For the second week in a row, the Charleston Battery gave up a second-half equalizer to let a quality rival escape Blackbaud Stadium with a point. Which is disappointing, but really not that big of a deal (Game story here. Game gallery here. Official league box score here.).
What will trouble Battery fans this week is another disappointing development, which might or might not affect the story the 2014 season in a major and lasting way.
Omar Salgado hurt his foot
That starting forward Omar Salgado subbed out of the match just before the hour mark wasn’t cause for alarm. Charleston had quality strikers on the bench Saturday, and could afford to send fresh ones at Richmond in waves.
But Salgado limping off the pitch? Favoring his previously injured right foot? The foot that’s already been through three surgeries and robbed this obviously talented young man of two years of competition?
That’s cause for alarm.
Battery Athletic Trainer Bobby Weisenberger was circumspect about Salgado when I asked about the team’s health status after the match. Coach Mike Anhaeuser told The Post and Courier on Saturday that the team would be sending Salgado for x-rays.
This morning Weisenberger said there was still no official status on Salgado, but that he’ll be getting some imaging done today. And he confirmed that the injury was to Salgado’s right foot (a not-insignificant bit of information, given that all sorts of leg and joint injuries can cause a person to limp off the field in obvious pain).
Salgado was a revelation as a second-half sub against Orlando. Definitely as good as advertised. But Richmond’s back four might just be the best in USL PRO, and with pesky midfielder Samuel Ansante harassing him all night, the big kid from El Paso was already having a frustrating evening before he got hurt.
Anyway, let’s not assume anything. Here’s wishing him well.
On further review, let’s give some credit to Richmond
I don’t usually make predictions — because, duh, soccer — but when I sat down with Dane Arlauckas to record a Battery TV preview of the Richmond match last week, he asked me to predict a score. I went 3-1 Battery — not because I thought Richmond was a bad team, but because I thought Charleston was farther along in its development relative to the Kickers, who are just starting to integrate their new players into the unit. Plus our attack is loaded with guys who can make things happen in a flash.
But after that early George Davis IV goal against the run of play, my 3-1 prediction went up in flames. The Battery fought back and retook the lead in the second half, but after that 14th minute goal there would be no catching Richmond early, stretching them out and then burning them on the break. The veteran back line of William Yomby, Henry Kalungi, Sascha Goerres and Alex Lee generally did a good job of keeping the Battery in front of them, and midfielders Samuel Asante and Michael Callahan were effective in frustrating the Battery’s attackers.
Plus (see The Question below), Leigh Cowlishaw‘s five-man midfield wound up giving the Battery fits in the second half.
The Battery always hands out its Man of the Match award to a Charleston player, and by that criteria Jarad van Schaik certainly deserved it. But if you pull the lens back a bit, it’s pretty obvious that George Davis IV from Richmond has to be the frontrunner for USL PRO’s Player of the Week honors. He scored twice on just three shots against a Battery defense that’s no walk in the park for visiting strikers.
“I don’t think we really got going tonight,” Colin Falvey said. “I don’t know what it was.”
Maybe what it was was a good performance by a scrappy visiting team, and some timely finishing from Davis.
Battery free kick, 59th minute
So it’s less than two minutes after Salgado has limped off the field to be replaced by Adam Mena — another post-injury success story from Vancouver. Mena lacks Salgado’s obviously rare physical gifts, but he’s a clever, sneaky striker who lines up wide but interchanges freely. And in his first real action of the match, he generated a threat just above the penalty box that forced Yomby into a yellow card take-down in the 58th minute.
With the game level on opposing scores, Jarad van Schaik stepped up to take the free kick from a dangerous angle and depth.
Back in the fourth minute van Schaik had sent a longer free kick into the mixer for a well-marked Amadou Sanyang. The Gambian defensive midfielder got up to deliver a rainbow header that fell on frame at the extreme upper 90, forcing Willis into his first save of the match.
This time van Schaik skimmed it in just over the defender marking Sanyang at the six-yard-line. Again Sanyang out-jumped his marker and redirected the ball, but there were still several Richmond players — plus the 6-5 Willis — between his shot and the Kickers’ goal.
Fortunately for the Battery, this time Sanyang’s shot had a bit more venom on it. For the second time in two weeks, a Battery player raced towards the club’s new E1 Supporters’ Section to celebrate with the team’s most loyal fans. Teammates mobbed him.
“For the most part you just sorta whip it in that channel and you hope someone’s there,” van Schaik said later. ” I did look at Amadou before the play, funny enough.
“But it’s more about missing that first guy and putting it in the right spot. It’s just tough to handle for them.”
(Honorable mention: The Richmond scare in the 83rd minute, as described on the team’s website: “With full time rapidly approaching, the Kickers’ all-time leading scorer, Matthew Delicate, nearly gave the visitors a late lead. An Alex Lee cross from the right side fell to a wide open Shay Spitz at the top of the six-yard box, but his botched header bounded directly to Delicate stationed at the near post. The 6’4” marksman beat the scrambling goalkeeper but his header ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar before being swept away to send the Kickers home with one point.” Far too close for comfort, but only alert play by the once-beaten Cooper kept that ball from crossing the line.)
