Jan. 6 Editor’s Note: Names of the participants in the trials added at the bottom. Names listed are as-provided by the club. -dc
After putting roughly 40 aspiring professionals through their paces at Blackbaud Stadium this weekend, Charleston Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser declared himself “very happy” with the results of this year’s Open Trials.
“This one, from top to bottom, seemed to have a lot more equality, because sometimes we have to move players (from team to team, to even things out), and this time the only ones we had to move out were our players,” Anhaeuser said. “It’s good to see that the quality is picking up. I thought overall it was very solid, and having 40 guys was great. And there were five missing.”
Bottom line? The Battery’s coach and general manager thinks as many as six of this weekend’s trialists could be invited to the team’s next organized event — an invitation-only combine from Feb. 12-15 that ends just in time for the start of the team’s official 2014 training program.
The two-day event began on Saturday around 11 a.m. with four 9-v-9 teams rotating through matches at the stadium and the club’s practice pitch under the supervision of coaches Anhaeuser, Clark Brisson, Dusty Hudock and John Wilson. After a lunch break, the players returned in the afternoon for 11-on-11 play. Sunday was limited to two 11-on-11 games, with Battery players Zach Prince, Austin Savage, Odisnel Cooper and skipper Colin Falvey rotating in and out of lineups as needed.
Sunday’s matches also featured a player who spent most of the Battery’s 2013 preseason in Charleston: Striker Gibson Bardsley, who logged 9 goals and 7 assists for the Dayton Dutch Lions last season.
The prospects at the weekend’s open event were a mixture of internationals, high school students, former college players and competitive recreational talents hoping to make the jump to the professional ranks. Though the majority are long-shots, it’s also true that most of the local players who’ve gone on to wear the black and gold took their first step toward pro ball at a Battery open trial: Former C of C star Ben Hollingworth, whose career was cut short by injury, proved himself in this setting, as did current Battery players Zach Prince and Austin Savage. Anhaeuser used Savage as an example of why he considers the open trial to be a valuable part of his offseason schedule.
“Austin… he’s a guy you need to see more often, and get in positions, because he can kinda blend in as a player, you know?” he said. “But if you have him for a longer period of time, that’s where he starts to stand out.
“(The players) cover the entire gamut. You have local guys you’re picking up and they end up doing well for you, and you get these international players who are coming over… And they may look pretty good here, but you have to wait until you get them on the field with our players to see if they can compete, which is why we do an invitation combine. If a kid comes in and does well, we’ll keep him through the Challenge Cup, and that’s a great tryout.”
ANHAEUSER’S OFF-SEASON: Over the last couple months, the Battery’s GM/coach’s travels have included an agency combine in Las Vegas, a trip to a scouting event in Jacksonville, Fla., and a five-day scouting trip to Jamaica. He had to skip a planned trip to an event in Antigua (with Battery winger Quinton Griffith participating) because the scheduling interfered with the Blackbaud trial this weekend.
“(Jamaica) was a good trip. Saw Dane (Kelly), saw a few other players. Hopefully we’ll get a couple in. Definitely don’t want to tell you who they are (laughs). I get asked that in Jamaica, you know. I do! They ask me on TV and stuff. I’m like ‘No, I’m not telling you anything!’ (laughs). But I saw Dane and a lot of players, and there’s three or four that we might try to bring up. But that all is going to depend on the guys we have internationally. I can’t bring in five if we only have three spots open.”
He’s got two more big scouting events coming up this month: The MLS combine next weekend, and the USL combine in Bradenton, Fla., Jan. 23-25.
VANCOUVER COURTSHIP: Whatever ultimately becomes of the Battery’s relationship with the Vancouver Whitecaps, things appear to be moving forward toward formal affiliation. The two clubs were all-but-formally affiliated in 2013, with Vancouver sending three players to Charleston and Falvey heading up to play a reserve match for the Whitecaps in Sandy, Utah.
Anhaeuser said he could probably give a better accounting of the Battery’s roster situation once things “solidify” with Vancouver.
MLS LIMBO: The biggest variable in the Battery’s 2014 plans will almost certainly be the fates of as many as half a dozen players under contract or players from 2013 who could find themselves in camp with MLS teams this month.
