The Charleston Battery locked up third place in the USL Eastern Conference with an exciting 3-1 win over a Charlotte team fighting for its playoff life on Saturday.
Charleston was already assured of a playoff spot, but exactly what seed they would have was still up in the air as the last regular-season game began. There were numerous scenarios, but it boiled down to this: A Charleston win would guarantee them a home playoff game.
The Independence wasn’t going to just let that happen, as they had to manage at least a draw to make the playoffs in their inaugural season. It was a good game to watch, as both teams went for the win. There was even history made, as Dane Kelly became the USL’s all-time leading goalscorer with his volleyed strike in the second half. The win also gave Charleston the Southern Derby Cup for the first time since 2011. The fan-created trophy is contested among Charleston, Charlotte and Wilmington and is based on the results in certain match-ups.
It has been a return to form for the Battery, which went through a rough stretch of games in July and August, during which they earned only two points in six games. But in the four matches since, Charleston gained 10 points, with three wins and one draw. Coach Mike Anhaeuser said the team is in good shape.
“We’re closing teams down and getting chances. We could’ve had three or four goals there and teams open up against us,” he said. “The playoffs are a different animal. We’ve got to be ready and go in there and make sure we’re sharp and carrying in this form, because the guys did a great job.”
Charleston will host the Richmond Kickers in the first round of the playoffs, the same team that knocked them out of the postseason in Virginia last year. That game starts at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 26. The winner will play at Louisville the following weekend.
We talked about the Battery’s match-up. But what about the rest of the bracket? In the East, top-seeded Rochester awaits the winner of the New York Red Bulls II/Pittsburgh game. The winner of the game in Rochester will play Louisville City or Charleston/Richmond.
The Orange County Blues clinched the Western Conference regular season top spot with a 0-0 draw with Sacramento on Tuesday night. If Sacramento had won, they would have finished in first place. The six playoff teams from the West finished within five points of each other.
Oklahoma City locked up the other first-round bye in the West. Sacramento and LA Galaxy II will play for the right to face Orange County, while Colorado Springs and Seattle Sounders II also face-off in the first round.
Now, let’s take a look at Saturday’s win over Charlotte.
Charleston: GOAL: Cooper. DEF: Adjetey, Ferguson, Mueller, Griffith. MID: Chang, Portillo, van Schaik, Garbanzo, Prince. FWD: Kelly.
Richmond: GOAL: Berner. DEF: Jerome, Slogic, Duckett, Kalungi. MID: Riberio, Jackson, Martinez, Del Piccolo, Alvarez. FWD: Finley.
17th minute, GOAL Charleston (Portillo, unassisted)
The Battery was awarded a free kick just outside of the box for a handball when Chang tried to lift a ball through a group of defenders. Portillo took the kick and decided to take his chances. The result was a beautiful goal delivered to the upper corner.
It was Portillo’s sixth goal of the season. The midfielder has been in fine form lately, as four of those goals have come in the last six games. And in one of those games, the contest against Louisville, he only played two minutes as a sub.
The opening goal coming so early opened the game up, Anhaeuser said, and allowed Charleston to find more space to counterattack Charlotte.
48th minute, GOAL Charleston (Kelly, unassisted)
Kelly became the all-time leading scorer for the USL just after halftime with his amazing goal scored from a few yards outside of the box. The official statistics don’t credit him, but Taylor Mueller played a long ball out of the back towards Kelly to start the play.
A Charlotte defender tried to head the ball away, but it instead fell down to Kelly, who ran up to it and volleyed it after letting it bounce once. The ball flew in, beating goalkeeper John Berner in the lower left corner.
The goal was Kelly’s 42nd all-time in the USL, which put him ahead of Richmond’s Matthew Delicate. That’s right, Saturday’s playoff game will feature the two leading goalscorers in league history. So maybe the record isn’t quite set in stone yet.
78th minute, GOAL Charlotte (Calvert, unassisted)
It seemed that Charlotte was making a game of it when they drew a goal back with 12 minutes left in regulation. The play began with a speedy run down the flank. Right back Quinton Griffith went down while trying to dispossess the ball carrier, but there was no foul.
The ball went into the box and Emmanuel Adjetey had to clear two balls off of the goal line. However, the ball bounced out to Caleb Calvert, who was able to shoot it by everyone and into the goal. You would think this would spark the Independence back to life, as they needed just one more goal to give themselves a playoff spot. However…
79th minute, GOAL Charleston (Garbanzo, assisted by Boyd)
Just over a minute later, the Battery scored again to seal the deal. Navion Boyd scooped up the ball on a defensive turnover and quickly played the ball to fellow substitute Dante Marini, who was making a run into the box on the right side. Berner came off of his line to attempt the save but Marini poked it by him to make it 3-1.
— The attendance Saturday was 4,543, a big number considering that the South Carolina Gamecocks were playing a football game at the same time. That number is important, because it pushed the season-average over 4,000 for the first time ever. The average for the regular season was 4,079. The previous record of 3,991 has stood since 2008.
— Kelly was named to the USL team of the week for his goal. It was his fifth time this season making the team, which is the most of any Battery player this year.
— Anhaeuser said his team’s goal was to not allow more than two goals over the final four matches of the season. Well, they succeeded, allowing exactly two. (The one against Charlotte Saturday and one in the draw with Pittsburgh.) That defensive focus will be a big help in the playoffs if they can maintain it.
— Austin Savage (ankle) and Heviel Cordoves (hamstring) were both listed as doubtful for the game against Charlotte. It remains to be seen if they will be able to feature again this season. O’Brian Woodbine recently returned to health from his injury, but has not been used yet.
Top photo: Charlotte’s Enzo Martinez looks over his shoulder while Zach Prince, left, and Jarad van Schaik watch his movement. Photo credit: Charleston Battery.