I usually come out of most Battery matches — even the wins — with a list of concerns. Last night was the first time that list of concerns included the grass at Blackbaud Stadium. The field turf here, like the stadium itself, is kind of a point of local pride. And while I used to enjoy playing games in the rain on muddy fields when I was a kid, when I saw that standing water by the south end of the West sidelines, I got that spontaneous “uh-oh” feeling. Every flying clod of mud I saw added to it, and by the time I went back down on the field in the final minutes, there were low patches near the left touchline that were starting to look fairly boggy.
Plus, you figure in that there’s rain from Tropical Storm Andrea forecast basically from now through Saturday’s kickoff, and you start to wonder how things are going to be when the Battery host the Houston Dynamo Reserves.
So let’s start with the good news: Club President Andrew Bell reports this afternoon that the field is draining and held up well last night. “I think we will be OK.”
Life in the tropics
It’s apparently a requirement of sports journalism (hey — I’m just figuring this stuff out as I go along) that you have to ask the coach a stupid question after every match, in part because you just want to hear the guy’s general thoughts about what just happened before you start asking the specific questions that will flesh out the story for people who weren’t there. But also because it just seems like tradition. And last night I asked Mike Anaheuser something about what he’ll remember from this match other than the outcome.
His answer: “That it rained.”
Which, quite honestly, is what most people who attended will remember from last night’s match.
Quick quiz, all 2,056 people other than me who were there: Which side of the pitch did Dane Kelly’s go-ahead goal come from?
If you answered “I couldn’t tell, because my glasses were wet and foggy,” then we attended the same match.
Thing was, it looked like most of the people who came, stayed. And conditions generally got worse, not better as the match wore on.
If you can get 2,000 people in Charleston to come out of their homes on a cloudy day, that’s an achievement. If you can get most of them to sit outside in an uncovered place in a downpour for two hours, you’ve really accomplished something. And if you can get them to do that on a Wednesday, mark it down in your Dear Diary.
Now, someday, I expect that the Battery will pack Blackbaud Stadium for every home match, and that supporters will stand and sing in the rain and call that entertainment. But for now, I’ll take 2,000 wet people and their dogs.
Last night, as you’ll recall, was the club’s “Paws at the Baud” promotion. All I can say is, thank God it wasn’t “Take Your Cat to the Match” night.
In something of a meta-note, I’ve approached writing about the Battery this year as a fan’s representative, which means I work from the stands where I can still cheer, rather than sitting in the press box, where I’d be more inclined to act impartial. And last night, as my notepad disintegrated into pulp, I seriously questioned the wisdom of that approach.
Glad I stuck it out, though. You’ve gotta respect the streak.
Southern Derby update
Last night’s draw counted in two tables: USL PRO’s, where the Battery moved into sole possession of 4th place, and the Southern Derby Cup. The Southern Derby cup is a fan-sponsored award that is currently contested by Charleston, Charlotte and Wilmington, and though Charlotte won it back from Charleston in 2012, the cup apparently remains in the possession of The Regiment.
With the draw, Charlotte and Charleston remain tied for first place with four points. Charleston (1-1-1) ends its season series with Charlotte without a win, but picked up three points from Wilmington on May 11. Charlotte (1-0-1) has yet to play Wilmington, but previously beat Charleston at home on May 14.
So it’s pretty much all down to the Hammerheads now. With a game in hand on Charleston, Charlotte has the inside track, but any one of the teams could still walk away with this year’s hardware. That is, if they bother to come get it.
Speaking of the standings
Charleston has lost three times this season, and if you glance at the table you’ll notice that two of those teams — Richmond and Harrisburg — are now perched above the Battery in the standings. Harrisburg got past Wilmington Wednesday night for their third straight win and climbed to second place, but the really remarkable record belongs to Richmond. The Kickers are 6-0-3, which is a great way to start a season.
Of course, then there’s the fine print: Richmond has played only once away from home so far. So the road gets tougher from here on out.
