This won’t be my usual game story, given that it comes a day after the event. And it won’t be my usual second-day game story either, as I just don’t have to say too much about this one. Plus you’ve probably already heard about the Battery’s disappointing and somewhat confusing 0-1 loss at Charlotte, and it’s not likely that you’re anxious to relive the experience.
But there is news to talk about, so let’s go over the basics and take it from there.
The game itself
This wasn’t a particularly enjoyable game to watch, and judging by the mood of the players afterward it wasn’t much fun to play, either. And the morning-after stats from the official USL PRO scorecard bear that out. Let the (somewhat dubious) record show that 90 minutes, plus seven combined minutes of stoppage time in the first and second half, produced a grand total of three shots on goal. By both teams.
If you were looking to understand the game in a single image, you basically have two choices. You can either choose to remember:
1. Charlotte defender Shaun Francis burying a quite-nice free kick around a six-man Battery wall from a spot just a hair outside the penalty box in the 65th minute — despite the outraged complaints of Battery Captain Colin Falvey and his teammates, or:
2. You can remember a furious Zach Prince standing over his freshly clobbered teammate Amadou Sanyang at midfield, holding up in protest the protective headgear Sanyang wears because of a history of concussions. The collision that knocked Sanyang out of the match on Tuesday also apparently sent his protective headgear flying.
And that was, for the most part, the game that I witnessed. Eleven shots (seven by the Battery), 25 fouls (13 called on the Eagles), and one goal off a free kick in the second half.
I’ll respectfully disagree with my colleague Nick Johnson, who watched the match from Molly Darcy’s on the livestream with a group of fans and reported that the group thought a second-half goal was inevitable. From where I was sitting (or standing, as the case may be), by late in the second half I thought I was watching a classic scoreless war of attrition. This was a game of midfield battles, long passes and thudding collisions, as far removed from the elegant first half of the Battery’s 4-2 win over Wilmington last Saturday as one could imagine.
Afterward, most of the Battery players looked dejected. Captain Colvin Falvey radiated righteous anger. Coach Mike Anhaeuser just seemed disgusted. Most nights I’m anxious to hear what they have to say about a match. Last night I would have gladly left them to their thoughts and walked away.
I can’t remember what stupid question I asked Anhaeuser afterward, but he responded, rhetorically, by asking how many saves goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper had on the night. We now know that the official answer was one, but saves are a subjective stat, and Anhaeuser’s artfully unstated point was that the Eagles had come away with three points on a night when they simply didn’t generate the offense typically required for a win.
As I’ve said before, I hate writing about officiating and I prefer to keep it in the background. But I have no idea what went into the call that set the Eagles up with their only memorable chance of the night. I’ll give Francis credit for converting it with style, but I don’t remember the ball being in the sustained possession of either team (as was the case much of the night) there in the chaotic scrum near the top of the box. And then the whistle blew.
What I saw looked like a bunch of players tangled up in a congested area, with no clear advantage, no break away, and no clear foul. No handball. No cheap shots. Then again, I wasn’t on the field with the perspective the officials had.
Afterward, Falvey said that the officials called the foul on Prince for shoving one of the Charlotte players. As we’ve mentioned here before, Prince is not above putting his hands on opponents, but the Battery players with a view of the action said that they believed the contact was initiated by an Eagles player running into Prince from behind, which knocked him forward in a chain-reaction. No amount of lobbying by Falvey affected the referee’s final decision, however, and the controversial call set the Eagles up with a set piece and the game-winner.
Falvey wasn’t done talking to the officials about the call when the game ended, either. There was a particular bitterness to this defeat.
Anhaeuser didn’t explicitly criticize anyone, and generally had good things to say about the team’s performance, although he did suggest the Battery came out a little sluggish to start off. But he was not a happy man, even as he kept things in perspective. “That’s how it goes on the road,” he said. “Now we just have to go back and start another winning streak.”
