If you watched Saturday’s match from ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World (and if you didn’t, go watch it here), you already know that Charleston slugged it out with Orlando City Soccer Club and lost a match that seemed destined to finish in a scoreless draw.
You also probably none too happy about it.
Another late goal hurts Battery
Here are three two-digit numbers that pretty sum up the early Charleston Battery season: 75, 67 and 73. Those are the minutes in which the final goals of the team’s three matches were scored, and none of them were for the good guys.
The Battery had just gone up on Orlando at Blackbaud on March 22nd when Austin da Luz equalized for the visitors on March 22. And when George Davis IV scored his second goal off an assist by Richmond’s Colin Martin in the 67th minute to pull the Kickers back to level, it came just eight minutes after Amadou Sanyang‘s free kick header put the Battery up 2-1. Then Saturday it was Brian Span in the 73rd minute, running unmarked into the path of a low cross that was meant for someone else.
Think of it this way: If the rules said USL PRO soccer matches ended after 65 minutes, the Battery would be 2-0-1, not 0-1-2.
Charleston never seems to catch a break in Orlando, and Saturday’s heartbreaker began with a questionable call by the officiating crew.
A Battery counterattack keyed by substitute Maikel Chang reached substitute forward Heviel Cordoves, who made it down the left to win an apparent corner off Lions center back Rob Valentino. Even the Orlando broadcasting team assumed the ball would be going over to Charleston, but the officials instead awarded a goal kick to Miguel Gallardo, who restarted quickly “to not give (the referee) a chance to change his mind,” according to the announcer.
A nice through-ball set up Adama Mbengue on the left side, where he sent a low cross toward two well-marked Lions attackers running the lanes in front of goal. Yet somehow both men got tangled up with their Battery markers, Colin Falvey and John Wilson, and tumbled to the ground, effectively taking both defenders out of the play.
The ball, untouched, continued its improbable path — right to the feet of Span, a player on loan to Orlando from F.C. Dallas. With Wilson and Falvey on the ground, the closest man to the threat was outside midfielder Chang, an attack-minded player who had allowed Span to run by him unmarked on the right. His reaction came too late.
Central midfielder Jarad van Schaik made a valiant sliding effort, but with only a charging Odisnel Cooper to beat, Span’s calm shot broke Charleston’s back.
It’s hard to blame that Span goal on any player from the Battery back line. Watch it (from about 1:44:25 in the video) and and look at how well the first two targets are marked. It’s just a freakish play that wound up exploiting a moment of inattentive defense by an Battery attacking midfielder who isn’t really a defensive weapon in the first place.
Keep Calm and Carry On
It’s easy to look at the Battery’s record and start worrying. But let’s stow that nonsense right here and now. This is a good USL PRO team and it’s going to be there at the end. They’ve just played three matches against the league’s best two teams from 2013.
Will they get better? Sure. But other than that late-goal trend, the Battery aren’t bad now.
OK then, when are they gonna get off The Schneid?
Well, this is the tricky part. If they don’t win their next date, it might take a while. Just because the 2014 schedule does them no favors this spring.
Charleston takes on the New York Red Bulls Reserves on Friday at Blackbaud, and that’s the last match they’ll play in South Carolina until mid-May.
Not only are the Red Bulls kind of an unknown, what we know is pretty impressive. The NYRB Reserves took Dayton apart 3-0 at Red Bull Arena on March 30, and this is a team that features goalkeeper Ryan Meara and fullback/midfielder Conor Lade, who scored for the first team the last time the Red Bulls came to town in 2012.
After that, it’s the dreaded Saturday-Sunday road trip to Pittsburgh on April 26 and Rochester on April 27. Then it’s another set of road dates, at Harrisburg on Friday, May 2, and at Dayton on Sunday, May 4. That’s a lot of hours on a bus.
Charleston won’t return to the Baud until May 10, when they take on Carolinas rival Wilmington. The question is, how many points will they have when they get home?
Battery corner kick, 23rd minute
In the 22nd minute, Charleston’s fortunes improved when center back Shawn Ferguson took a back pass and spotted Zach Prince ahead on the left flank, marked but with room to operate. Ferguson’s pass over the defense sprung Prince down to the byline, where Lions center back Valentino squelched the threat by conceding the corner.
“That’s Prince playing in front of the Purple Reign,” an Orlando broadcaster quipped as Prince lined up the take the corner. “Ha ha! Best one of the night!” his partner replied.
But Prince’s corner was no laughing matter. It found Taylor Mueller at the far post, sparking this rapid-fire sequence: Mueller’s header blocked back out to a Battery teammate (maybe Dane Kelly?), whose attempt to volley back was also blocked, ultimately returning the ball to Prince on the left.