That said, let’s not ignore the obvious. With 26 points from 11 matches, Orlando City (8-1-2) remains the class of the league in 2013 and appears to be well on its way to another Commissioner’s Cup. The Lions have the hottest player in all of North American soccer at the moment (forward Dom Dwyer, on affiliation loan from Kansas City) and would probably rank above at least one MLS team if there were an integrated power ranking system for the three professional leagues.
That one MLS team of which I speak is Chivas USA. While they’re above D.C. United (5 points) and Toronto F.C. (8 points) in the Supporters’ Shield standings at the moment, Chivas’ is on a downward skid, having just fired their controversial first-year head coach.
And here’s a fun-fact about Chivas. If the Battery can find a way to win at Rio Tinto Stadium against Real Salt Lake next Wednesday, they’ll host a Quarterfinals match against the winner of the June 12 Chivas USA at Carolina Railhawks match.
Quoting myself: The Cordo File
I don’t often get things this right, so please forgive me while I enjoy it.
When I looked at the conditions before the match last night, the first game-related thought that popped into my head was that Heviel Cordoves was going to dominate on wet grass if he got a chance to play. And since my notepad melted in the monsoon, forcing me to switch to taking spoken notes into my digital audio recorder, I have this rambling record of what I observed as the match wore on. Here’s what I recorded starting in the 53rd minute (edited to remove comments on game action)…
Alright, this is the thing that I’ve been looking for. Here comes Cordoves… Cordoves is getting ready to come in… OK, now we go to the 4-4-2. Adjetey comes out, Cordo comes in, and I really have this feeling that Cordo, in this situation, this is the guy I want out there…
It’s a flick-on header from Paterson, it goes to Cordo, he gets a — and that is the most beautiful goal! AAAAAAAH! AAAAAAH! AAAAAH! CORDO! That is as good as it gets. That was a throw-in from Wiltse, a flick-on header by Nicki, who — you could see his chin — he gets it ahead to Cordo, who touches it, gets it down, turns, gets to the center, turns and fires, I’m going to call that 25 yards. And it’s that thunderfoot thing, man. He just bent it in. That was beautiful.
Cordoves tears it up again. Passes ahead to Nicki … and it just dies in the water. Like a fat duck… (After a Charlotte throw-in) Bryce (Alderson’s) got the ball, he gets it central to Cordoves, who passes ahead to Kelly. Kelly beats his man, Kelly chips clean, AND THAT’S A SCORE! Right at the turn of the 69th minute! Beautiful, beautiful play. Beautiful f—king play. He was so calm. He got the ball ahead, he got it on the left, took it into the box, there was contact, he kept his feet as the other man went down, the keeper came up, and he just very calmly settled it ahead. Nice. Not a big shot, just he set the keeper up, and then he took what the keeper gave him. So we’re now 2-1, and this is a beautiful turnaround.
Anyway, those are my favorite moments from the tape. As for my really embarrassing moments, get your own MP3 recorder.
A few guys I wanted to call out after listening to my notes:
Jarad van Schaik continued his run of good form. He was fearless in midfield and seemed to get the advantage offered to him by the wet turf better than others. There were a couple of times when he seemed to launch himself like a baserunner stealing second and hydroplane through tackles. Dramatic and cool, but also clean.
Colin Falvey shows up frequently, as he usually does. Not only did he play his usual good defense, even his mistakes were quality. In the 67th minute I noted how he over-committed on an angle that would have been fine on firming footing, but the next comment is how he recognized the mistake and hustled back deep. Not only did he back off the original idea, which could have created an opportunity if he slipped, but he also recovered into a smart position that wound up re-establishing the back line. Falvey also came well into the attacking half several times, bombing passes into danger areas.
John Wilson: There were several times when his long passes sent him awkwardly (and harmlessly) airborne as he slipped on wet grass, but Wilson also found space up the center and the left sideline on multiple occasions, and was as aggressive on offense as I’ve seen him play since April. He had an opportunity in the 67th or 68th minute from inside the penalty area, but he took a touch instead of attempting the volley the entry pass, and Charlotte recovered in time to block his attempt.
