By Corbin Ensminger
A lot has been made of the depth on Charleston’s roster so far this season, and that was put to the test on Sunday when the Battery had to face Wilmington with a roster missing some key players.
Granted, the situation is far from a crisis and squad rotation is normal, but it was going to be interesting to see where coach Mike Anhaeuser put the healthy players with two regular starters unable to play. It seems, right now at least, that the bench is indeed deep enough to step up when starting players are unavailable, as Charleston remained undefeated on the year after beating the Hammerheads 2-1 in the afternoon game in North Carolina.
The biggest news from the days in between games was on the injury front. Quinton Griffith and Justin Portillo were both unavailable for Sunday. Griffith, who had just returned last week for his first appearance since being injured in the season-opener, had an issue with his knee that required an operation. More on that later on.
Portillo picked up a groin injury against the New York Red Bulls II last week so he was out on Sunday as well.
Fortunately for the Battery, they have a plethora of quality players to choose from. The team was also boosted by the return of captain Jared van Schaik, who missed the last game with an injury. He returned to his defensive midfield position. Sebastian Thuriere teamed up with him by filling Portillo’s usual role.
Thuriere made his first start for Charleston last week in place of van Schaik and looked good, providing an additional aerial threat. However, he was taken off after only 21 minutes Sunday in favor of Memo Rodriguez. It didn’t look like Thuriere was injured, so Anhaeuser must have been unhappy with the way he was playing or recognized that Rodriguez made more sense tactically.
Rodriguez has been used up top this season, in the same role that Ricky Garbanzo plays, the central midfielder who chases down balls and puts pressure on defenders. This was the first time the two players shared the field, as they have been used interchangeably (although Garbanzo is the regular starter).
The 19-year-old Rodriguez scored the only goal in Charleston’s draw with NYRBII last week, and after the game Anhaeuser said the player prefers to play in a deeper midfield spot than he was used, but he is so good with the ball at his feet that Anhaeuser felt good plugging him in up top. Well, Rodriguez was definitely playing deeper on Sunday, but still got forward to create the Battery’s second goal.
As for the rest of the lineup, it was mostly the same. The back four consisted of Emmanuel Adjetey at left back and Obi Woodbine at right back, with Shawn Ferguson and Taylor Mueller as the center backs, where they have played every minute of every game this season.
Dane Kelly started as the lone striker, while Garbanzo, Maikel Chang and Zach Prince were the three attacking midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 formation, and the team continued to attack fluidly. Chang was especially effective, racking up a goal and an assist. He should have had two goals, but his penalty shot was saved in the 4th minute.
24th minute, goal Charleston (Prince, assisted by Chang)
The opening goal of the match came on a fast counterattack. Ferguson headed a ball clear to end Wilmington’s attack, and the ball was booted to midfield where Kelly chested it down and played it back to Chang. Chang carried the ball about 35 yards, crossing midfield in the process, and then played a beautiful ball through the air and across the field.
The pass bypassed all of Wilmington’s defense and found Prince making a run. Prince took a soft touch, let the ball bounce on the turf, and then blasted it into the upper right corner where goalkeeper Andre Rawls had no chance of a save. It was one of the best goals you will see, not just in USL but any level. The ball from Chang was perfect, and Prince’s ability to control the ball and put it in the perfect spot was amazing, especially on Wilmington’s turf field.
It was the fourth assist of the season for Chang, who has looked really good this year. Chang, now in his third season in Charleston, has improved every year and is one of the most creative players on the field. His field vision is impressive, as he is able to pick out runners, like Prince on the goal, from far across the field and then get the ball to them in just the right spot. Chang has had several passes this season that have made you stand up and say “wow.”
28th minute, goal Charleston (Chang, assisted by Rodriguez)
Charleston stretched it lead to 2-0 just four minutes later, thanks to a great hustle play from Rodriguez.
Prince played a ball in to the box to Garbanzo that was won back by Wilmington’s defense. However, Rodriguez intercepted a pass that was intended to get the ball out of the box. His deflection sent the ball rolling towards the touchline, where Andre Campbell ran it down.
