True story: I was sitting in the West Stands with some Battery fans with about 20 minutes remaining in Wednesday’s then-scoreless draw with D.C. United, and at the moment when United Coach Ben Olsen mass-substituted his A-Team, I turned and said something like “Well, there goes the Battery’s chance for a win.”
Which proved technically correct, I suppose. The Battery didn’t win. But if it’s possible for an essentially meaningless preseason draw to feel like a magnificent, historic victory, Charleston’s 1-1 draw on Wednesday night certainly qualified for that distinction.
It’s worth emphasizing the significance of that moment in the 68th minute when D.C.’s Murderers’ Row lined up beside the 4th official. Charleston’s genuine starters got the better of D.C.’s nominal starters in the first 45 minutes but failed to score. Then the game rattled around for 25 minutes with a bunch of unsigned players for both teams hashing it out. The Battery lineup heading into the 70th minute featured only a few players who will take the pitch for the first regular season kickoff on March 22.
And then 10 MLS badasses — Eddie Johnson, Fabian Espindola, Louis Silva, Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud, Jeff Parke, Cristian Fernandez, Sean Franklin and Bobby Boswell — jog onto the field. A normal person takes one look at that influx of gifted, fresh legs and says “Yep. We’re screwed.”
Everyone in the stadium felt that D.C. United goal coming, and it was mercifully swift.
About a minute after that mass substitution, Battery trialist Miguel Teos brought down a D.C. player on the attacking left side, earning a yellow card and surrendering a free kick from a dangerous spot. From my vantage point, Silva’s bending free kick looked to be seeking out a teammate rising above the Battery wall, but missed everyone and dropped into the net at the lower far post. Blackbaud’s stadium announcer called it that way, too.
Two other accounts called it differently last night, awarding the goal to Arnaud (off a header) and crediting the assist to Silva.
But that’s trivia. The point is, D.C. trotted out its stars to grab three low-hanging points in the CCC table, and Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser responded by pulling his best striker in favor of 18-year-old Battery Academy prospect Avery Ryan. Not because he doesn’t like winning. But because it’s preseason.
And you’re telling me the Battery came back in that situation and stole its first point of the tournament? Off a 90th-minute header by a rookie defender who arrived in the attacking third just seconds before a rookie midfielder put the final corner kick into the mixer? Are you kidding me?
So yeah, good night. Let’s talk about it.
THE COFFEE POT CUP
There are a few reasons to make a big deal about a midweek preseason draw on a cold, misting night. Some of them are sillier than others.
The silliest of all, of course, is the Coffee Pot Cup. It’s a traditional rivalry between the Battery and D.C. United that dates to Charleston’s dramatic home win over the Red and Blacks in the 1999 U.S. Open Cup. United players didn’t appreciate losing to a lower-tier side, and showed their displeasure by smashing stuff — including a coffee urn — in the visitors’ locker room.
Boom! Tradition! That rarest of commodities in North American soccer! You gotta respect it.
So while United’s turnaround plans probably including winning every scrap of hardware it can get its hands on in 2014 — winning is part habit, you know — it’s entirely possible that Olsen’s primary interest was claiming the CPC instead of putting his club at the top of the CCC table. Not likely, I suppose, but yeah, entirely possible.
Tradition has it that the fans of the losing team in a Charleston/D.C. match fill the Coffee Pot Cup with beer for the fans of the winning side to drink. The Cup travels back and forth from Washington to Charleston, and this year’s Guardians of the Urn were United supporters Jonathan Poelker, Dr. Trey Chakides and Dr. Shawn Holbrook. After Wednesday’s match, the urn was ceremoniously filled with beer and fans knelt for the benediction from the spigot (Main rule: No lips).
It’s not entirely clear who paid for the beer (did fans chip in 50-50 because of the draw?) but the trophy will return to Washington. If the Battery want to hold on to the Cup, they’ll have to beat United to claim it.
