There are times when you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself: What have you achieved?
And for the Charleston Battery, the answer to that question after a confounding loss to the Charlotte Eagles is a resounding “Not that much, man.”
The thing is, it’s also not a bad idea to ask the follow-up: Is it the end of the world?
And it seldom is.
Yes, Saturday’s 1-3 loss began with a jaw-dropping error by Battery goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, whose short, slow, square pass to Taylor Mueller at the top of the penalty area wound up gift-wrapped at the feet of Charlotte midfielder Juan Guzman. That was in the game’s second minute, and it set the stage for all that was to come.
Yes, it wound up being the Battery defense’s first three-goal match of 2014. And yes, without a doubt it proved to be the most unwatchable soccer exhibition we’ve endured since last year’s low point — in pools of standing water at humid Tampa. When your team is down two goals with half an hour to go in USL PRO, artistry ain’t on the menu.
But it’s not like Cooper’s first gaffe in 13 starts for Charleston this season cost the team the game. And its not like Cooper was standing in midfield a few seconds earlier when Andre Lewis took a pass from a teammate and kicked it directly to Charlotte to restart the Eagles’ counterattack after a missed Charleston chance off an early corner kick. Look at the tape and you’ll spot several errors of positioning, awareness and decision-making in the prologue to Cooper’s stunning mistake.
So if you’re asking “Who is to blame?” the answer isn’t likely to be particularly satisfying after a game like this one.
The more interesting question is, what does it mean? And conversely, does it mean anything?
For answers — since I’m clearly out of them — we turn to noted philosopher and soccer expert, Jeffery “The Dude” Lebowski.
‘I hate the f*&^ing Eagles, man’
Let’s begin with the basics. The Eagles may not play beautiful soccer. Their game-day experience at their borrowed college “stadium” (it’s more a hillside) might not be something you’d recommend to anyone you actually like. And their webcast is either comically inept or nails-on-a-chalkboard annoying, depending on your mood. But when it comes to playing the Battery, Mark Steffen‘s team absolutely knows how to get things done.
Man, do I ever hate that. Not only that, I hate admitting how much I hate that. Which makes me far from an unbiased, neutral observer when it comes to the Charlotte Eagles.
So, Mr. Lewbowski, what was your take on the match?
Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not “Mr. Lebowski.” I’m The Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
This is a very complicated case. You know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous. And, uh, a lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head.
That’s certainly true, Dude. The Battery came into this match fresh off their best home performance of the season. The Eagles were just a single win above cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh. The team looked fit and loose in Friday’s scrimmage. A win in the Queen City would have felt like the beginning of an optimistic trend. And on top of that, there’s the…
Hey, nice marmot.
‘That rug really tied the room together’
The three goals Charleston surrendered on Saturday not only represented the team’s worst showing of the year, it also knocked the team out of a nice consolation prize for a squad that’s been hovering on the fringes of USL PRO relevancy: Best scoring defense in the league. That honor now belongs to Orlando (0.733), with Rochester (0.750) drafting on their tail. The Battery’s average rose to 0.928.
Charleston’s defending wasn’t horrible. Cooper faced only five shots, and the team surrendered just three corner kicks. But the collapses were still alarming. Goal No. 1 came on a glaring error. Goal No. 2 — a redirecting flick off a quality free kick by Jorge Herrera — was notable for two free runs at goal by Eagles players who appeared to be unimpeded by Battery defenders. But the opportunity was created by an unnecessary and unusual foul from team Captain Colin Falvey.
Goal No. 3 was the kind of karmic failure that comes when a team throws everything wildly forward in search of an equalizer.
Did lineups or formations make the difference?
There were few changes. Charleston’s John Wilson was one of the two players with “knocks” on Friday, and the injury under that ice pack apparently was bad enough to keep the veteran left back off the game-day 18. Midfielder Zach Prince — the team’s usual starter at left midfield, and a big contributor to the team’s high-pressure scheme — didn’t enter the affair until the 85th minute.
Instead, Coach Mike Anhaeuser shifted Emmanuel Adjetey to left back, gave Mueller the start at right, and kept early season fullback Quinton Griffith at right midfield. Teenage rookie Andre Lewis received his 11th start of the season, appearing in Prince’s usual spot for the second week in a row. The formation seemed roughly the same, too, with forwards Dane Kelly and Mamadou Diouf working as strike partners for the second consecutive match.
If there was a change in style, it would be the fullback play. Wilson practically camped out in the Galaxy II’s attacking third a week ago, but neither Adjetey nor Mueller was able to work forward effectively or regularly. With Anhaeuser looking to jump start the attack after the first 45, Mueller gave way for one of the two attacking subs, with Griffith dropping back into his place.
Defense has held the Battery together this season. Saturday is what this team looks like when the unit makes a mistake — and then plays like an average team.
I’m sorry I wasn’t listening, can you repeat that?
Has the whole world gone crazy?
