Two road games. Zero goals, zero points. It was not a good weekend for the Charleston Battery, which had a chance to move into first place in the USL East but instead fell to third.
Charleston lost first to Toronto FC II, and then the Rochester Rhinos, both with the same scoreline: 1-0. If Charleston had been able to win both games they would have overtaken the Rhinos who sit atop the table, but Rochester has further distanced themselves and it will take a major collapse for anyone to catch them.
Rochester now has 43 points through 19 games, while Charleston has 34 through 20 games. Louisville City FC jumped Charleston for second place with their 3-1 win over Wilmington on Saturday. They have 35 points and have played two fewer games than the Battery.
So, things did not go the way coach Mike Anhaeuser and the team wanted. The Battery had only lost two games all season — then lost two in three days. However, the sky isn’t falling. The team was missing several starters against Toronto because of international travel restrictions, and Rochester’s defense continues to amaze.
The Rhinos have only allowed six (!!) goals all season, and zero at home. To put that into perspective, Louisville has the next-fewest goals allowed with 16. Charleston has allowed 19. So when Steevan Dos Santos scored for Rochester in the 10th minute Sunday, the Battery knew that to win, they would have to do something nobody has been able to do this season.
There were five changes in the starting roster from Friday to Sunday. Friday saw starts from backup keeper Kevin Corby, midfielders Memo Rodriguez, Zach Prince and Sebastian Thuriere and center back Forrest Lasso. The players who were unable to travel to Canada — Odisnel Cooper, Maikel Chang, Heviel Cordoves, and Navion Boyd — flew up to New York to rejoin the team, and Sunday’s game featured a normal, full-strength lineup.
10th minute, GOAL Rochester (Dos Santos, assisted by Walls.)
Dos Santos finished a nice sequence in the 10th minute by tapping in the only goal of the game. Tony Walls made a run on the right side of the box, cut inside and played a ball across to Dos Santos.
Walls’ pass got by center back Shawn Ferguson and Dos Santos was able to put in the net despite being marked by the other center back, Taylor Mueller.
Battery tries to respond
Anhaeuser made a tactical change in the second half by bringing on Heviel Cordoves in place of Ricky Garbanzo in the 58th minute. Cordoves and Dane Kelly teamed up as two forwards, a combination that has been sparingly seen this season. But the regular plan wasn’t working, so it was a good move to change the shape and strategy.
Quinton Griffith replaced Boyd at halftime, and Sebastian Thuriere and Dante Marini also came on with about 20 minutes to play. Ultimately, however, Rochester’s defense was too much for the Battery to break down and they struggled to create chances for most of the afternoon.
It is likely that a team will have to go through Rochester if they want to play for the USL Championship this season, so Charleston will have to figure out how to crack the defense if they end up meeting for a third time this season.
OK, but what about Friday’s game?
Friday was the opposite of Sunday. Charleston created chance-after-chance and could have had multiple goals just by halftime. Toronto goalkeeper Quillan Roberts turned in a great performance, recording eight saves on the night.
It seemed inevitable that Charleston was going to score, especially after a dominant first half. However, every missed chance and every save gave the home team a little more hope. Then, in the 89th minute, Skylar Thomas put them ahead.
89th minute, GOAL Toronto (Thomas, assisted by Babouli.)
Thomas headed home the game-winner from a free kick from Molham Babouli. Jarad van Schaik was called for a foul on Manuel Aparico on the right side of the field, a few yards outside of the box.
Babouli took the free kick and was easily able to clear the two-man wall of Marini and Rodriguez and found the 6-foot-4 Thomas in the box. He headed the ball down into the left corner of the net for the goal.
Charleston has to regroup, and has a good chance to do so when FC Montreal comes to town on Saturday. Montreal has struggled this season, but found its form recently before having a three-game winning streak snapped by Charlotte on Friday. Before that streak, Montreal had only one win all season. But that win? It was against Charleston on May 14.
Montreal won that meeting 1-0, and like the game Friday against Toronto, the Battery was without several players. Still, it was a game the Battery really should have won. With a full team and on their home field, the odds favor Charleston, but you never know. Montreal has played its best soccer of the season lately, while Charleston just suffered its first consecutive losses of the season.
Seven days later the Battery will host Saint Louis FC at home, then go to Missouri for a second game against the same team on Thursday. That begins Charleston’s longest stretch away from home of the year — four games. The regular season concludes with two home games in mid-September. The top-seed is likely out of reach for Charleston, but they can still lock up second, which will grant them a first-round bye in the playoffs, and homefield advantage until/unless they meet Rochester again.
Top photo: Defender Shawn Ferguson battles for the ball with a Rhino on Sunday. Credit Rochester Rhinos.