Charleston players from last year’s team who’ve been linked to MLS clubs in the off-season include Mike Azira in Seattle, Dane Kelly with Philadelphia, Jarad van Schaik and Jose Cuevas with San Jose, and USL PRO Defender of the Year Colin Falvey, who appears to have attracted interest from the top league as well. Quinton Griffith was connected to New England in 2013, and his father has been quoted in the Antiguan press suggesting that Q is receiving attention from other teams in Europe as well.
Throw in the uncertainty about how many and what types of players might be moving down from Vancouver, and you get a taste of just how much anxiety Anhaeuser will likely be experiencing as the North American soccer machine begins its warm-up for 2014 this month.
“This is going to be a tough time, and even with the change (affiliation), I think it’s going to be a little difficult for me. It’s going to be difficult for the club and difficult for the fans. Because I can’t sit there and say for sure that we’ve got X Y and Z back. Right? because when you’ve got affiliations and all the sudden we’ve got three of our better players or top players if you want to say that, and now they’re in MLS camps, that’s going to be up them, isn’t it? It’s limbo, and it’s bigger limbo right now.
“We’ve got to be careful, because we’ve got that 10-12 nucleus. I’m counting on having them. I have them on the board, and I don’t want to take them off that board. So I don’t want to go get three extra players, you know, because that’s not going to work in the end. Because in the end I’ll just have to give something away.
“If I have zero (Vancouver players), I know I’ll need eight players. And I’ll tell you, right now, I could even give you a name and feel comfortable that I know, X from this college is coming in, because that’s what happened in the old days. But now, you’ve got them coming in from everywhere. Even players that have played here that we might be interested in getting back if we can, that fit. And internationals.
“So this year is going to be a lot more difficult than past years… It’s almost like we’re hitting ourselves to try to help the system. It’s hard for me, but at the same time, you know, you’re happy. The ones that do well for you, you know, they do deserve it. But at the same time you don’t want to lose them, because replacing someone is not as easy as having them.”
ELLISON UPDATE: The faint chance of Cody Ellison returning to Charleston next month appears all but extinguished. Anhaeuser said there have been no developments in contract talks since the fall, largely because he’s been in limbo with other deals that could have opened up room in the budget for the big Californian, and hasn’t reached out to him since the club passed on his 2014 option for financial reasons.
“It’s not like you can get 50 defenders in this world, and he’s a good one,” Anhaeuser said. “But if a guy’s not happy and a guy needs to make certain things, there’s nothing wrong with that, and you can only commend him on it, and he’s got a tough decision to make.”
LOS CUBANOS: While Heviel Cordoves and Maikel Chang have been playing well for the indoor Wichita B-52s this winter, goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper has been living here in Charleston and working at a Mexican restaurant. He missed Saturday’s sessions because he had to work a shift, but turned up Sunday and played in the first match.
Before things got underway, Cooper spotted me on the sidelines and came over to say hello. There’s nothing newsworthy about that beyond the fact that he conversed with me in English, and did very well. Later, on the pitch, you could hear him giving instructions to field players.
“His communication is a lot better,” Anhaeuser said. “His English, he’s communicating, he’s working a side job where I’m sure he’s picking things up a little bit. Just doing the little things, to get used to the social habits of living in the United States, and he’s doing a great job. He’s communicating with me better. You saw him maybe communicating a few things — not 100 percent, but better.”
It’s not clear whether Cooper will ever be a particularly talkative keeper, but just watching him become more comfortable speaking to the people around him felt like great news. Cordoves has been making leaps with his English speaking skills, too, and his big personality is likely to be one of the big draws for Battery fans in 2014.
Whether Cordoves and Chang will return for the first days of training camp, however, remains an unknown.
“Right now we have no problem that they’ll be back in, probably at the beginning of the Challenge Cup,” Anhaeuser said. “(Their season runs) through Feb. 27, and then playoffs. To be honest, it’s a funny situation, because they’re in a different league. The plan is for them to be back. They want to be back. But you want to tread lightly on those. They have a good situation that you don’t want to not have next year. You never want to upset somebody, right? We’ll deal with that when it comes in the next two weeks, we’ll talk about it with the club and the team.”
GIBSON BARDSLEY, MAN OF MYSTERY: Bardsley is a nice guy, and a player who just kept scoring goals and making assists last winter. Until Ben Fisk arrived from Vancouver, he looked likely to make the team. But even though he went back to Dayton and had a good year, there have been Bardsley sightings around Charleston all winter.
