Charleston Battery at Harrisburg City Islanders
Friday, May 2, 7 p.m.
Sports Radio 1450 AM / charlestonbattery.com
Watch party at Molly Darcy’s Irish Pub, 235 East Bay St., Charleston
Video stream: www.cityislanders.com and youtube.com
Charleston Battery @ Dayton Dutch Lions
Sunday, May 4, 7 p.m.
Sports Radio 1450 AM / charlestonbattery.com
Watch Party at Molly Darcy’s
Video stream: www.dutchlionsfc.com and youtube.com
The Harrisburg-Dayton weekend road trip is a fixture of the Battery’s annual USL PRO scheduling. This one comes exactly 52 weeks after the last one, and Charleston would be quite happy for a repeat performance.
On May 1, 2013, current Seattle Sounders midfielder Mike Azira hit a beautiful volley at Skyline Sports Complex on City Island and Nicki Paterson scored off a penalty kick for his first of the season . But it took late heroics by Odisnel Cooper to preserve the 2-1 road win at Harrisburg.
The Sunday match on May 3 at Dayton was more of a slugfest, and the 1-0 outcome turned on another Paterson penalty kick. The man in goal for that one was former Battery backup keeper Kevin Klasila, who booked his first shutout of the season.
The return engagements for both teams proved to be turning points in the Battery’s season. Harrisburg stunned a heavy-legged Battery squad at Blackbaud on May 31, escaping with a 2-1 win that hinged on a mistake by rookie keeper Cooper. That Harrisburg thud was the beginning of an abysmal seven-week stretch that saw the Battery limp to a 1-4-5 record across all competitions.
And the team that broke the slump? Dayton, which came to Daniel Island on July 19 tied with Charleston for the sixth and final spot in the USL PRO playoffs. The Battery beat them 1-0 on the strength of another Paterson penalty kick and a Man-of-the-Match performance by Cooper. Though no masterpiece, the second Dayton win launched Charleston on a 6-3-0 late run that lifted the team to the No. 3 seed and a home date in the playoffs.
But that was last year.
The good news from Battery training on this shortest of training weeks is that every player on the roster is available to play going into Friday’s match. That’s the first time I’ve been able to report that on a Thursday in, like, forever.
Coach Mike Anhaeuser took 19 players on last weekend’s flight to Pittsburgh. He packed 20 onto the bus that departed Blackbaud early this morning. Rookie midfielders Michael Kafari and Justin Portillo stayed behind along with forward Marlon Ramirez. Last weekend’s garrison squad included forwards Dane Kelly and Mamadou Diouf, who remained in Charleston with Kafari and rookie attacking mid Dante Marini. Marini booked his first road ticket of the season this weekend. Expect to see every player on the bus contribute.
But just because players are available doesn’t mean they’re at full strength, Anhaeuser said. It typically takes a player four to six games to get back to full form, and the staff is wary of pushing returning players too hard too fast.
“Having Dane is key, especially at Harrisburg,” Anhaeuser said. “He’s had success at Harrisburg, he’s had success in Dayton. It’s who partners with him. Diouf did very well, but at the same time we have to be careful with both their injuries playing multiple minutes.”
Kelly, Diouf and Marini join a cast of forwards and attacking midfielders that includes Zach Prince, Andre Lewis, Maikel Chang, Heviel Cordoves, Adam Mena and Omar Salgado. That gives Anhaeuser more freedom to set his lineups and rotations, but getting the Battery attack rolling is a team-wide project at the moment, and finding your attacking form on the road is typically more difficult.
Anhaeuser’s options are a bit more constricted in the back of his midfield, where regular starter Amadou Sanyang isn’t 100 percent since picking up a bruise last weekend. Sanyang’s backup, Aminu Abdallah, was looking painfully tight on Tuesday, and needed several stretching sessions during practice. With Kafari and Portillo sitting this one out, that could cast versatile midfielder Jarad van Schaik in more of a defensive role.
On defense, Charleston’s six defenders know they’re all going to get work. Colin Falvey is often a two-match iron man, and fullback Quinton Griffith and defender Taylor Mueller both earned that distinction last week. Look for left back John Wilson to start Friday and sit Sunday, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if 6-4 center back Shawn Ferguson does the same thing. Anhaeuser traditionally likes to rest his larger players in two-game weekends. Teenager Jackson Farmer, who has figured primarily at right back this season, can play both inside and outside.
Once again, Cooper is expected to start the first match and cede the second to backup goalkeeper Eric Shannon. Both Battery keepers have an entirely respectable 1.0 goals-against average. Cooper deferred several goal kicks to Mueller at Pittsburgh because of a stiff hip, and could do it again if the hip acts up — not because the Cuban goalkeeper is incapable of taking those kicks, but in part because Mueller is just so effective at them. The do-it-all defender from Washington also has one of the best long throw-ins in the league.