When his defender over-committed, Prince stepped past him and into space. His shot rifled into a crowded six-yard box, where Falvey had yet to retreat to his usual spot after coming up for the set piece.
What happened next isn’t even quite clear to Falvey. Though the announcers claimed that Prince’s shot had smashed into his face, in truth Falvey was jostling for position as the 6-3 Valentino, who had his hands on the Battery captain, tried to keep him from making a play.
“I reacted to the ball first and got a touch on it, at the same time that he was trying to clear it but missed and got me instead,” Falvey said. On the tape it looks like Valentino wrenches Falvey down and to the right just as the ball arrives. “It would have been a harsh decision on them (to call that foul in the penalty area), but I have seen them given before, and by the rules he hasn’t played the ball.”
Whether the shot deflected off Falvey or Valentino, the ball wound up bouncing between Lions, and Falvey alertly got a foot on it and poked it back to Ferguson, who kept the play alive. Falvey went down in pain — from contact with a defender, not the shot — as Kelly hustled to win a second corner for the Battery.
Again Prince lined up to take it. Again the Lions went into their zonal marking defense, positioning midfielders Kevin Molino and Austin da Luz at the near and far posts, respectively.
But on a night when Orlando made very few mistakes, they were about to make a huge one.
Nobody marked Battery forward Mamadou Diouf, without a doubt one of the top aerial threats in the USL PRO. Not that Prince knew this. “I was putting it into an area,” he said Sunday. It happened to be just the right area. The Senegalese striker stepped into space at the six yard line, and Prince’s corner went straight to his head at the far post. Diouf’s snap on goal streaked past goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo.
Which is where Molino re-enters the story. The Trinidadian international positioned at the near post reacted to shot as he was supposed to, heading it out and over the first lines of chaos, where it fell to the feet of the Battery’s Jarad van Schaik. Van Schaik took one touch and fired from 20 yards, but his shot sailed off frame. And that was the end of that.
Except it wasn’t. Not quite.
In the live shot, the camera showed Molino’s feet were on the goal-line when he headed it away. And while there’s no evidence in that high camera angle to suggest the ball might have crossed the line before being cleared, you can spot a Battery player — possibly Wilson — heading over to talk to the assistant referee as Gallardo lines up the goal kick. There was no instant replay on the webstream, but Battery players seemed to be questioning the call.
After the match, the Orlando broadcast crew ran a series of highlight clips while the crew talked about the upcoming schedule. One of them showed a reverse angle of Molino’s clearance. And if you look at that clip on the web, it’s pretty easy to spot why the Battery thought Diouf had scored. Molino retreats just slightly as he heads the ball.
“I thought it was at least a foot in the goal but the assistant ref said he wasn’t sure so he couldn’t call it,” Prince said.
Was Molino’s retreat enough to allow the whole ball to clear the line? Probably not. Having watched it several times, I suspect the ref made the right call. But was it enough to put that call in question? Sure. And at the very least, that close call should serve as a reminder of just how close this match really was. Inches either way.
The Envelope, please
MAN OF THE MATCH: My vote goes to Odisnel Cooper for the second time in three games. You could probably give this one to any player of the Battery back line, and yes, there were moments when his distribution was less than stellar. But Cooper was stalwart in a hostile environment against some MLS-quality talent.
The Orlando broadcast crew claimed Cooper recorded 12 saves off 27 shots, 14 of them on goal. Which is just silly, because he didn’t. USL PRO’s official scorekeeper gave him credit for just four saves, another figure that’s probably just silly on the low side. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle.
I’d also like to give an honorable mention to Prince here, since he not only keyed some good Battery threats in the first half, he also made Adrian Heath‘s head change colors with his pesky, chippy defending. The Orlando coach was apoplectic.
HEADS UP PLAY OF THE GAME: That’s Quinton Griffith. Cooper did his part to keep Orlando from scoring a second time late, but it took Griffith’s alert decision to cover the goal line to get the Battery out of that particular jam. Remember: Molino’s header clearance came off a set-piece. Griffith’s came in the run of play.
The watch party at Molly Darcy’s was sparsely attended, although some late arrivals boosted things a bit. And though a member of the staff rebooted the browser when it dropped the feed the first time, I had to go fix it myself the next time the computer messed up. The bar had the sound on for the match, but it was too low to really make out much of what was being said over the live music outside… We’ve been reading rumors about former Battery players Jose Cuevas and Cody Ellison signing with Arizona United, but neither was on the 18 when the troubled club played its first match Saturday night, losing 4-0 Oklahoma City… Charleston has never beaten Orlando at Orlando, and has exactly one last chance to beat the Lions on their turf: May 31.