On Sunday he suited up in blue and spent the final match of the day playing defense next to Falvey (who played in both matches on Sunday, turning in a stint in midfield).
“He was here last year,” Anhaeuser said. “He’s got a friend that is here, and obviously he was with us for four, maybe five weeks at the beginning of (2013). So we’ve talked a little bit, but at the same time, he was with Dayton. So he’s one that you might see here, but again, then it goes to that next step. What does he want? What is he looking for? He did well at a place, and if they offer him a good package… But he trains, he works out with the guys, and he’s here.”
‘OUR PLAYERS': Though they’re not all under contract, several 2013 Battery players were on display this weekend. Unsigned players Zach Prince and Austin Savage joined Falvey in playing both days, switching sides as needed, and John Wilson, who has said he hopes to play another season, suited up as a coach for the event.
Regiment stalwart Scott Johnstone, whose son Andrew participated in the trials, described Savage’s as looking like “a man among boys” during Saturday’s matches.
Savage came within a sneeze of winning the last available roster spot for the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team this winter, and after turning down a full-time parks and rec job, he seems intensely focused on making an impression with this Battery squad.
Anhaeuser repeatedly referred to them as “our guys” and “our players,” and said he expected that there would six to 12 local players, including some college players, training around the stadium in the coming weeks. “Our guys, they’re champing at the bit.”
Kyle Stephenson, Center-Mid, 25, UNCW
Christopher Maimone, Central Midfielder, 23, Virginia Commonwealth University
Christopher (Alex) Cherol, Defense, 29, Old Peculiars
Colt Priest, D-Mid/Full Back/Center Back, 22, Collegiate – Newberry
Andrew Johnstone, Forward, 17, SCUMP
Matthew Oseman, forward/right midfield, 24, Greenville Lions U-15s
Brendan Shumberger, Goalkeeper, 22, Iona College
Asher Quave-Robinson, Holding Mid/ Wide Mid, 25, Bridges FC
Dante Marini, Attacking Midfield, Left Midfield, 21, Northeastern University
Drew Ruggles, Defense/mid, 21, Georgia Southern University
Chris Cook, Forward, United States/England, 25, JH Rose High School
Chris Torres, Goalkeeper, 25, Duquesne University
Ernst Hyppolite, left back, 24, Broward College
Eric Cole, Striker/forward, 21, Danbury Revolution
Cory Davis, Forward/Midfield, 28, Spartanburg Methodist College Men’s Soccer
Steven Miller, Forward/Outside Midfield, 24 Jammerbugt FC (Formerly Blokhus FC)
Scott Angevine, Goalkeeper, 24, Sporting Kansas City
Nathan Joseph, Left Defender, 21, US Mustangs
Ezra Sanchez, Left Wing/attacking-mid,21, Panama-IJDM
Shawn Tran, Midfield, 17, 140 Calvary Day School
Tyler Sgro, Right Back, 23, Charlestowne Pirates
Jake Mann, CAM/RM/LM, 25, UWA Nedlands FC
Justin Casanovas, cm,rw,lw,st,rb, Richmond International Academy in UK, Bradford U21
Remezan Abdullah, Forward, 21, Northern Iraq
Kyle Hamm, Striker, 19, Daniel Island Soccer Academy
Ryan Williams, Winger/Outside Back, 21, Western New England University
Ariel Mesa, Striker, Argentina, 21, Boca Juniors
Teslim Omofoyewa, Striker, Nigeria, 27, New Day FC
Adoh Aiyankhebor, Forward/Winger/Midfield, 18, AFC Lightning
Miguel Teos, Midfield, El Salvador, 22, Spartanburg Methodist College
Daniel Addo, Midfield, Ghana, 26, Modena
Pedro Cunha, Winger/ offensive midfielder, Portugal, 30,Estrela da Amadora
Herbert Cojulu, Center Forward, Guatemala, 19, Brookland Cayce High School
Jaime Martinez forward, Panama, 21, Juan Diaz FC
Edmond Pandy, midfield, Belize, 17, Belmopan Bandits
Joseph Oku Defender, Nigeria
Tetsuya Okuda, Goalkeeper, Japan, 26, Antelope Shiojiri AC
Esteban Tello, Wing/midfield/forward, Ecuador, 21, El Nacional
Jorge Villamizar, Midfielder