Charleston — with two forwards for the first time this season — hit the pitch Saturday, and came away with a 3-1 thrashing of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
Dane Kelly and Heviel Cordoves finally got to share the field on the cool, breezy night. Both players have been playing great this season, but Charleston has used a 4-2-3-1 formation in every game, so the two have been swapped out for each other. But that changed Saturday.
Battery manager Mike Anhaeuser said the change in formation was a tactical decision based on how Pittsburgh plays.
“They played a high line and they tried to press. Their two defenders, I didn’t think could handle our two forwards and it paid off,” he said. “Cordoves and Dane did a good job defensively and offensively, keeping the pressure. I don’t think they (Pittsburgh) had a shot in the first half. Dane and Cordoves worked very well together. They were put under pressure but they did the job, responded and put it right back in my pocket, so I love it.”
Zach Prince scored early in the game for Charleston, and the Battery added two second-half goals to pull ahead by three. Pittsburgh ended up nabbing one of their own to avoid being shutout, but it was an impressive performance from the Battery.
The overall experience the players have of playing with one another is a big contributor to the level of play Battery fans are seeing, Anhaeuser said.
“You see a lot of faces that we’ve had her for 1 or 2 years and they know each other. And a couple of guys are playing at a higher level than they did in the past,” Anhaeuser said. “There’s a lot of good communication, a lot of little soccer things happening out on the field that you or I can’t see that they do out on the pitch that makes a big difference. I credit them.”
It was a big weekend all around for the Battery. Richmond, which was one point ahead in the table with an extra game played, was beaten 3-0 (!) by Charlotte on Friday. Rochester was also one point ahead to start the day Saturday. Their game against Toronto FC II was delayed for over-an-hour due to bad weather, so for a brief period of time Charleston and Rochester both had 17 points. However, the Rhinos, who have also played an additional game, went on to finish the game and scored a winner in stoppage time to pick up the three points and stay in first place.
Like I mentioned up top, the biggest eye-raiser Saturday was the choice to go with both Cordoves and Kelly up top. Prince said gave the team a slightly different approach to the game, and he was glad to see both of the forwards in the lineup at the same time.
“It was one of those things that we worked on it in practice, it looked good and it helped us tonight. Both of those guys deserve to be in the lineup,” he said.
Besides that though, the rest of the lineup was as expected. Shawn Ferguson and Taylor Mueller once again shutdown the middle of the field, while Emmanuel Adjetey played left back and O’Brian Woodbine played on the right. Quinton Griffith usually plays on the right side with Woodbine on the left, but he had to have surgery on his knee on April 24th and will be out for about another month.
Woodbine played well, and nearly had an assist when he made a steal and played a ball to his countryman Kelly. Kelly beat the defender with one touch, but needed another to get around Thompson, who charged off his line to clear the ball. Adjetey had a good game as well, minus a bad stretch of touches in the second half where he turned the ball over to Pittsburgh. But for the most part he controlled his side of the field. It’s hard to be too critical when the defense basically stopped one of the highest-scoring sides in the league.
The midfield had most of the same players, but the addition of a forward meant the loss of the central attacking midfielder. That role has been held most matches by Ricky Garbanzo, with Memo Rodriguez making a start and several appearances as a substitute. Neither player started on Saturday, as Charleston played a solid line of four midfielders. Captain Jared van Schaik and Justin Portillo have been used this season as the two defensive midfielders — the ‘2’ in the 4-2-3-1 formation — and they played next to one another again Saturday.
Zach Prince and Maikel Chang played on the outside, and both made huge contributions. Chang continued his excellent play with an assist and a skillful move that helped set up the third goal, and Prince scored for the third consecutive game. Both Prince and Anhaeuser talked about the work ethic of the team, and how it was responsible for the success so far this season. Charleston is 5-0-2 after Saturday’s win.
“We came out very strong with Dane and Cordoves for the first time and they did a good job together. The guys are really pushing each other,” Anhaeuser said. “They’re pushing one another on the field and on the practice field. It’s been great to work with right now and we just want to keep it going.”
Prince agreed, saying: “You can tell our work-rate is extremely, extremely high and that’s something that you can’t teach. Coach did a good job of putting guys in the right spots, guys that are willing to work and do the stuff that you don’t necessarily see, the stuff that isn’t glorified all the time, so I think that’s why we’ve been successful so far.”
The Riverhounds came into the game as one of the highest scoring teams in the league, but there was a catch. For whatever reason, Pittsburgh has yet to win a game on the road this season. But at home the team has gone 2-1-1, and two players have accounted for 10 of the team’s 16 goals.
Rob Vincent leads the USL in goals this season with six, and Kevin Kerr has added four of his own. But neither one was able to get anything going on offense Saturday. Charleston’s defense did a fantastic job of shutting down the Riverhounds’ attack and held them to a handful of scoring chances. Pittsburgh’s defense, meanwhile, had its hands full dealing with the constant pressure put on by Charleston’s forwards and midfielders.
