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It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say Charleston Battery fans were shell-shocked by the start of the 2015 USL season. Toronto FC II, an expansion side, was up 2-0 on Charleston after just 15 minutes. After all, this was the same team that went 7-1-2 in the preseason and had a veteran starting lineup.
Despite the early deficit, the Battery faithful started the “I believe that we will win chant” made famous during last year’s World Cup to pick up the team. Well, the fans turned out to be right. Charleston stormed back to tie the game, and then capped off the thrilling night with a stoppage-time goal from Taylor Mueller that gave the team the 3-2 win.
But belief was not limited to the stands.
Charleston captain Jared van Schaik said the team never doubted that they were going to score.
“We made two mistakes and gave them a two-goal cushion but we just came together. I felt like we knew were going to score, I felt like we knew we were going to put the pressure on and as the game went on we kept applying more and more pressure and you could just feel the game shifting in our favor,” Van Schaik said.
Van Schaik is starting his third season in Charleston, but his first as captain. He was awarded the title when former captain Colin Falvey moved on to Ottowa of the NASL. Van Schaik, who plays central midfield, said the team did not really change anything for the second half. They stayed with their formation and players, and knew that the chances would come.
“We were building up enough momentum towards the end of the first half. We weren’t panicking,” he said. “We just had that belief a little bit that we were at least going to apply the pressure and give ourselves a shot to get back in the game.”
Getting it back together
That momentum he was talking about? It slowly built up as the first half drew to a close, and really took off when Dane Kelly scored in the 38th minute. The scoring sequence began when Quinton Griffith took a throw in on the right side in Toronto’s third. He threw it to Justin Portillo who immediately gave it back. Griffith took a touch and crossed it into the box where Kelly was waiting. The forward expertly flicked the ball in at the near post, making it 2-1.
Charleston came out in the second half with the same lineup, but made its first change in the 56th minute. Heviel Cordoves was brought on to replace Kelly who suffered an apparent injury, and he had an immediate impact. He was subbed in right before a corner kick and played a huge role in the goal that eventually resulted from it.
Portillo’s corner was very low and short, so Zach Prince tried flicking it up with a backheel. That was blocked, but the rebound fell to Prince, who was now facing the right direction. He lifted it up and over to the other side of the net where Cordoves was waiting to head the ball. He couldn’t get enough velocity on the ball to direct it on goal, but rather it went higher up in the air. Toronto keeper Alex Bono, the sixth overall draft pick in this year’s MLS Draft, had to punch the ball away instead of catching it, but still the ball would not leave the area.
It fell down to Shawn Ferguson, who tried a header of his own. That went off the back of the player in front of him and fell straight down to his foot. Ferguson was able to kick the ball this time, and it went in the top right corner to make it 2-2.
It was an insane scramble, not what anyone would ever call a pretty goal, but to the players and fans at Blackbaud Stadium, it was beautiful. After all, it still counts the same no matter what.
The Battery did not want to settle for the draw, however, and kept pushing for another goal. They controlled the second half, not allowing Toronto many chances at all. Despite that, it still looked like the teams were going to split the points. The fourth official indicated four minutes of stoppage time, but the Battery only needed 10 seconds.
Seconds after the clock read 90:00, van Schaik took a corner kick, delivering the ball right in front of goal where Mueller was able to put it into the goal. The team jumped all over Mueller, including van Schaik once he sprinted over from the corner flag.
Mueller echoed van Schaik’s thoughts about the game.
“We made a couple of mistakes here and there but we went into halftime knowing we were going to put them on their heels. We knew they were going to have some tired legs in the second half. They’re young and they put us under some pressure,” he said. “It felt great. It was relieving, exciting, great way to go for the first night.”
Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser said the result can be huge for the upcoming season.
“To be honest we started doing alright and we were getting forward on the outsides, we just got caught defensively so we kept the pressure and were able to get the free kicks and the corner kicks,” Anhaeuser said. “Their goalkeeper we knew was having a tough time back there so we just tried to put a little more pressure on him and everything worked out for the best”
“It really shows the character of this team. We did things so well but they caught us. I’ve got to give them all the credit in the world. Jordan Hamilton did a great job of beating us over the top and Cooper made a mistake there, but we’re not going to look behind us now,” Anhaeuser said.