Rodriguez never gave up on the play. While Campbell was using his body to shield the ball and let it roll out of bounds for a goal kick, Rodriguez stuck a foot in and stole the ball. He was able to take a few touches right down the line against Wilmington’s off-guard defense.
He crossed it into the box where Rawls dove out and deflected the ball away. Unfortunately for the home team, the ball landed right at the feet of an unmarked Chang, who calmly finished and made it 2-0.
59th minute, goal Wilmington (Ashani Fairclough, assisted by Nick Zimmerman)
Despite the two goals within four minutes of each other, Wilmington looked really good for stretches of the game, especially between Charleston’s goals and midway through the second half. The Hammerheads moved the ball around well when they kept possession. They had one of their best stretches of the first half after the opening goal, and they looked likely to answer — until Rodriguez’s great play set Chang up for the Battery’s momentum-killing second goal.
However, Wilmington was able to keep pressing Charleston and came out in the second half with renewed energy. The Hammerheads controlled the ball and you could sense that a really good chance was coming. Sunny Jane took a corner kick in the 59th minute that fell to Zimmerman, who in turn immediately played the ball behind him where Fairclough ran forward and slammed it into the net.
Here’s the goal in GIF form. That backheel pass is gorgeous. Nothing Cooper could do about that play.
— USL (@USL) April 26, 2015
Wilmington had the visitors on the ropes after the goal, but Charleston’s defense stayed composed and didn’t allow another. Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper made a couple of important saves in the process, and substitutions helped Charleston keep its legs fresh. Dante Marini came on for Prince in the 75th minute and added a counterattacking threat, as well as energy to chase down loose balls and track back on defense. Austin Savage was also brought on for Garbanzo, and Forrest Lasso made his professional debut when he replaced Kelly in stoppage time. Lasso is a defender, but at that point any body would do.
— Griffith’s operation on his knee appears to have gone well. Basically, he had something floating in his knee, maybe caused by a previous injury. It’s not clear yet when he will return, but the general prognosis for recovery from this type of surgery is usually better than repairs to ligament tears. Griffith has played great when he has been able to take the field this year, and hopefully this will allow him to play without any nagging pain.
— The Houston Dynamo released center back Oumar Ballo on Friday, complicating his situation with Charleston. Ballo is the only player that the Dynamo has loaned to Charleston thus far, but now it will be hard for the Battery to keep him since they would have to sign him to a contract and pay his wages. It remains to be seen if another MLS team will pick Ballo up, but as of Tuesday afternoon no one had. It’s interesting to note that Ballo made the trip to Wilmington Sunday, although he could not have played as he was not under contract. We’ll keep an eye on that situation.
— Charleston improves to 4-0-1 this season, and sits at second place in the East at 13 points. Richmond and Rochester are ahead with 14 points each, but they have both played one more game than Charleston. And the Battery’s trip to Richmond next Saturday is looming as big game this early in the season. After all, Richmond ended Charleston’s season in the playoffs last year, so there are definitely some hard feelings.
— Chang was named to the USL team of the week for his performance Sunday. It was his first time earning the honor this season. Griffith has been named in both games in which he has played, and Kelly, Cordoves, Mueller and Portillo have each made it once.
Sunday’s match was the second road game of the season, so it was time for the second viewing part at The Sparrow. About 20 or so fans came out to the bar in Park Circle to watch the game, which I think is a good crowd for a Sunday afternoon.
There was another cool event happening after the game connected to the team. Local band First World Problem was recording a music video for “We the Fleet,” the Battery fight song the band recorded. The band hired a professional camera crew to make the video, and, standing on stage decked out in Battery jerseys with Regiment and Queen Anne’s Revenge banners draped around the stage, they played “We the Fleet” over-and-over again so the cameramen could get plenty of shots.
After a while, everyone wearing Battery gear was called up on stage to stand around the band while they performed the song. It was pretty dang cool to see a band rocking out while wearing Battery jerseys. The more the team becomes part of local culture the more popular it will become, and this song is a heck of a way to kickstart that. There will be more shoots coming up, so stay tuned to the group’s Facebook page for more information.
Top photo credit: Wilmington Hammerheads FC