Forward Heviel Cordoves‘ 90th-minute blast earned Charleston a share of the points in their first meeting of the year with Orlando, but that’s not really the story of last night’s match.
Instead, this match story is brought to you by the numbers 18, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 16.
That’s how many shots the Battery put toward 20-year-old Lions goalkeeper Jon Kempin, a homegrown product of the Sporting Kansas City youth system making his sixth start of the year.
To put that in context, Orlando managed just nine shots in roughly 97 minutes of play. So while the visiting team worked hard to clog things up for the Battery — and credit them for making things difficult — Charleston controlled the flow of the game and got plenty of chances. Any time you can out-shoot your opponent 2-to-1, you’ve got to figure that a win is within your grasp.
That’s how many points the Battery have earned in their past four matches, all draws. That stretch includes a frustrating scoreless result against VSI Tampa Bay at Blackbaud Stadium two weeks ago.
The point maintained the Battery’s seven-point deficit to league-leading Orlando, but also allowed Charlotte to move into fourth place in the table with 28 points. The Lion’s have been slumping lately, with just two points in their last three matches, but Charleston has been treading water while the top of the league standings have grown increasingly congested. Only three points now separate Charleston from the team holding the eighth and final playoff spot.
“It’s so disappointing,” Charleston Coach Mike Anhaeuser said. “We played a fantastic first 45 minutes, and Dane had three, four chances, Nicki, Mike, what a good save on Mike Azira’s and Nicki’s shot in the first half. We were getting in behind them, we were really putting them under pressure. And that’s what’s we wanted to do.
“It stunk that the game was 0-0, because I’m sure they would have taken a 0-0 draw, and I know they’re happy as hell to get out of here with a point. ”
That’s how many offsides calls went against the Battery Friday night.
We don’t have a video replay board at Blackbaud Stadium so it’s hard to say that all of these calls were incorrect. I’m sure some of them were proper. But a questionable offsides call early in the match ruined a two-pass gem of direct, precise, creative football. Not only did it prevent forward Dane Kelly from taking a 1v1 chance against Kempin, it also helped set a tone that kept the Battery bottled up for much of the night.
In the ninth minute, midfielder Jose Cuevas took the ball on the left sideline and spotted right winger Quinton Griffith open across the field just past the midline. His perfect pass shifted the Orlando defense and opened a lane for Kelly, who was lurking behind the high line. Griffith read it instantly and lifted a well-placed ball over the defense. With the ball in the air, Kelly burst forward and left the Lions behind.
But the flag went up.
The reason I’m calling this one out — other than the fact that all three Battery players involved appeared to play their parts perfectly — was that I was standing on the sideline shooting the match in the 9th minute, and this play unfolded in front of me as if I were the sideline official. So color me unconvinced.
The night finished with six offside calls against Charleston and two against Orlando. Given the Lions’ conservative approach to last night’s match, that’s no surprise. But it does tell a big part of the story. Last night, the officials shut down Route One.
That’s Orlando defender Bryan Burke‘s number, and the 24-year-old first-year-player has been an unsung stalwart in USL PRO this season. Coming into Friday night’s match, Burke had made 14 appearances and led the Lions in minutes played with 1,255 minutes played. He had shared that minutes-played honor with defender Yann Songo’o until last week, when Sporting Kansas City cut him, ending his loan to Orlando.
In the fourth minute, Burke made run down the right sideline into Charleston territory, where a pass found him matched up one-on-one in space against Charleston left back Emmanuel Adjetey. Adjetey’s hard — but clean — sliding tackle got ball, but Burke crumpled after the collision and stayed down for almost five minutes before leaving the match in the 9th minute. His replacement, Erik Ustruck, isn’t chopped liver, but the injury left an already depleted Orlando unit looking just a bit more sketchy.
Orlando didn’t really bunker until the final minutes of the second half, but their fullback seldom wound up in the attacking position Burke reached in the game’s early going.
For what it’s worth, seven is also the total number of shots credited to Dane Kelly, who once again worked his ass off, but uncharacteristically lost his finishing touch. In the 86th minute his header in front of the south goal soared over the backstop and out of the stadium.
“I think I was anxious to score, and my shot was off,” said Kelly, who missed the Battery’s previous match while working out a visa issue in his native Jamaica. “Everyone out there was off. Next week I’m going to score.”