Toronto’s quick double
It was fitting that Mueller scored the winner, after he was on the end of two weird, somewhat unlucky plays in the first half.
Toronto’s first goal came in the 8th minute. Defender Clement Simonin played a long ball over the top, bypassing the entire midfield and landing in the path of Jordan Hamilton. Charleston centerbacks Shawn Ferguson and Mueller both marked Hamilton as he ran towards the ball. Ferguson tried to cut him off first, but was behind the forward and couldn’t reach the ball.
That left Mueller in a one-on-one situation. He attempted a tackle at the edge of the penalty area when Hamilton took his first touch on the ball, but Hamilton was able to get away. Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper came out of his net to cut off the angle, but Hamilton went to the far side of the goal with a chip shot that hit the underside of the crossbar and went into the net.
Mueller said the ball landed in just the right spot where it would give both him and Ferguson trouble.
“We knew that Hamilton was quality and he’s got some pace. It was just one of those balls that kind of beat Fergie by one or two inches over his head and then it was awkard because Hamilton was already in between us. I was an inch or two away from clearing it with my left but I couldn’t recover after that,” Mueller said.
Molham Babouli made it 2-0 for Toronto on another bizarre play. A searching pass was played from the midfield line towards Babouli, but it was off-target. Cooper came off his line for what looked to be an easy grab or clearance. However, the ball slowed and it looked like it wasn’t going to make it into the box before the Toronto player would get to it. Cooper either tripped, or pulled up once he saw he wasn’t going to be able to use his hands.
Either way, Cooper ended up on the ground and the ball continued to roll past him. Mueller reacted quickly and beat Babouli to the ball. However, Babouli forced Mueller off of the ball on the left side of the box. Cooper made it back to the goal just in time to attempt a save, but Babouli was too close and was able to slide it into the left corner for goal number two.
— Charleston looked like it played the same 4-2-3-1 formation that Anhaeuser has deployed this preseason. Besides Garbanzo, it was a veteran lineup for Charleston. Cooper was in net, and his backline consisted of O’Brian Woodbine at left back, Ferguson and Mueller as centerbacks, and Griffith at right back. Woodbine and Griffith both played big roles going forward for Charleston, as both would take the ball down the wings and cross it into the box or play it to one of the attacking midfielders. Van Schaik and Portillo played in their defending midfield roles, while Prince operated on the right side of the field going forward and Mikel Chang on the left. Ricky Garbanzo patrolled the middle and Kelly was up top.
— The club lost long-time defender John Wilson and captain Colin Falvey over the offseason, but Mueller has had no problem replacing the Irish defender, as he was rotated in amongst the squad since signing with Charleston in 2012. Woodbine took over at left back for Wilson. Woodbine first came to Charleston in 2009 on loan from Reno F.C. of the Jamaican National Premier League. He moved around to a few other teams, most recently Ottawa, before returning to Charleston.
— Anhaeuser said he thought Kelly injured his ankle, and the team would sit him out for a week or two until he is 100 percent again. But that will be evaluated later in the week. But if Kelly can’t go, Anhaeuser will have to feel good about being able to use Cordoves. Several times during the match he found space down the left side and used his speed to beat defenders. He crossed several balls into the box and was one of the main chance-creators while he was in the game.
— Charleston next plays on Friday in Charlotte against the Independence. It is that club’s first-ever game, as they are a new team replacing the Charlotte Eagles. That match begins at 7:30 p.m.
The Battery fans had all offseason to get ready for the home opener, plus the Challenge Cup games to practice. But all the energy built up to the first game that actually counted. Fans from The Regiment and Queen Anne’s Revenge joined forces in the parking lot to tailgate hours before the game and then marched into the stadium.
Queen Anne’s Revenge is a group that spun off from the local American Outlaw’s chapter during the offseason. The name is the same as legendary pirate Blackbeard’s ship. Blackbeard himself once blockaded the city of Charleston, so the name has a connection to local history. Continuing with the pirate theme, the Charles Towne Few is a group of pirate re-enactors who came out to tailgate, march, and watch the game with the fans in E-1.
Many of the group’s members are also members of The Regiment, the club’s official supporters group. Both groups stand in E-1 where they chant, sing, wave flags and play drums and do whatever they can to support the team.