There are a few tough remaining stretches on the Charleston Battery’s 2013 schedule, but as the team makes the turn into the back half of the season this weekend they’ll be putting the worst behind them.
By the end of this weekend, the Battery will have played 14 matches in just under six weeks, with eight of those matches on the road. They’ll have done it with a roster that never exceeded 22 names, and that at times could field no more than 18 uninjured players. And once it’s over, they’ll enjoy a mid-season vacation by USL PRO standards: Just two matches between this weekend and July 5th.
Games 13 and 14 also constitute the middle of this year’s 26-game season, and Charleston enters them in sole possession of third place with 23 points on a 7-3-2 record. On the one hand, the Battery have been one of USL PRO’s standard-bearers in 2012, going 2-0-0 against the Houston Dynamo Reserves while beating the San Jose Earthquakes and taking Real Salt Lake to overtime in the U.S. Open Cup. On the other, a string of nagging, chronic injuries to key players have kept the Battery a talented cipher.
Their two opponents this weekend are lower-table teams on radically different trajectories. Pittsburgh hasn’t lost a league match since it’s first game against Charleston back in April, while Rochester — one of USL’s premier franchises over the years — continues its sleepwalk through the 2013 schedule.
Saturday night at Pittsburgh
Despite opening a beautiful new soccer-specific stadium this season, the Riverhounds rolled into Charleston on April 27 winless and flat. But they haven’t lost a league match since their 2-0 slugfest at Blackbaud Stadium, compiling a respectable 3-0-4 record over their past seven. They’ve been far from dominant, however, with two of those three wins coming at home against winless Antigua and one-win Rochester.
There’s no particular secret to their success. The team features a consistent goal scorer in former Red Bulls’ castoff José Angulo (former league scoring leader Jhonny Arteaga, with two goals, is the only other Riverhound with more than a goal to his credit), the league’s top assist man in vagabond midfielder Matthew Dallman, a steady defensive leader in Andrew Marshall, and a scrappy style evidenced by the three Riverhounds ranked among the league leaders in fouls. Former College of Charleston goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap minds their net.
The Battery’s 2-0 win on April 27 featured two goals by Michael Azira, who appeared to benefit from Pittsburgh’s defensive focus on Charleston’s better-known threats. The Riverhounds racked up 21 fouls that evening out of their 4-4-2 formation, and largely succeeded in keeping Charleston’s more talented attackers in check.
But the big difference between this match and the first one might just be the presence of Dallman in the attack. The 28-year-old midfielder started the season injured and didn’t play against Charleston after going the first half against Charlotte the night before. Over the past four games, Dallman has logged one goal and three assists as the Riverhounds went 2-0-2.
Saturday’s match begins at 7 p.m. at Highmark Stadium in downtown Pittsburgh. More significantly, Battery fans will meet for the official watch party at Molly Darcy’s on East Bay Street at the Market in Charleston.
Sunday afternoon in Rochester
A better question might be, “Will these guys be an easier mark at their place than they were at Charleston immediately after a coaching change?” The Rhinos fired Coach Jesse Meyers before their first game in the U.S. Open Cup, re-installing former coach Pat Ercoli from the front office. The Charleston match was the team’s first league contest with Ercoli at the helm, and while the change did appear to perk up the Rhinos, the result wasn’t exactly beautiful football.
And whatever it was, it hasn’t led to anything better. The Rhinos have played just three matches since then, drawing Los Angeles and the Montreal Impact Reserves at home and losing to Pittsburgh on the road. They’ve earned just seven points out of 12 matches, and only winless and pointless Antigua serve to keep them out of the league basement.
On the bright side, the Rhinos feature the league’s best keeper in veteran Kristian Nicht, a physically imposing (but relatively slow-footed) German who pretty much singlehandedly kept Rochester in contention against Charleston. They have big, physical defenders and — at least on paper — some quality MLS talent on loan from the New England Revolution (defender Bilal Duckett, forward Matt Horth, midfielder Gabe Latigue and defender Tyler Polak). Forward Blake Brettschneider — a former South Carolina Gamecock — logged 32 appearances over the past two seasons in Major League Soccer, but has so far managed just two goals and an assist in 11 USL PRO appearances.
The Rhinos reinforced their attack this week with the re-acquisition of forward Andrew Hoxie. Hoxie spent three seasons with the Rhinos (2010-12), logging 14 goals and eight assists. It’s not clear whether he’ll be cleared to play this weekend.
One other thing to bring up about Rochester. Remember how they showed up at Blackbaud Stadium wearing a home uniform that looked almost exactly like the Battery’s home uniform? It really kinda messed things up, since players couldn’t tell out of the corner of their eyes whether the person to their left was friend or foe.
Sure would be kinda cool if we showed up with our striped jerseys and returned the favor. But we’ll probably wear our road reds like nice, normal teams.
Both sides could be battling fatigue on Sunday, as Charleston buses up from Pittsburgh and Rochester hosts expansion VSI Tampa Bay FC on Saturday. The match begins at 4:05 p.m. at Sahlen’s Stadium. Battery fans will gather at Molly Darcy’s Irish Pub, 235 East Bay St.
The Battery bring…
What we can report from the trip to Utah is that team athletic trainer Bobby Weisenberger listed no players as injured coming out of the 5-2 overtime loss to Real Salt Lake. The Battery’s two most dynamic attacking players — speed demon Quinton Griffith and the crafty Jose Cuevas — both appeared to pull up with leg issues in the second half, but Weisenberger said afterward that altitude and dry weather had simply taken their toll.
Injuries and limited international slots kept the Battery shorthanded in Utah, but the four players who remained in Charleston earlier this week — left back Emmanuel Adjetey (ankle), forward Austin Savage (ankle), midfielder Bryce Alderson (international) and defensive midfielder Amadou Sanyang (foot) have joined the team in Pennsylvania and are available to play, according to club President Andrew Bell.
Various injuries across the midfield have kept the 2013 Battery attack in a more-or-less perpetual state of adaptation. For evidence, look at the team’s statistics: Seven players have logged at least two goals, and stars Cuevas and Griffith didn’t break their scoring duck until their last league match against Houston. All told, nine players have scored for the Battery this year.
Last year’s scoring leader, versatile midfielder Nicki Paterson, has returned to the top of the team scoring chart with five goals. He also leads the team with three assists. But the big question for the team — other than whose legs will be fresh enough to handle the grind of this compressed three-game road trip — is whether the re-emergence of Cuevas and Griffith will turbo-boost an attack that has relied primarily on Paterson and forward Dane Kelly (four goals). Center forward Heviel Cordoves has flashed moments of brilliance as well.
What hasn’t been a question all season is the quality of the back line. Center back Colin Falvey has been an undisputed star, and the rest of the group has been in reliably strong form and health since April. Coach Mike Anhaeuser has managed left back John Wilson‘s minutes cautiously, so Adjetey or Taylor Mueller are likely to fill the position at least once this weekend after Wilson’s complete game in the high desert. Anhaeuser also likes to substitute for center back Cody Ellison in dense stretches of the schedule.
Though not announced, fans should probably expect to see goalkeeper Kevin Klasilla start one of this weekend’s matches. Klasilla has started a match on each of the Battery’s two previous multi-game road trips. He has yet to allow a goal this season. Regular keeper Odisnel Cooper has five shutouts on the season, but seldom records impressive statistics for his saves because the Battery defense keeps the pressure off the young Cuban.