That’s the number of saves the official scorekeeper credited to Kempin (seven), plus Orlando’s play-of-the-night. It was a head-away save turned in by diminutive midfielder Jonathan Mendoza, who snuck in at the far post to clear Kelly’s wicked header in the 22nd minute.
Who knows why Charleston seems to bring out the best in visiting keepers (two have won USL PRO Player of the Week honors after trips to Charleston)? But let’s give credit where it’s due: Kempin will have to be considered for the award now, too.
Even the sequence that ended with Mendoza saving the one first-half shot that got past Kempin began with a spectacular play by the young netminder. Less than a minute before Mondoza’s big play, a brilliant dummy on a through-ball from the left sideline left Nicki Paterson with room to attack. His central strike required a dramatic diving save that palmed the ball out for a corner, which Cuevas played in perfectly to Kelly — who beat the charging Kempin, but not the lurking Mendoza.
Instant replay might well have shown that Mendoza’s save came from well-inside the goal line, but no ref on Planet Earth is going to call that live.
For his part, Battery goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper was called on a bit more frequently than usual, recording three saves on nine shots. He looked confused, however, on the strange corner kick that gave Orlando its only goal of the evening.
Adjetey screened off a threatening Orlando counterattack in the 55th minute, conceding the Lions a set piece from the right corner rather than attempting to clear the ball in a dangerous situation. The resulting corner appeared to be miss-hit, arriving low and less than a yard in front of the near post. Cooper stepped toward the near post to counter the threat, but it nicked past him and bounced all the way across the face of the goal, where defender Rob Valentino tapped in at the far post.
Up in the West Stands, where a loyal group of Orlando fans had made more noise for the visitors than the home crowd had made for Charleston all game, someone set off a smoke bomb.
That’s how many men Orlando had left after midfielder Adama Mbengue lost his cool during a confrontation in front of the Charleston bench and punched would-be peacemaker Jose Cuevas. Paterson and Griffith had gotten in an argument with some Lions players, Cuevas said Saturday afternoon, and “I went in there to break things up. and he punched me in the throat.” The hostility caught Cuevas off-guard, as he and Mbengue had been playing on opposite sides of the field and hadn’t even had the opportunity to get on each other’s nerves.
Said Anhaeuser: “It was kinda silly on their guy’s part, because that really put them under pressure. We had something go for us finally with the referees. ”
Down a man and up a goal, Orlando bunkered into its final third, clogging up lanes and playing to close the game out. After about 10 minutes of trying to work the ball in, Anhaeuser rolled the dice on a full-out assault, sending in forward Heviel Cordoves to replace central defender Cody Ellison. The substitution left Colin Falvey patrolling big swaths of space, with fullbacks Mark Wiltse and Emmanuel Adjetey playing up near the midline to support the attack.
Though Anhaeuser’s all-in gamble ultimately paid off with an equalizer, it almost surrendered a second goal twice between the 77th and 79th minutes.
Cooper killed the final threat in the 79th with a quality save, but the Battery’s biggest defensive play of the night came in the 77th. An Orlando clearance came out to the right wing just across the midline, and Ajetey’s high challenge allowed the winger to slip past him, launching a 3-on-2 Lions counterattack into the empty right half of the field. With two Lions running the channels in front of him, and with Battery right back Mark Wiltse effectively out of the play, Falvey calculated the angles, picked a spot — and then reacted perfectly to the entry pass to kick it clear and kill the threat.
That’s the jersey number worn by Heviel Cordoves, who earned his second Man of the Match honor Friday night. In both instances, Cordoves came on as a second-half sub and reversed the Battery’s fate.
After Paterson’s yellow card for a frustrated, studs-up challenge in the 83rd minute, the game took on the look of a siege, with Orlando in a defensive crouch and the Battery banging away in search of vulnerabilities. Even Falvey came across midfield. Yet despite multiple near-misses, the Battery appeared to be headed to a humiliating defeat. The fourth official had already called for three minutes of stoppage time and the clock had reached 90.
Which is when Cordo stepped up.
Orlando had already blocked one shot by the big Cuban striker, and he had found scant room to operate with his back to the goal above the penalty area. But somehow Cordoves came up with a loose ball, moved quickly under pressure, and unleashed his big left leg from range. The ball rose swiftly, deflected off a defender on its way, and curled the net at the back post.