For all you traveling fans who will be coming in on Saturday, the Three Lions Club is a shrine to soccer with memorabilia from clubs, championships and players from all over the world. It is also the post-game gathering place for fans to hang out with players.
Pub passes can be tough to get, but worth it. Drew Ruggles, who scored the equalizer, was there with his dad, Cliff. Dante Marini, who is fun to watch on the pitch and personable in the pub, made an appearance along with the Cuban contingent most of the roster.
THE OTHER GAME
Seattle and Houston slogged their way to a wet 1-1 draw in the 5 p.m. match.
Houston scored its first goal of the competition in the 14th minute when new acquisition Tony Cascio found a wide open Brad Davis inside the left corner of the box. The Dynamo captain had enough time to control and fire, placing the ball calmly beyond the reach of Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Sounders forward and Designated Player Obafemi Martins got the Seattle’s goal half an hour later, putting a highlight on a CCC performance that’s otherwise been more memorable for unforced giveaways. His scoring header came off a beautiful assist from former Battery man Lamar Neagle.
Seattle opened the match with fewer regular starters in the lineup, and subbed in 10 players at the half. One of them was Battery midfielder Mike Azira, who answered the “Who will Azira play for?” question by showing up in Rave Green. Azira played well in deep central midfield, occasionally moving far up the pitch to support Sounders chances, but generally just keeping things tidy.
His best moment of the night was probably when he leaped out to intercept a long pass with his right foot near the center of the field, controlled the ball, and then blasted a perfect counter-attacking long ball to a teammate on the right wing. The chance came to nothing, but Azira’s play was spectacular.
While only four of the seven unsigned Sounders has a realistic chance of making the squad, you have to figure that Azira’s two appearances in the CCC are helping his case. One other trialist who looks to have an inside shot at the Seattle roster is Kevin Parsemain, a forward out of Martinique. Azira and Parsemain connected on several plays, and the young free agent flashed the potential that Seattle observes have been blogging about.
So it was about 45 degrees and drizzling when the first match began at 5 p.m. I suppose you can say the weather “improved” for a while — the drizzle lifted as the temperatures dropped.
But after the sun went down during the first half of the late match, that 100 percent humidity descended again, covering the field and 2,909 fans with a fine mist.
Result? Players started sliding around like barefooted curlers at the Winter Olympics. It affected both teams equally, but there were moments when it got a bit comical.
The most popular fan refrain in 2013 was “We Want Two Strikers.” And in the second half of the United match, Anhaeuser gave the stadium the two strikers it asked for last summer: Dane Kelly and Heviel Cordoves.
Thing is, the pairing didn’t produce much. Cordoves seemed to spend much of this time wide, rather than working centrally, and if the idea was to see whether the two would instinctively work well as strike partners in a 4-4-2, the verdict of the night was “Not Yet.”
The more productive pairing was probably Kelly and Austin Savage, who made a rare start. But while both are forwards, Savage seemed to work out of a deeper central position, working the ball head to Kelly, or to wingers Maikel Chang and Zach Prince. Savage, a second-year player out of Clemson, managed one shot when he ran the central channel near the right post and put his head into a cross by Chang.
Apparently everyone forgot I hit the post…don’t worry, I’ll add it to every write up of the game last night. Haha jk. #ShouldHaveGoneIn
— Austin Savage (@YoungSavy) February 27, 2014
After the ball rebounded off the post into play, Kelly got in on the act, but slipped to the ground. After the match, the Jamaican revealed that he wasn’t at his best.
“It was a tough one,” he said. “I wasn’t feeling that well, but I stayed out there and stuck in and do my best, you know? I got one I should have scored, but I didn’t. Such is life, you know.”
Kelly isn’t in a scoring grove yet, but his confidence should be buoyed by his near misses on Wednesday.
After two matches, the Battery’s offensive output has been limited to just two goals, both by defenders, and the club is still looking for its first from the run of play, much less from an attacker. But after Savage, Kelly, Prince and van Schaik banged on the goal last night, you get the feeling that the breakthrough could come at any moment.
