minute, swapping midfielder Zach Prince for Fisk and Dane Kelly for Corodoves. The switch almost paid off immediately, but Kelly’s sharp header off a Prince corner kick went just over the crossbar. The Jamaican stood with this face in his hands for a moment, shaking his head in disbelief. But neither player was finished.
Kelly scored his goal in the 78th minute after a blatant hand-ball in the area went for a corner kick instead of a penalty. As if in instant replay of their 67th-minute near-miss, Prince’s textbook corner found Kelly aggressively charging the goal. This time his header left no doubt.
Prince closed the book on the night in the 85th minute when his subtle move with the ball at his feet created just enough space between two Antiguan defenders to give him a look. His shot from roughly 30 yards crossed-up the keeper as it rifled into the lower-right-hand corner.
“Watching from the sidelines, I could see that the game was wide open,” Prince said afterward as he signed autographs for a gaggle of young fans. “I was eager to get in, because we were creating lots of chances.”
Like Falvey, Anhaeuser said the win put the Richmond game behind the team. Like Paterson, he spoke about the missed chances. “But the good thing is, I told the guys we didn’t want to give up a goal,” he said, “because they still haven’t scored yet (0-2 losses to Charlotte last Saturday, and Friday night at Wilmington). I’m happy that we got the three points. I know the players are, and it’s a start for us.”
Of course, Antigua is something of an ad hoc team this season, playing an all-road schedule with a squad that hadn’t even been formed two weeks ago. With few substitutes to choose from, the Barracuda team that played Saturday night in Charleston was essentially the same team that played Friday night in Wilmington, and it showed.
“They didn’t have juice,” Anhaeuser said. “You could see that they ran out of energy.”
CHS: 1-0 Haviel Cordoves (Ben Fisk) 21
CHS: 2-0 Ben Fisk 23
CHS: 3-0 Dane Kelly (Zach Prince) 75
CHS: 4-0 Zach Prince 85
CHS: Quinton Griffith 46
ATB: Rolston Phoenix 75
Antigua Barracuda FC
Andre Taurean Manders, Randolf Burton, Toric Robinson, Lawson Robinson, Tamorley Thomas, Omarie Daniel (Eugene Kirwan, 53), George Dublin, Karanja Mack, Jamoy Stevens, Rolston Phoenix (Lloyd Jeremy, 77), Corey Whisenhunt.
Unused subs: Janeil Simon, Hazeley Pyle, Alex Phillip, Molvin James.
GK Odisnel Cooper, RB Mark Wiltse, CB Colin Falvey, CB Cody Ellison (Shawn Ferguson, 81), LB John Wilson, RM Quinton Griffith (Maikel Chang, 75), DM Jarad van Schaik, CM Michael Azira, CM Nicki Paterson (Austin Savage, 75, LM Ben Fisk (Zach Prince, 67) CF Heviel Cordoves (Dane Kelly, 66).
Unused subs: Taylor Mueller, Kevin Klasila.
Referees:Howard Ash, Sky Arthur Banning, Kevin Roberts, Brian Bozard
TOP PHOTO: Attacking midfielder Ben Fisk assisted on the Battery’s first goal and scored the second himself two minutes later, but even that stellar stat-line doesn’t tell the full story of his Man-of-the-Match night. The 20-year-old from British Columbia came within inches of recording a second goal and adding several additional assists, and played havoc with the right side of the Barracuda defense for 67 high-voltage minutes. All photos by Dan Conover, except Zach Prince by Kim Morgan Gregory.