Injury to insult
The first big story of the night was actually who was seated in the bleachers at Queens University Stadium when the caravan of Battery fans rolled up from the postgame warm-up at Duckworth’s on Park Road (Tuesday night $3 drafts!). The suspended Cody Ellison (red card) was no surprise, and neither was the injured Bryce Alderson or (later) Ben Fisk. But midfielders Quinton Griffith and Maikel Chang were sitting there as well, and those were injuries I hadn’t known about (to be precise, I don’t know that Chang is hurt. He might just not have been active for the match).
Griffith indicated he had some kind of groin injury, and I never did catch what (if anything) was wrong with Chang, who started and played 45 minutes at Dayton but didn’t appear in Saturday’s home match.
We’ll follow up on them, but the biggest story of the night from my perspective wasn’t even the game. It was Amadou Sanyang‘s early departure.
In the 27th minute, Sanyang went airborne to win a Battery defensive clearance coming his way near the midway line. An Eagles player came in from an angle that seemed to be slightly behind him and to the side, and the two collided in midair. Sanyang immediately crumpled to the ground and clutched his head.
If you’ve been following Sanyang’s career, you know that he’s an immensely talented young defensive midfielder whose promising MLS career got derailed by a concussion in Toronto when he was still a teenager. When he arrived in Charleston in April 2012 he seemed to have put all that behind him, and he turned in a strong first year with the Battery as they won the USL PRO Championship. But he suffered another concussion on a play almost identical to the one we saw last night back on March 30th against the Carolina Railhawks, and it put him back on the sidelines.
By mid-April he was back to training with the team, but even though he cleared the medical protocols required to return to action, the Battery staff held him out of the home match against Pittsburgh. They deployed him only in second-half stoppage time at Harrisburg. Sanyang started and played 81 minutes at Dayton, then once again served as a stoppage-time sub against Wilmington. So the club seemed to be cautiously managing his minutes in the wake of the March 30th injury.
But as Sanyang — who strikes me as a nice young man — lay on the turf at Charlotte surrounded by his teammates and clutching his head, I felt a little sick to my stomach when Battery athletic trainer Bobby Weisenberger motioned to the sideline to start warming up a substitute. Sanyang stayed on the ground for three minutes, and left the field supported by Weisenberger and Nicki Paterson. Speaking with Weisenberger after the match it was clear that the Battery don’t know whether he suffered another concussion, and won’t for several days. But they’re treating anything to do with Sanyang’s head very carefully, as well they should.
Head injuries are cruel for anyone, but particularly for professional athletes who are otherwise at the peak of their physical prowess. Here’s hoping that Sanyang has no recurring symptoms and continues his recovery.
The aerial thing
One of the things Sanyang brings to the team is a wonderful ability to win 50-50 challenges on balls that arc into the midfield on clearances. But if there’s a weakness in the Battery’s game, it might just be that particular skill. Charleston typically hustles its way to possession in a lot of on-the-ground duels, but when the ball is in the air the edge often appears to go the other way. I noticed this for the first time against Wilmington, but once I noticed it, I kept seeing it at Charlotte. The Eagles simply won more aerial duels at midfield.
It’s not that the Battery lack height or players who can get vertical quickly. That’s Jarad van Schaik (Sanyang’s replacement last night) demonstrating some serious hang time in the photo on the right. And in the photo below, that’s Prince getting way up the air to block a pass by Francis. Taylor Mueller, Cody Ellison and Shaun Ferguson are all tall, strong, powerful defenders who can get up and snap headers with authority.
But winning headers is about more than strength and leaping ability. I saw several balls get past Battery players, both in the midfield but also in the attack, on what looked to be problems with timing and positioning.
On a night when the match looked an awful lot like a pinball machine, you’re not going to get a lot of offensive threats to talk about. But there were a few.
In the 17th minute, right back Mark Wiltse won a free kick in a dangerous spot. Jose Cuevas took it, but it was cleared out to the left, where Emmanuel Adjetey — who got the start at left midfield — got his foot into the ball on a volley that rifled into the side netting. Another hard takedown, this time against Cuevas, set up a free kick in a dangerous area for Paterson in the 37th minute, but again the Eagles cleared it.