The shot silenced the Orlando fans and turned Blackbaud into a bedlam. With his teammates mobbing him, Cordoves ran toward the West Stands, waving his arms to egg the fans on, then stopped just in front of the Charleston bench and — with his teammates jumping on his shoulders — hiked up his shorts and pointed at his big left thigh.
That’s what’s called making a statement.
“I’m happy for Heviel,” Anhaeuser said. “He had a couple of rough goes (disappointing starts against Rochester and Tampa Bay), and that’s great that he came in, because he’s got a shot, he hit it and it deflected in.”
Cordoves has been one of the Battery’s most intriguing players, picking up three goals and an assist and making five starts without ever going the full 90. He has flashed brilliance — leading the Battery back from a one-goal deficit against Charlotte — but lacks the speed and fitness to play the Dane Kelly role the team has grown accustomed to from its lone forward. On the other hand, he’s been one of the Battery’s most reliably dangerous substitutes.
I spoke with Cordoves on the field after the game and asked him to describe what happened with the goal. Sadly, my Spanish is so poor I’ve not been able to translate his reply yet.
Charleston pushed for a game winner in stoppage time, and Cordoves was one of the players who had a scant chance to put up a second goal.
Afterward, the story of the match looked like this to me: The Battery largely outplayed the Lions, who came to town without three of the stars who propelled them to the top of the league table, but weren’t able to finish the chances their performance generated. Anhaeuser agreed, and spoke about next week’s match at Orlando in optimistic terms.
Paterson, however, was in a more critical mood. Was there more to the story than chances that went unfinished?
“Yeah,” said the veteran Scot. “Being patient, and not just snatching at chances. When you’ve got an extra man, just be a bit more patient. Work a little bit more for that extra pass. Some guys are just trying to do it all themselves. Be a bit more composed. We were way back here passing balls out of bounds in the last five minutes. It’s not good enough.”
Man of the Match
The Battery’s Man of the Match always goes to a Charleston player. Mine doesn’t. Rochester goalkeeper Kristian Nicht has gotten my award twice.
And while Cordoves certainly earned a claim to the title with his clutch finish at the end of regulation, my call for the player who contributed the most this week has to go to Quinton Griffith. The Antiguan continued his determined, focused play on Friday night, and though he didn’t break through with a goal or one of his trademark eye-popping runs, he was trouble for Orlando every time he touched the ball. The official stat-keeper credited him with two shots, but my notes give him at least three strikes from distance, with two that bent wide of the far post in the first half and another that sailed over the cross bar a few minutes before he subbed out for Zach Prince in the 84th minute.
“Yeah, I was hot,” said Griffith, who also agreed that his demeanor has changed in recent weeks.
“Well, I was injured before,” he said. “I just .. made it up to my mind that I’m going hard the next time I got back in, and I guess that’s what I’m doing. I’m determined and very persistent.”
Said Anaheuser: “He’s key for us. They don’t defend well on that left side. They attack well, but they don’t defend well. So he’s a guy, he had three or four shots in the first half, he hit the post just on the save, and a couple of crosses. If he can spark it up, he’s going to be that guy who’s going to get four, five, six goals down the stretch. I’m trying to get him to get that confidence to do it. ”
Meanwhile, in the parking lot…
Friday was the biggest Regiment tailgate of the season so far. Grillmaster Mike Ross cooked 20 pounds of ribs on a night when the menu also included Brunswick Stew, hotdogs and a big Lowcountry Boil.
This was largely the result of hosting a large group of Orlando fans, who seemed like nice enough folks. They travel well, they marched from the the parking lot through the stands to the their seats singing holding a banner, and they earned plenty of respect for singing so loudly and with such stamina that I had to crane in to hear what one of the other photographers was saying to me on the sidelines in the early minutes.
Afterward, a bunch of fans from both teams met at Madra Rua Park Circle to watch the U.S friendly against Guatamala — this time wearing the same American Outlaws gear.
Anyway, the next chapter in this Charleston-Orlando drama will be played out next Thursday in Orlando.
TOP IMAGE: Orlando defender Rob Valentino hits the turf as Charleston forward Dane Kelly tries to run down a long pass in the early minutes. Dan Conover photos.