Charleston always likes to counterattack, and that threat was amplified by having the two speedy options of Cordoves and Kelly up top. Kelly in particular had a couple of big breakaway chances. Goalkeeper Ryan Thompson did well coming out to cut off many of the chances, but the offensive pressure eventually proved too much for the Jamaican national team player and his defense.
13th minute, GOAL Charleston (Prince, assisted by Chang.)
Prince, who’s picture was coincidentally on the season ticket for Saturday’s game, opened the scoring early in the game with a gorgeous volley.
The opening sequence started when Cordoves drew two defenders towards his position on the left side of the field. He was able to get the ball by the pair and to Chang, who took a couple of touches in the box while shaking off a defender. Chang dribbled towards the touchline before crossing it back across goal, where Prince was waiting.
Prince volleyed it with his right foot as he fell, and the ball flew by Thompson. Prince has now scored three goals this season, one in each of the last three weeks. That places him in a three-way tie for Charleston’s leading scorer with Kelly and Cordoves.
“Zach’s doing a great job,” Anhaeuser said. “With a couple of guys being injured he stepped up and did exactly what we needed him to do — step up your game and make it tough on me with the decision on who plays.”
Prince said he goes into every game believing he can score a goal, and his confidence was high going into Saturday thanks to his scoring streak.
“I’m just doing what I’ve always done. I’ve gotten in some good spots and been able to finish,” he said. “That’s my role this week, it might change next week. Hopefully I can keep it going. If I can keep it going, great, but as long as we keep winning I don’t care.”
64th minute, GOAL Charleston (Kelly, assisted by Garbanzo.)
Charleston shifted back into its regular formation in the 64th minute when Garbanzo was brought on to replace Cordoves. The Coastal Carolina alum made an immediate impact that helped lead to the goal. Thompson played a ball to his left back from a goal kick, who in turn tried to pass to the center of the field. But Garbanzo and Kelly were playing up high and the pass was a slow roller.
Garbanzo ran up and tried to cut it off, and the rushed defender was unable to control the ball, so it fell to Kelly. Kelly quickly dribbled up field and took a shot from the edge of the box. Thompson had come off his line but was unable to get a hand on it and Kelly made it 2-0 with a clinical finish.
It was the kind of scrappy play that Garbanzo has been excelling in this season, and it happened less than a minute after he was brought onto the field. Anhaeuser has to love the options he has right now.
“Garbanzo went in the game and he kinda just nibbled the defender away and they turned it over and Dane picked it up and scored. Those are the little things we’re doing now and we’ve got to keep it going,” Anhaeuser said.
The formation might have changed after Cordoves was taken off, but the pressure did not ease off.
74th minute, GOAL Charleston (Marini, assisted by Boyd.)
Dante Marini, playing his second season with Charleston, scored his first goal in the 74th minute to put the game beyond any doubt. Chang made a nifty move on the sideline to escape a doubleteam and drove into the box. Once again, two defenders closed him down but he was able to kick the ball ahead before losing his footing. Navion Boyd was in position to scoop it up. Boyd and Marini had come on three minutes earlier to replace Prince and Kelly, respectively.
Boyd gathered it and quickly turned to face the goal, looking for a teammate. He found Marini, unmarked and standing near the penalty spot. Boyd’s lifted pass was placed perfectly, and Marini hit it home. As he celebrated his teammates ran forward to congratulate him.
Anhaeuser said the team’s reaction to the goal shows what kind of person Marini is.
“He’s one of those guys that is just great in the locker room and does everything he needs to do on and off the pitch and he’s a great friend to all the players. He’s just one of those guys that everyone gets along with. Even myself, you just can’t have anything bad to say about him.”
81st minute, GOAL Pittsburgh (Cabrilo, assisted by Earls.)
The Riverhounds finally got on the scoreboard with a nice header by Cabrilo in the 81st minute. Earls crossed the ball in from the left side and Cabrilo beat Forrest Lasso in the air for the goal. Lasso had been brought on to replace Mueller at centerback. The goal denied goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper the chance to move into first place in all-time clean sheets for the USL.
Charleston has a short rest and a busy week, as they play against FC Montreal in Canada on Thursday (4 p.m.) and then go to play the New York Red Bulls II on Sunday (7 p.m.). The Canadian trips always gives Charleston logistical headaches because those players who defected from Cuba are not allowed to cross the border because they do not have a passport. That means Cooper, Chang and Cordoves will be unavailable.
Kevin Corby will likely get the start in goal, and Anhaeuser said after Saturday’s game that Marini and Lasso will both play on Thursday.
Charleston will return to Blackbaud Stadium on May 23rd for a 7:30 p.m. meeting with the Charlotte Independence. Charlotte fans are expected to travel down, so it should be a fun atmosphere.
Despite the nearby tropical weather, fans did not stay away from Blackbaud Stadium. Heavy rains appeared during the tailgate but, almost miraculously, disappeared in time for the march and not a single drop of rain fell during the game. The Battery sponsored a FIFA tournament on Friday at My Father’s Mustache in Mt. Pleasant, and it drew a large field of competitors. There are expected to be more in the future, so keep checking the Battey’s website and Facebook page for more information. Check out our gallery.
Top photo credit: Charleston Battery/Vin Duffy