The good news for the team concerns Prince. The tenacious midfielder leads the Battery with four yellow cards in six matches and will be suspended for a match if he picks up a fifth. But league rules will allow him to play on Sunday even if he sees yellow on Friday — because Charleston is on the road playing back-to-back.
The City Islanders (1-2-1) return to their home stadium fresh off their first win — a 2-1 road victory at the Sacramento Republic’s home opener in front of more than 20,000 fans. They’re scoring 0.75 goals per game and allowing 1.5, but those defensive numbers are inflated by their 4-1 loss at Orange County.
Harrisburg lost its top two scorers in the offseason, and though the reliable Nick Noble returns in goal, the City Islanders are rebuilding their defense. Morgan Langley gets most of their minutes at forward, but the Islanders make up for their thin crew of front-runners with an active midfield that includes attacker Yann Ekra and connecting and holding players like Jason Pelletier and and Robbie Derschang.
Lowcountry soccer fans may recognize 6-4 Pedro Ribeiro, who starred at Coastal Carolina and went to Philadelphia Union with the 15th pick in January. He’s on loan to Harrisburg — and in the middle of a conversion from college forward to professional central defender.
“They’re a team that’s got two rookie center backs,” Anhaeuser said. “But they will pass, like Orlando. They’ll work six midfielders in there, they’ll try to rotate to mess you up. But they also get out of shape, which causes them some problems.”
Harrisburg plays on a grass field that they have kept a little long in the past. Anhaeuser believes the Battery’s size and strength could offer the visitors a match-up advantage.
The Dutch Lions play their games in Ohio, but they take their technical direction from Enschede, a small city on the Netherlands side of the adjacent border with Germany. Enschede is the home of FC Twente, one of the top teams in the Dutch Eredevisie, and the parent to a number of international clubs. Hence their name, their orange uniforms and their preference for the Dutch style of play.
Of course, Dutch “Total Football” relies on technically proficient players with the game knowledge and awareness required to interchange with any position on the field. Since those are traits that most players in USL PRO are trying to develop, rather than perfect, the Dutch Lions’ preferred style of beautiful soccer can sometimes slide back into the more traditional “Northeastern tug-and-pull.”
The Dutchies made it to the USL PRO playoffs for the first time last season and are off to a promising 2-2-1 start based largely on returning most of the team’s core talent. But their last outing was largely a disaster. Visiting Richmond led the Lions 2-1 at Beavercreek Stadium at halftime on Saturday, but when defender Shane Smith earned a red card for a foul that yielded a penalty kick in the 55th minute, the route was on. Dayton would lose 5-1 to the Kickers.
Smith will miss this weekend’s match with that red card suspension, but the Dutch Lions are well stocked across their four-man back line. Brock Granger, Kevan George and defender/midfielder Shintaro Harada have all logged more than 400 minutes this season. Columbus Crew loaner Aaron Schoenfeld, a forward, leads the team in shots with 11, but the Crew forward who attracted the most attention in preseason remains a cipher.
Former 2013 first-rounder Ryan Finley is a Notre Dame alumni with top talent. Yet after starting in the Lions’ 0-3 season-opening loss at the New York Red Bulls Reserves, Finley disappeared from the 18 for the next two dates. He returned to the bench against Harrisburg on April 19th and has figured in the last two matches as a sub. Dayton officials say his reduced role is related both to an unspecified injury and a lack of performance in training and games. Crew Coach Gregg Berhalter’s take? “He’s not doing that well.”
The other wild card in Dayton is Jesjua Angoy Cruyff, the grandson of Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. The 21-year-old Spanish striker played the second half in his USL PRO debut against Richmond and earned an honorable mention to the USL PRO Team of the Week on Wednesday despite not figuring in the game’s statistics. But you have to figure that the grandson of the man credited with helping invent modern Dutch soccer ought to have a pretty good grasp of its concepts.
“They play,” Anhaeuser said of the Lions. “They want to pass. They play that Dutch style. They’ll be very risky. They like to play out of the back. But it’s a small, narrow field, and you can catch them. They pass into feet, which can be good. But if you make a mistake? If you work hard defenisvely against them? Quick counters? Boom.”
The surface at Beavercreek Stadium — a high school football venue with odd markings — is turf.
TOP IMAGE: Battery fullback Quinton Griffith and team captain Colin Falvey talk smack during a water break Wednesday as rookie Mamadou Diouf looks on at the team’s final practice before departing for Harrisburg on Thursday morning. The team will spend Friday night in Pennsylvania and take the seven-hour bus ride to Dayton on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s game. “We had success last year, so we want to keep the travel itinerary the same, ” said Coach Mike Anhaeuser. Dan Conover photo.