But then this happened…
Late in stoppage time, with the Eagles playing long ball after long ball into the Charleston box, their last arching pass of the night took a deflection in front of goal. Someone from Charlotte — and it turns out to have been substitute midfielder Drew Yates — put his head on it at the far corner, and the tying goal slipped past a diving attempt by goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper.
Talk about flipping the script. Hell, the first story would have practically written itself. But a late reversal off a clutch play like that has a way of complicating things.
Our story so far…
This being a news story, I skipped straight to the finish. But since only 2,057 of us got to see this one (and yes, I know, I’ve given people shit for missing home games before, but the weather really was atrocious this time around), here’s how events set up that dramatically disappointing finish.
First off, it rained. A lot. It rained so much before the game that the Battery had to delay kickoff by 15 minutes just to try to get the standing water off that beautiful Blackbaud Stadium turf. Which meant that at 7:30 p.m., club President Andrew Bell was hovering over the grounds crew like a nervous family member at an accident scene as a guy with a pitchfork poked holes in the ground to give the water someplace else to go.
By the time the game finally started, a light drizzle had settled over Daniel Island. And with the Battery defending the south end of the stadium, where most of the standing water was, the first few minutes looked a bit like a bumper cars in a hockey rink. Balls died in pools of water. Sliding tackles just kept on right on going. Left back John Wilson landed on his backside repeatedly because the force he generated off long passes kept dislodging his other foot from the mushy turf.
With both teams struggling to keep their footing, Charlotte made the most of its chances in the 14th minute. Midfielder Juan Guzman (no, not that Juan Guzman, this Juan Guzman) played the ball ahead to midfielder Stephen Okai, who was in a one-on-one matchup with a Charleston defender moving to the right. When an awkwardly attempted tackle didn’t quite get there, Okai found himself in a one-one-one duel with Cooper.
The big Cuban stepped up to shut down the angles, but Okai waited calmly for Cooper to commit and then chipped over his head to the far post.
Charlotte 1, Charleston 0
Second half: Storming back
(Pardon the weather pun, please)
The rest of the first half was largely a study in frustration, and while Charlotte didn’t produce much in the way of shots, they routinely created dangerous situations. Colin Falvey, Taylor Mueller and Jarad van Schaik made some heroic sliding tackles, often kicking up walls of spray in the process, but there was the sense that every long ball played ahead to a Charlotte striker was just one slip from disaster. With defensive midfielder Amadou Sanyang playing with a distinct limp from the 16th minute on, and with the rain coming down in semi-tropical sheets from the 25th minute, the Battery had their nail-biting moments.
Charleston returned to the pitch in the second half with midfielder Bryce Alderson replacing Sanyang, who later emerged from the tunnel on crutches (no word on his status yet). The Battery seemed to possess the initiative after the half, but it took the entrance of center forward Heviel Cordoves in the 55th minute to break the stalemate.
Loyal readers of this site know that Cordoves — who scored his first professional goal in the home-opener against Antigua — has been quietly building a case for more playing time in the past couple weeks. He started against Harrisburg Friday, and what worked for the Battery offensively in that disappointing loss largely began with Cordoves.
In the soggy muck on Wednesday night, Cordoves’ ability to root himself to the wet ground and settle entry passes softly made him an instant threat, since it was now Charlotte’s turn to defend the increasingly mucky south end of the stadium, leaving them in the one-slip-from-disaster position.
To his credit, Cordoves’ goal was no gift from a pratfalling defender. Midfielder Nicki Paterson, who seemed to specialize in flick-on headers into danger Wednesday, knocked ahead a throw-in from Mark Wiltse toward Cordoves. Though closely marked, the big guy settled it with one touch, cut left toward the center of the field with the ball at his feet, found just enough separation, and fired from roughly 25 yards out.
And let me tell you: When Cordoves gets enough room to torque his body through a shot on goal, the result is a thing of terrible beauty. This screamer rose on a line-drive trajectory into the upper righthand corner and left Eagles keeper Eric Reed swatting at ghosts.
The go-ahead goal
Late in the 68th minute, Alderson broke up a Charlotte possession in midfield and centered the ball to Cordoves. The Cuban passed ahead to Kelly on the left, and the Jamaican striker forged into the box.