Nicki Paterson: Though he got on the stat sheet with his assist to Cordoves, that doesn’t begin to tell the story of his contribution. The official scorekeeper credited Paterson with three shots (the Battery out-shot the Eagles 16-6), and by my notes at least two of those should have been counted among Eric Reed’s six saves. He had no fewer than three well-played flick-ons, and kept plenty of pressure on the Charlotte midfield.
Here’s the thing that occurred to me once I got home, though. I didn’t think Charleston’s back line defense was horrible in the final minute of stoppage when the Battery surrendered that late Charlotte equalizer. The failing I noticed was that Charlotte’s defenders were able to come across the midway line and bomb deep passes into the Charleston box over and over again. Paterson subbed out of the match in the 77th minute. I don’t think he would have allowed those guys as much space and time to launch those balls. But who knows?
One thing I figure, though, is that a Scotsman would probably feel quite at home in weather like that.
Odisnel Cooper: His stat sheet isn’t much to talk about, but that’s because the league scorer doesn’t record how many times a keeper kills a chance by coming off his line to punch a cross clear, or makes the right decision in a touchy spot. And after Cooper’s mistake on Friday gave up the opening goal to Harrisburg, this was a situation where he needed to respond well to that disappointment and then play well. He allowed two goals, but I doubt there was much he could have done about either. The first came off a one-on-one duel with Stephen Okai, who wound up alone because of a slip and fall, and the final came when Drew Yates headed home the equalizer off a deflection from point-plank range.
But the moment I want to call out is a play in the second half when a ball played ahead into space wound up in limbo. After a moment of hesitation, Cooper charged out of the penalty area and took the ball with his feet — the same thing that got him in trouble on Friday. It was dangerous. I don’t know what goalkeepers would say about the decision. But it was also gutsy and decisive, and I know those are qualities everyone wants in their keeper.
Tommy Snee, singer
If you haven’t met him yet, Tommy Snee is the co-owner of Molly Darcy’s. If you’re wondering who he is, he’s the one who looks like he could bench-press a CARTA bus. He’s affable, Irish, loves soccer and NASCAR, and he’s a legit supporter of the Charleston Battery.
He’s also, it turns out, quite the singer.
Without getting into the details I overheard, the Battery wound up with a late cancellation and a bit of confusion about who was going to perform the National Anthem last night. They called Snee and asked him, and he showed up.
When it came time, Snee stood bareheaded in the rain without a raincoat, took the mic in his hand and flat nailed it. I’ve cringed my way through professional renditions of the anthem, so my expectations were low. But that was a memorable performance under tough conditions. Snee even gave it a little flourish at the end, and totally pulled it off.
Speaking of Molly Darcy’s, the bar is not only the Battery’s official away-game watch-party partner, it’s also sponsoring Irish Night on Saturday. Should be memorable. If I can remember any of it.
Jose, can you see…
Jose Cuevas looked to be rounding into form against Harrisburg and wasn’t listed by the team as an injury question on Tuesday. So when he wasn’t on the field for warm-ups, I got that “uh-oh” feeling.
Battery athletic trainer Bobby Weisenberger said Cuevas had a bruised heel, and the team made a game-time decision to include Zach Prince in the lineup instead. Officially, Cuevas is being evaluated for Saturday. Personally, Cuevas says he’ll be ready.
Quinton Griffith made his first appearance in uniform since May 11 as an unused substitute. Given the conditions, and the injury he’s recovering from (groin), I’m sincerely grateful that was as close as Anhaeuser let him get to the action.
Waiting for news on Sanyang
Defensive midfielder Amadou Sanyang came up with a limp in the 16th minute, and though he played through the first half — sprinting and leaping when necessary, limping noticably when it wasn’t — Bryce Alderson replaced him for the second half. He was on crutches in under the stands at the end of the match, and showed up in the pub afterward wearing a protective boot.
Weisenberger reports that Sanyang was scheduled to receive an X-ray today. Once again, we’re crossing our fingers for a talented young man who keeps picking up injuries.
TOP IMAGE: Battery President Andrew Bell paces as a member of the grounds crew pokes holes in the field with a pitchfork Wednesday night. The game started 15 minutes behind schedule to give the pitch more time to drain. Dan Conover photos.