There’s no way around it, the Charleston Battery’s first big road trip of the season got off to a bad start north of the border.
The team, already depleted because of international travel laws, lost 1-0 to FC Montreal on Thursday — a team that had a record of 0-0-5 going into the game and had not held a lead all season.
The Battery came back to the U.S. on Sunday for a meeting with the NY Red Bulls II, and it looked like they would be coming home with zero points gained until Justin Portillo converted a penalty kick in the 90th minute to salvage a 1-1 draw and a point.
Charleston remains in second place in the East, three points behind Rochester and two points ahead of third-place Richmond. All three teams have played nine games.
Since the two games were so close together, I’m combining them into one post. Let’s start with the Montreal game.
Montreal 1, Charleston 0
Charleston always has personnel problems when it has to play in Canada because of the fact that certain players are not allowed to leave the country because of international travel laws. For example, six Battery players couldn’t go to Montreal: Odisnel Cooper, Navion Boyd, Heviel Cordoves, Maikel Chang, Emmanuel Adjetey, and O’Brian Woodbine.
The roster was so depleted that Houston sent two additional players to Charleston and the Battery still only had four substitutes on the bench. All would be used eventually.
The loss of several starters was not entirely to blame for the poor performance on Thursday, but it was definitely a major factor. The team lacked the creativity on offense with Chang out, and the team has also relied on its full backs to make runs down the wings and cross balls in. Adjetey and Woodbine have been starting in those spots lately, and neither one was available Thursday.
Houston loaned two additional players for the game: goalkeeper Michael Lisch and defender AJ Cochran. Cochran, who played three seasons at the University of Wisconsin, was drafted by Houston in 2014. Lisch, also picked up that same year by the Dynamo, made 17 appearances last season, all for USL side Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The Riverhounds defense struggled, but Lisch, who is now the third choice keeper for Houston, was the best goalkeeper on the roster, and the team went 7-7-3 when he played.
Houston didn’t send their guys all the way to Canada to sit on the bench, so Lisch got the start in net while Cochran was used as a center back along with Shawn Ferguson. Taylor Mueller, who has been Ferguson’s fellow center back to start every game this season, was moved over to left back, and Zach Prince rounded out the back four at right back. Overall, the defense played well considering that two brand new players were injected so soon before the game.
In the midfield, Jarad van Schaik and Sebastian Thuriere played as the central defending midfielders, while Memo Rodriguez played left mid with Ricky Garbanzo in the center and Dante Marini on the right. Dane Kelly was the striker up top.
Looking at the lineup as a whole, we see that every player, except for the two new Houston loanees, has played significant minutes this season as part of the regular squad rotation that coach Mike Anhaeuser has employed this season.
Charleston actually started off the afternoon looking like a team that was going to dominate the winless Montreal. The visitors controlled the possession, and Thuriere hit the post in the fourth minute. I had the feeling of inevitability watching it. Of course Charleston was going to score, and soon. The only question was how many goals.
But Montreal did a good job of absorbing the pressure, and the defense never broke.
28th minute, GOAL Montreal (Beland-Goyette. Assisted by Williams.)
Montreal’s goal came from what should have been a routine play. Lisch collected the ball and prepared to boot it from his box. However, it looked like he misjudged the ball and ended up kicking the turf before the ball. As a result, the ball barely went anywhere and fell to the feet of Frederic Lajoie-Gravelle on the right side.
Mueller tried to catch up to him and take the ball back, but the Impact player had the extra step. He crossed the ball into the box where Romario Williams eventually collected it. Williams dribbled towards the goal but decided to lay the ball off for his teammate, Louis Beland-Goyette.
Beland-Goyette didn’t miss from that close up. He shot the ball into the bottom corner past Lisch for what was ultimately the winning goal.
Charleston looked frustrated by the mistake, and that only increased the longer the game went with the same scoreline. Montreal thwarted attack-after-attack, and would counter-attack quickly when they got possession back. The home team’s defense limited the Battery’s threat of playing the ball over-the-top to the speedsters by causing six offside calls.
Coming into the game, Montreal was allowing an average of two goals per game.
Things got hectic in the final minutes of the game. Anhaeuser used three of of his four available subs to try to spark the offense. (The fourth bench player was backup goalkeeper Kevin Corby.) Austin Savage came on for Rodriguez, Forrest Lasso replaced Thuriere, and Justin Portillo was put in while Cochran came off.
Charleston poured everything forward chasing the equalizer. Ferguson went up and tried to use his height advantage to win headers from crosses. Prince had the best chance of the game in stoppage time when a ball bounced into the box and the Montreal defense misjudged it. It fell to Prince, who had nobody between him and the goal except for keeper Maxime Crepeau.
But it was just not meant to be in this game, and Prince sent the ball sailing over the net. The game ended soon after as a 1-0 final and Charleston had to pick itself up and prepare for another game in a few days.
NYRB II 1, Charleston 1
Charleston traveled south to the home of the NYRBII on Sunday for the second game of the trip. The Montreal loss was the kind of frustrating loss that could’ve had a hangover effect. And it looked like it might have after the hosts scored an early goal. However, Charleston was awarded a penalty kick in the final minute of regulation and earned the very late point on the road.
The reinforcements were sent in for the second game in four days. Five of the six players who had to stay home for the game in Montreal flew up to Harrison, NJ to bolster the squad. The one player that did not make the trip was Cooper, as the Battery already had two goalkeepers in Lisch and Corby. Corby, Cooper’s usual backup, got the start in goal.
On defense, the backline was almost back to normal, except that Cochran filled in for Mueller at center back. Ferguson was there with him, and Adjetey and Woodbine were back in their regular full back spots. Anhaeuser decided to go with two forwards for the second time this season, and put Cordoves and Kelly up top. In the midfield were van Schaik, Portillo, Chang and Boyd.
6th minute, GOAL NYRBII (Abang, assisted by Obekop.)
Marius Obekop opened up the Battery’s defense after just a few minutes of play. He dribbled up the middle of the field after receiving a pass and then played a great ball to Anatole Abang through the legs of Ferguson. Cochran tried to muscle Abang off the ball, but lost his footing and tumbled to the ground. Corby tried to grab the ball, but Abang dribbled around his hands and was able to easily slide the ball into the goal.
The Red Bulls controlled the game early on and were easily winning the ball back when Charleston had it. It took a little while for the Battery to adjust to the pressure the hosts were applying.
90th minute, GOAL Charleston (Portillo, penalty.)
Kelly earned a penalty kick for his team when he was brought down in the box on a set piece. It looked like keeper Santiago Castano had made an easy catch, but the referee pointed to the spot, and Portillo stepped forward to take the kick.
There was a long delay while the referee took care of some business, and the Red Bulls’ defense eventually got into it with Portillo, Kelly and Prince after Kelly came over to get the defenders out of Portillo’s space.
The wait and talking didn’t have an effect on Portillo, however, and he calmly delivered the kick for the goal. The goal was a huge one for Charleston. It helped them regain their confidence and saved the road trip from being a complete disaster. A draw in that situation was a very good point for the team to pick up.
What’s up next?
Charleston doesn’t get much time to rest, as they are back in action Wednesday night against Miami United FC of the National Premier Soccer League in the U.S. Open Cup. That game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. and is Charleston’s first game in this year’s tournament. Then it’s another quick turnaround, as the Charlotte Independence comes to town for a Saturday evening clash.
At least this time Anhaeuser will have a full roster to choose from.
Top photo: Anthony Jackson-Hamel dribbles up field while Charleston’s Taylor Mueller chases after him. Photo credit: FC Montreal