DANIEL ISLAND — The Charleston Battery surrendered a stoppage-time header to the Chicago Fire Wednesday night to drop their second match of the 2013 Carolina Challenge Cup 2-1. The sudden goal in the closing seconds stunned both the home team and its fans, who saw a valiant performance negated in dramatic fashion.
The winning goal came in the waning seconds of injury time when forward Maicon Santos, who spent 2012 with D.C. United, found Brazilian midfielder Alex in front of goal, and the 5-8-inch 24-year-old somehow managed to rise above the defense and head the ball through traffic.
The game-winner cast an eerie silence over Blackbaud Stadium. Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser, who had been standing near the touchline awaiting the final whistle, turned around without changing expression and sat on the bench for the final moments.
For the underdog home side, the loss obscured a remarkable performance in which the Battery took an early lead on a spectacular assist-and-finish, gave up a garbage-goal equalizer off a corner kick later in the first half, and then held on against waves of fresh, second-half substitutes to secure what looked to be a well-earned draw.
The Battery opened the night in confident and aggressive style. In the 12th minute the team scored its third goal in two CCC matches when midfielder Nicki Paterson made another buccaneering run up the middle of the Fire defense and passed ahead to striker Jose Cuevas, who kept his feet under tight pressure and finished with calm authority. Like the club’s two previous goals against Vancouver on Saturday, the Paterson-to-Cuevas score was a quality tally from the run of play.
But the Fire would find their equalizer 15 minutes later, with 2012 Rookie of the year Austin Berry cleaning up an unsuccessful corner kick in traffic. Midfielder Joel Lindpere was credited with an assist on the play.
The Battery kept the pressure on the big-league club throughout the first 30 minutes. In the 29th minute Paterson led another coordinated central counterattack, but the threat came up empty when forward Dane Kelly didn’t notice winger Quinton Griffith open on the right and forced an unsuccessful try from distance. But in the final 15 minutes of the half the Fire seemed to get back into the run of play, winning free kicks, possession and a shot that glanced off the frame.
The second half opened with massive substitutions by the Fire, who began the match with what appears to be their 10 best field players and the backup to goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Charleston made fewer substitutions, resting captain Colin Falvey and veteran Left Back John Wilson. Neither team would score in the second 45 minutes, but the game seemed to trend increasingly toward the Fire as the match wore on, until the Battery were bunkered back near the final third, with the Fire taking advantage of extended possessions.
“We did a very good job,” Anhaeuser said after the game. “We limited them to not-great chances, but unfortunately they caught us on a free kick, so that tied it up. And then second half, we’re battling. They made nine subs, so you could see us having to defend a little bit.
“I could have subbed more. But I’m trying to hold some guys, to give our guys some minutes to get some fitness, which you could see there at the end it was starting to catch up with a few of them. Which I could have taken off. But you know what? In the end we’re trying to get some of the guys some minutes and some games. And also then you get some things that happen. When you’re tired, you have to do things differently.
“So… it’s just disappointing, because you’re there and it really should be a 1-1 tie. We’ve really got to close that down. It’s a learning point, and we’ve got to talk about it.”
NICKI TIME: Nicki Paterson was without a doubt the most active player on the pitch Wednesday, staking a claim to that rare title of “box-to-box midfielder.” He more than held his own against one of the better veteran midfields in MLS, and his attacks had the stands buzzing. Yet the loss took the gleam off it match for him. “I feel devastated,” Paterson said. “I feel like we just lost the championship game, but when you fight so hard… but if you’re going to lose a game, I guess that the way you lose it.”
Asked about his current run of form, Paterson said “Sometimes I run about too much, maybe, but I’ve just got a bunch of energy. I try to drive the team forward, and someone has to take the game by the scruff of the neck, you know?
And what explains the difference between the Vancouver and Chicago matches?
“I think just the mindset,” Paterson said. “A few of the guys, the first game, didn’t really know what to expect. It was the first game they’d played. We’d only been in preseason for five days, so maybe a little bit of rust. And this time they knew they had to be ready straight from the beginning, and the coach got us prepared with the game plan and we stuck to it. ”
TRY A CUBAN: Evier Cordovez, the Battery’s big Cuban international forward, entered the match in the 72nd minute and combined with Zach Prince four minutes later on an effective back-heel give-and-go. The attack ended with a nicely centered pass, but there was no one in the channels to do anything with it.
HOUSTON 2, VANCOUVER 1
While the Charleston-Chicago tilt featured both team’s best lineups, the Dynamo-Whitecaps game at 5 p.m. was notable for the number of reserves on the field in the first half.
Vancouver trialist Corey Herzog opened the scoring in the 27th minute when he ran down a horrible back pass by Houston’s Jermaine Taylor, controlled it and slotted it calmly into the net at a sharp angle.
For Houston, which left team leader Brad Davis on the bench throughout, it took a second-half infusion of substitutes to generate goals. U.S. international Will Bruin found the equalizer in the 75th minute when he put a good first touch on a long ball, bounced off a defender to break free in front of the keeper an put the ball in the net. Two minutes later, defensive midfielder Adam Moffat — almost unrecognizable without his trademark beard — fired an optimistic shot from about 35 yards out. It caught the keeper napping, and woke the sparse midweek crowd.