In the 41st minute, one of my favorite plays of the night came up just wide when Prince got enough room on the right sideline to spot Michael Azira in a good position with a man on his hip making a subtle run into the box. Prince’s cross settled in just ahead of Azira between two defenders, and he laid out to strike the ball toward the net with his head. But his dive to the ball was just barely behind the curve, and his shot trickled out wide rather than snapping back onto frame.
After the Eagles scored in the 65th minute, Anhaeuser (who had already subbed forward Dane Kelly on for Cuevas in the 59th minute) began a series of offensive-minded substitutions, sending on forward Austin Savage for Prince in the 68th, forward Heviel Cordoves on for Azira in the 80th, and then (my favorite), replacing left back John Wilson with centerback Shaun Ferguson in the 87th. By that point the Battery were pushing all-out for an equalizer, and the 6-4 Ferguson’s presence in the attack on crosses and set pieces was significant.
Kelly, Cordoves and Savage all got off shots, but good defending by the Eagles blocked most of their efforts before the ball could challenge the keeper.
In the waning seconds, Wiltse won the ball back and lofted what he later called “a moonball” in from deep right midfield. As it dropped into the area and Ferguson and others jockeyed for it in front of goal, there was a moment when I thought the Battery might yet earn a deserved point with a late bit of magic. But it was not to be.
According to my notes, the only shot on frame that Cooper faced all night came in the 25th minute, when a soft one floated right into his cradling arms. Which was probably the save that the statkeeper recorded.
Jose’s night, and defending on the road
Jose Cuevas got his first start since the season opener against Richmond, playing alone up top in what looked like a 4-5-1 formation, with the fifth midfielder — Sanyang — patrolling the space in front of the Battery back line. The approach did a great job of limiting Charlotte’s chances, but didn’t produce great attacking chemistry.
Cuevas finished the night without official credit for a shot, which is a bit misleading. He was close several times on teasing balls into the box, and also had multiple kicks blocked. But that also suggests he wasn’t getting the separation he’s used to generating. Afterward, Cuevas indicated he might not yet be fully confident in his hamstring.
The Battery’s defensive stats on the night are pretty good, but it’s worth noting that the game plan for Charlotte was more attacking than what we saw against Harrisburg and Dayton, though nothing like the road loss at Richmond. The Battery played the first half like they had come for the win, not a draw, but they never left the Eagles space behind their midfield.
That said, the Eagles played aggressive, active defense, and seldom allowed the Battery’s more talented attacking players the modicum of room they needed to operate.
U.S. Open Cup: It’s the Timbers PDL
The Sacramento Gold of the NPSL opened on early two-goal lead on the host Timbers U-23s Tuesday night, but eventually conceded as the PDL squad from the Rose City banged in three second-half goals. The game-winner came in the 79th minute, punching the Charleston Battery’s ticket to Portland, Oregon, for a Second Round game next Tuesday.
The week ahead
The Battery will practice Thursday and Friday and then fly to Houston on Saturday in advance of their match Sunday against the Houston Dynamo Reserves. The team’s Portland itinerary is not yet known, said club president Andrew Bell.
We got to meet some Charlotte-based Battery fans, as well as “Toronto Kevin” from Rock Hill. And the beer selection at Duckworth’s, the Park Road bar near the stadium, was ridiculous. Battery fans brought the noise, as well as flags and this year’s great big banner. For a small group, they represented well.
Turnout at the Eagles 2013 home venue — a nicely appointed by small facility owned by Queens University — was the best they’ve enjoyed this season, and almost reached 700. Now that I’ve been there, I get why the attendance figures for Charlotte are so small. There just aren’t seats for more.
Other things about Charlotte: There’s no beer for sale. There’s a prayer over the public address system before the National Anthem. The cameras for the USL livestream are not in protected positions. There’s no pressbox that I could see, and unless it’s in the field house on the opposite of the field, and Andrew Bell broadcast the game live from a folding table on the hillside.
Also: Some of the Eagles players are “sponsored” by individual advertisers. Others aren’t. Go figure.
And the Southern Derby Cup? Didn’t see it.
TOP IMAGE: Battery players Taylor Mueller and Jarad van Schaik battle for possession in the midfield during a bruising game that hinged on heavy touches and 50-50 duels. Dan Conover photos.