What should we make of the midfield?
From my perspective on the sidelines, the story of the second half was largely one of possession. As in Richmond had the ball, and we didn’t.
Anhaeuser said afterward that the team needed to do a better job keeping the ball, but also pointed out that possession wouldn’t have been much of an issue if the Battery would have protected its lead for the game’s final half hour. “If you defend the lead out, you win 2-1, and it doesn’t matter.”
But Richmond’s emerging midfield advantage might well have been a function of the teams’ tactics and situations, too. The Kickers came out in a stout 4-5-1, while the Battery opened in a 4-3-3 with Salgado, rookie Andre Lewis and forward Heviel Cordoves interchanging up top and the team picking up defensively at mid-stripe. After about 30 minutes the formation looked a lot more like a 4-4-2, with Salgado and Cordoves up top and Lewis tracking back deeper on the left. That’s not a bad group for holding on to the ball, yet the Battery seemed eager to bypass the midfield in the first half, chipping over it to the strikers on multiple occasions.
Charleston has two of the league’s best central midfielders in van Schaik and Sanyang, and the versatile Zach Prince joined them to start the match. But from about the 50th minute on, Richmond seemed to be winning the possession battle. As many soccer experts will tell you, possession is the most misleading statistic in the game. But it can also be the soccer equivalent of body-punches in boxing.
“It’s similar to Orlando again,” van Schaik said. “We just kind of in the second half (were) losing control of the play a little bit, and I don’t know what it is. We have to try to figure out how to deal with those extra guys in the midfield, because we’re not playing with as many in the midfield, and they’ve got extras. As the game wears on they have more of the ball, and it’s tough to deal with. So we’re trying to make adjustments and figure it out.”
The Envelope, Please
MAN OF THE MATCH: Richmond’s George Davis IV. Two goals in your season opener on the road ought to count for something. Honorable mentions: Jarad van Schaik, Charleston (a goal and an assist, plus an all-round stellar performance from a man who is quickly building a quality MLS resume); Collin Martin (two assists for the Kickers); William Yomby, Richmond; Amadou Sanyang, Charleston — and not just because of his three shots and one goal.
BEST LEAST-TALKED-ABOUT INDIVIDUAL PLAY: It was simply awful defending by Charleston at a clutch moment, and Richmond’s finishing wasn’t exactly clinical, either. But when Delicate’s close-range header in the 83rd minute was denied by the crossbar after beating Odisnel Cooper, the ball remained very much in play. If El Gato doesn’t turn around and pluck that bouncing ball off the goal line — muy rápidamente — that one rolls in for an ugly and thoroughly embarrassing game-winner. Thank you, Mr. Cooper.
GUY YOU’D LEAST WANT TO MEET IN A DARK ALLEY: Goalkeeper Joe Willis, Richmond.
THE MR. HAPPY AWARD: Charleston forward Heviel Cordoves, Charleston, who was first on the scene to celebrate goals by van Schaik and Sanyang. Just saying, you’d better be strong if you score for the Battery, because you’re going to have to carry a 6-4 Cuban around for a while as soon as you do. Really enjoying his excitement, effort and obvious passion for the game right now.
BEST TAILGATE SAUCE FOR GRILLED MEAT, INTERNATIONAL DIVISION: The award goes to Argentina, which nosed ahead of Uruguay in a competition that required several tie-breaking rounds. Saturday’s tailgate wasn’t the biggest we’ve had, but members of The Regiment and Battery Barra Brava grilled and partied together, and that’s an excellent development.
However, I think I’m definitely going to need to judge the sauce thing again. How is it that I’m 51 and I’ve never had sauces that good before?
Andre Lewis was really happy to make his first professional start, and spent a long time after the match down on the field talking with D.C. United prospect Michael Seaton… Looks like Eric Shannon‘s international paperwork came through from Guatemala, since he was in the 18 as Odisnel Cooper‘s backup… Speaking of Cooper, it looked like he took a shot to the head at one point, and had to be tended to on the field by Weisenberger. He stayed on… After successfully defending a barrage of set pieces against Orlando (including 17 corner kicks), the Battery gave up just three corners all night. All of them came in the second half… Jackson Farmer got the spot-start at right back and repeatedly went forward on the overlap…. Mike Azira got his first MLS start in Seattle Saturday, playing the full 90 and accounting for 7.1 percent of the Sounders’ passes in their 1-2 loss to Columbus Crew… Odeen Domingo of ODFC News reports that former Battery stars Cody Ellison and Jose Cuevas were two of the players who were set to sign with Phoenix F.C. earlier this month before the team was sold and rebranded as Arizona United. Cuevas and Ellison have the same agent and have been playing together for years… If you wanna see something cool, watch how the kids react to Odisnel Cooper after a match.
TOP IMAGE: Omar Salgado goes down after contact in the first half. He injured his foot in the 56th minute. Dan Conover photos.