Dane Kelly scored twice, Jose Cuevas directed the offense with pinpoint passing and the Charleston Battery out-shot expansion Phoenix FC 28-6 en route to a crucial 5-1 victory that temporarily lifted the club into a tie for fourth place in USL PRO.
The win was Charleston’s second in six days, its largest margin of victory since its 4-0 home-opener against Antigua, and the Battery’s highest scoring output on 2013.
Battery Captain Colin Falvey opened the scoring in the first half and Amadou Sanyang closed the book on the night with a point-blank finish in the 88th minute. Wolves Captain Scott Morrison contributed one goal for each team, the first a clinical bending free-kick, the second a face-palming own-goal in front of an empty net.
With all the unavoidably large consequences of Saturday’s home date with the 5th-place LA Blues looming large over Wednesday’s match with 12th place Phoenix, Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser fielded an unusual lineup that benched leading scorer Nicki Paterson and midfield stalwart Jarad van Schaik and replaced injured right back Mark Wiltse with versatile outside defender Emmanuel Adjetey.
The lineup changes pushed attacking midfielder Jose Cuevas back inside for the first time in about a month. with Canadian youth international Bryce Alderson taking “Chiva’s” usual spot on the left wing. Sanyang slipped back into the defensive midfield slot he ceded to van Schaik earlier this season, and turned in a quality performance.
But both the Battery and the Wolves stumbled through much of the opening stanza on a humid, breathless night when the flags hung damp and motionless through the National Anthem. Without a breeze to hold them in check, insects flitted back and forth in the air above Blackbaud Stadium’s restored green pitch.
Though the Battery controlled the flow and pace of the match from kickoff to closure, the team from Arizona didn’t take a direct punch until the 30th minute.
Under heavy man-to-man pressure on the left side of the attacking third, Cuevas wrong-footed his opponent with a blindingly creative piece of footskill, snuck around him on the goal line and put a ball across the face of goal for a corner kick. Sanyang rose to to snap right winger Quinton Griffith’s corner on frame, but while new Wolves keeper Neal Kitson made the initial reaction save, he had no answer for Falvey’s bang-bang volley.
The score gave Charleston the lead, but the team and the coach went to the locker room with the sense that they’d missed multiple opportunities — including an uncharacteristic miscue on a header in front of goal by Cuevas in the 19th minute that left the clever offensive ace holding his face in disbelief.
In the second half, however, Phoenix had no answer for Cuevas’ clever moves and laser-guided accuracy. Though credited by USL PRO with only one assist on the night (so far), Blackbaud’s stadium crew awarded him with three — which says nothing about the perfect entry passes that several of his teammates bobbled. He earned Man of the Match for his performance.
Cuevas credited his success not to the change in his nominal spot on the field (from left inside to center), but to the freedom that Coach Mike Anhaeuser granted him before the match. With Paterson on the bench, Cuevas said knew he had an opportunity and a responsibility to drive the attack.
The night was also memorable for the return of Ben Fisk, a flashy 20-year-old Canadian star whose season looked to be over in June when doctors diagnosed him with a knee injury. After rehabbing in Canada for about six week, Fisk returned to practice with the team on Monday and entered the match as Alderson’s replacement in the 78th minute. All three of his shots were near-misses of the jaw-dropping variety.
In the early going, however, the story of the game belonged to the tandem of left back John Wilson and left midfielder Alderson. With Netinho, the 19-year-old Brazilian who leads the league in minutes-played holding a narrow position in defense, Alderson and Wilson repeatedly found ways to take the resulting space for Charleston. Time after time the pair took turns overlapping into that area to launch passes into the box. Eventually, Griffin even worked his way into their side, pushing Alderson back to the right side of the formation.
One area of concern for Battery fans was the health of keeper Odisnel Cooper, who turned over his goal kick duties to center back Cody Ellison and his eventual replacement, Taylor Mueller. Afterward, Cooper conceded that he had injured his groin, not his leg.
Game wrap on Thursday.