Speaking of goals, the Battery are tied with Houston on one point, while Seattle and D.C. have four apiece. That puts Charleston out of the running for this year’s Challenge Cup trophy, but a win over Houston could put the local team into a respectable second-place finish.
Pretty much it was a good first half. I think we worked on our shape pretty well. That’s one of the things we wanted to do, was keep the shape and get it going… Coach was really happy about it.
(Was it a happy mood in the locker room at half?)
Absolutely. We got our good guys in, a couple of the guys that are trying out. We’ve got a very good group.
They played some of their younger guys, and we were ready for it. They brought in kind of their starting lineup with 20 minutes, and they actually were taking it to us there for a while. They missed the one sitter that would have made it 2-0, but we held on, we adjusted, we made a couple of changes there. Even one of our academy players, Avery Ryan got in, and did a great job.
So it’s fantastic. It just shows that our guys are up for it. We’re excited to be out here, and we’re looking forward to it now to see if we can maybe get three more points on Saturday night.
(What do you expect from the Dynamo on Saturday?)
(Houston) is a big team. They’re very strong, they’ve done well here before, they’ve done well in the MLS Cup, and I’ll tell you, they’re a team that you need to be ready for, especially with their size. So it’s going to be different than tonight, because they like to pass it. So we’ve got to be ready.
But I’ll tell you what. Our guys have shown a lot of character. They’ve really shown a lot of discipline. And I’m very proud of them right now at this stage of the game.
That’s a lesson and probably a thrill for them to go in. They throw in their starting 11, and we’re kinda down to the guys we’re still looking at. But they had us for five, 10 minutes, and really showed it, but you know, they didn’t put it away. And we had two, three corners there, we kept up the intensity, which — young guys, new guys, are trying to push and do things, and what a great finish! It’s great, and I think we deserved it, because I definitely thought we deserved a goal in the first half.
(How about that first half?)
We knew. We talked about it the other day that they might come out with their reserves or their young guys. And our guys, I said, “Let’s take it to them.”
Our guys performed at a very good level in the first half. we moved the ball around, we created chances, and I think we were unlucky not to score one or two. Dykstra made two good saves, and we just missed wide on a couple of shots. So great first half, very good start to the second half. And we did make a few changes, which happens, even on the free kick, you know. But they put in their guns and they had the quality. So you’ve got to really commend the guys for finishing it off to get the tie.
(How are your two keepers doing?)
They’ve performed well. We kinda had a let down on the free kick, because we didn’t have a guy in the hole, and we’ll talk about that, because that’s one of the points you’ve always got to make, and it comes up, because it’s better here than in the regular season when points matter.
But the big thing is that we’ve got some characters here that showed that they can not let down, and what a goal that we scored there! We threw everybody forward, and tied it up in what, the last 10 seconds. Great finish.
They put in their first team, so they’re showing you some respect. That was good. We didn’t keep the ball as well as we did against Seattle.
We just had to try to keep the ball better, played it square a little more often. We didn’t do it as much in the first part of the second half, but after a little bit we were pinging it.
Kind of a scrap out here. I mean the elements are underneath you, and you just have to get used to it and play the way you can.
(I couldn’t see the set up to your goal through my lens. How did the ball come in?)
It was curving inside, and I thought, honestly, that the first post person was going to clear it away. But I just kept going for it, leaned in, and tried to flick it on target. And when I saw it going in, I was pretty ecstatic.
(What feedback have you been getting from the coaching staff?)
They’re just telling me to keep going, moving up the field when I have opportunities. Keep it simple though as a defender, just stay hard on defense.
TOP IMAGE: Battery midfielder Zach Prince makes his move on D.C. United defender Victor Munoz in the first half of Wednesday’s 1-1 match. Prince and the Battery’s other attackers generally kept United on the back foot from about the 20th minute until the break, but were unable to put a goal on the board. Dan Conover images, unless otherwise noted.