As noted by Anhaeuser in our game preview, Charlotte always seems to get the bounces in this series. I chimed in that they also tend to get the calls.
On the one hand, it was Charlotte that wound up collecting the most fouls (13-9) and yellow cards (4-1), so one could reasonably argue that the officiating was balanced. But when it came to the important calls, things just didn’t go the Battery’s way.
Start with the Colin Falvey yellow in the 27th minute. The Battery captain stepped up to challenge for the ball, missed, and kicked the Eagles’ player in the trailing shin. It wasn’t so much a reckless or brutal play as it was a poorly timed one, and it left the team’s defensive leader to play a more cautious style for the remainder of the match.
But the call that really peed all over The Dude’s rug came in the 34th minute, when Chris Spivey‘s crew wiped out what would have been Amadou Sanyang‘s third goal of the season.
Lewis took the free kick from about seven yards above and beyond the box and Sanyang ran under it for the textbook header, beating the charging keeper to equalize. The officiating crew didn’t hesitate to call offside on the set piece. Which drove me nuts at the time, since Sanyang appeared to have started in an offside position, stepped back onside just before the kick, and earned it cleanly. Replay seems to confirm that.
Unfortunately for the Battery, replay also appears to confirm that both Mueller and Falvey were shading offside on the far side of the line. The result was one of nine offside calls that went against the Battery on the night (compared to two against Charlotte) — and the negation of a goal that could have reversed the momentum heading into the interval.
New s&*! has come to light
You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don’t wanna know about it, believe me.
— Walter Sobchak
Whatever Anhaeuser said to his team at the half, the result was one of the most remarkable turnaround moments we’ve seen from the Battery this season in the 46th minute. Not only did the Battery return to the field with a frenetic commitment to high pressure, but Diouf and Mueller made way for Cuban attackers Heviel Cordoves and Maikel Chang. The moves paid almost immediate dividends.
The Battery swarmed the Eagles from the first kick, lost the ball for a few seconds, and then regained it. Chang played the ball centrally to Cordoves, who possessed it briefly under pressure with notable calm as Chang dashed diagonally toward goal down the right. Cordoves’ return pass found him perfectly in stride and Chang finished confidently to launch what appeared to be the start of an energetic Battery comeback.
That the effort slowly fell apart after such a promising start was largely a function of Charleston’s continuing inability to produce sustained, purposeful possession. But it was also part of an Eagles’ shift in tactics. Nine of their 13 fouls and all four of their yellow cards came in the second half. The Battery continued to push numbers forward, and eventually paid the counterattacking price just after the hour.
Down 3-1 with half an hour to go, the Battery attack devolved into the equivalent of tossing soccer balls into a wood chipper.
Maude Lebowski: Lord. You can imagine where it goes from here.
The Dude: He fixes the cable?
Maude Lebowski: Don’t be fatuous, Jeffrey.
Sometimes you eat the bear
Then again, here’s a reality check.
Despite Cooper’s mistake — his only notable mistake of the year, mind you — the Battery’s second-year goalkeeper has allowed just 12 goals in 13 starts. Nobody’s perfect.
Despite the loss, the Battery didn’t lose any altitude in the USL PRO standings. They went into the match with a tenuous grip on the final playoff position. They came out of the match with a tenuous grip on the final playoff position.
And despite whatever people like me thought would be the ultimate trajectory of this team in 2014, half the season is now in the books, and reality is having its say. Forget potential. At the moment this is a slightly better than average USL PRO team that has been absolutely pitiful on the road in matches that haven’t involved departed forward Omar Salgado, going 0-5-1 with a goal differential of -7.
Little Lebowski Urban Achievers we ain’t.
Here’s the final thing to consider: As bad as the Charlotte loss was, nobody noticed but us. It was played opposite the Nigeria-vs.-Bosnia-Herzegovinia Group F match. There were fewer than 700 people in the “stands” in Charlotte. And here we are, two days later, and there are still just 64 views on the Eagles’ stream. That’s only about 20 more than there were live during the match, BTW, and at least four of those views were by people from CHSSoccer.net.
The Battery host the Richmond Kickers at 7:30 on Friday night in the kickoff to the second half of their 2014 season, and given Charleston’s history under Anhaeuser, there’s reason to believe the second half will be better than the first.
Writers live to spot trends and make up plausible stories about them. But the only real trend to this year’s Battery is that there has been no trend. There’s been no streak of any kind — not draws, not losses, not wins — that has lasted longer than two matches. Granted, the team did go six matches before it won for the first time, but since then the Battery have simply yo-yoed all over the place.
For the Battery to turn things around in the second half, Anhaeuser will have to find ways to coax smarter, more consistent performances out of this squad. Maybe that involves motivating his younger players in different ways. Maybe it involves giving more minutes to players under Battery contracts and fewer to players on loan from Vancouver. Maybe just a general reshuffling. Maybe he needs to stick with his plan until the current messages sink in.
Damned if I know.
F*&^ it, Dude. Let’s go bowling.