Again there was contact, but when Kelly kept his feet and the Charlotte defender didn’t, the Jamaican found himself one-on-one with Reed.
Like a mirror image replay of Charlotte’s goal in the 14th minute, Kelly calmly set the keeper up and then took what he offered, chipping gently for the score.
In addition to giving the team the lead, the goal was Kelly’s team-leading fourth of the season.
And then, the ‘ouch’
Charleston generally controlled the run of play over the final 20 minutes as bands of rain lashed through the stadium and lightning flashed just to the north.
Charlotte’s equalizer came off the soccer equivalent of a Hail Mary pass to the end zone, and while it lacked the eye-popping beauty of Cordoves’ shot, Charlotte fans who watched the livestream will likely remember Yates’ header for years to come.
What history will likely fail to record is just how close the Battery came to one-upping him.
Yates’ goal came near the end of what had been announced as three minutes of stoppage time, all of it played while one of Charlotte’s assistant coaches peppered the Fourth Official with reasons why three minutes was not enough. And since the Battery had substituted Shawn Ferguson for Wiltse at the beginning of stoppage, the referee let the match continue beyond the third extra minute — while the Eagles bench pleaded (albeit with a sense of humor) for the full-time whistle.
So the game was well past its fourth minute of stoppage when the Battery won their final corner. Prince lifted it beautifully from the right corner to the far post, and a Battery man ( I couldn’t tell which one) rose up and redirected the cross back on goal with his head — only to have it deflect upwards off the crossbar.
Now that would have been a finish.
One of the glaring shortcomings on this site is that I’ve routinely shorted coverage to the players who are less than fluent English speakers, simply because of the language barrier. But Cordoves’ English is coming along.
“It was good play for me, but the group, no win,” he said when I congratulated him on what had to be a Man of the Match performance. “I had a nice game, but we didn’t win.”
So he gets it.
“I think he even surprised the keeper with how much power he had on it,” Coach Mike Anhaeuser said later, reflecting on Cordoves’ goal. “It’s great, because now it gets him rolling. We need a few guys to knock in some goals.”
So did the weather affect the teams evenly?
“It makes it an even game, and it always helps the road team a little bit, because it’s tough conditions,” Anhaeuser said. “Even the first goal was a missed clear.
“But we battled back.What I’m going to remember, obviously, is Cordoves getting his goal, and that just really got it rolling. The disappointing thing is then we had a great second goal, we had them under pressure the whole time, and at the end they picked up a bit of luck. You gotta give them credit, though, for getting a good ball in there and knocking it across the middle of the goal.
“You know, it happens during a season. You just have to hope it happens for you.”
Missing in action
You know that story about the dog that didn’t bark? One of the sidebars to this match is the story about the striker who didn’t play: Jose Cuevas.
Though not mentioned by the team in an injury status update on Tuesday, Cuevas “picked up a knock,” Anhaeuser said, and didn’t practice this week. I ran into him after the match and he said he was fine, that he was held out as a precautionary measure, and that he’ll be ready for Saturday.
Quinton Griffith (groin injury) suited up for the match for the first time since May 11, but went unused as a substitute. Meanwhile, Prince, who was listed as someone who probably would not be available on Wednesday, replaced Patterson in the 77th minute.
As announced, Ben Fisk and Austin Savage sat this one out.
With these guys in varying states of disrepair, Charleston opened the night with a lineup that lacked the offensive firepower I wrote about in the preview. The Battery started the night with Paterson and Michael Azira in the center of the field, with Kelly up top and van Schaik and Emmauel Adjetey wide. Of that group, only Kelly and Paterson normally figure as true attacking players — although in fairness to Azira, he entered the night tied for the team lead in scoring with three goals.
So while I still think this team is on the brink of a breakout offensive performance, when you have to play your backup left back in your right midfield spot, you’re in makeshift mode.
But enough for tonight. Game wrap tomorrow.
TOP IMAGE: Jarad van Schaik and John Wilson bracket an Eagles player (midfielder Ben Newnam, perhaps?) in the opening minutes, before the sky opened up. Dan Conover photo.