Wow. What a game.
Charleston’s season couldn’t end in the playoffs because of an own goal scored by one of its best defenders, could it? To lose like that, to the same team that eliminated them from the postseason last year, and in the process lose the first home game since May 2014 just seemed like an exceptionally cruel way to go out.
It looked to be headed that way after Taylor Mueller’s attempt at blocking a cross ended up curling around goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper and into the back of the net less than two minutes into extra time in the first-round playoff game against the Richmond Kickers.
I should’ve known better.
It would have been easy for the team to feel deflated after the own-goal that made it 1-0 for the visitors. Instead, they rallied and scored two goals in the second half of extra time to come away with the thrilling 2-1 win. The team’s resolve showed after Mueller’s accidental goal. Cooper immediately went over to encourage the center back, while fellow defender Shawn Ferguson shouted and clapped to encourage the team to get one back.
Charleston coach Mike Anhaeuser made three subs in extra time, and they turned out to be crucial. Two of them were made immediately after Richmond took the lead. Forward Heviel Cordoves came on for Garbanzo and Dante Marini replaced Maikel Chang. Cordoves gave Charleston added size in the attacking end, an area in which they were severely disadvantaged. Richmond’s defense was very physical, and used their size advantage to push around the Charleston players.
They double-teamed Kelly for most of the night, not allowing him to do anything, and Garbanzo was often knocked off the ball when he would make an attacking run. Marini’s best asset is his speed, and that is even more of a weapon when most of the players have been running for over 90 minutes.
The remaining time in the first half of the extra half hour went by and it was still 1-0. Anhaeuser made one more change in between halves, bringing on Forrest Lasso for Mueller. Lasso is also a center back, but he wasn’t brought on to play defense. Instead, the six-foot-five rookie posted up in Richmond’s box as a target man for the Battery attack. The added threat of Lasso and Cordoves allowed Dane Kelly to find a little more space than he had been getting, and that led to the eventual tying goal.
Charleston was still trailing with less than 15 minutes left in the game, in their season if they couldn’t equalize. That’s when Kelly was finally able to break through the defense and goalkeeper Ryan Taylor, heading home a ball crossed from Marini to make it 1-1.
Just seven minutes after tying the game, Charleston took the lead, once again with the contribution of a substitute. Justin Portillo lined up a corner kick from the right side of the goal, while Lasso hovered around the far side of the goal pointing to where he wanted the ball to go.
Portillo delivered it perfectly, and Lasso jumped over the defenders and beat Taylor in the air to head the ball home and send the crowd into a frenzy. Lasso ripped off his jersey in celebration while sprinting to the corner where his girlfriend was standing, and the team mobbed him. He was booked for removing his jersey, but I don’t think anybody in the building was going to complain after that comeback.
Then it was Richmond’s turn to dial up the attack. Charleston tried to absorb the pressure, but that job became more difficult when Navion Boyd was sent off in the 120th minute. The referee indicated four minutes of stoppage time. Four minutes between the Battery and the next round of the playoffs.
Richmond had its chances, including a great one from Matthew Delicate, who scored the goal to beat the Battery last year and has constantly been a thorn in the team’s side. But Cooper made an amazing diving save to keep his shot out, and it ended up being the last chance of the game.
GOAL: Cooper. DEF: Adjetey, Ferguson, Mueller, Griffith. MID: Portillo, van Schaik, Chang, Garbanzo, Prince. FWD: Kelly.
Charleston’s attacking strategy on Saturday could be broken down into three stages.
1. Long ball to Kelly.
Playing through balls to the Jamaican forward seemed to be the main idea for the first half, but Kelly struggled to find his footing, sometimes literally, as the physical Richmond defense did a good job of shutting him down. The team still managed six shots in the first half, but only two of them were on target and neither was particularly threatening.
2. Long ball to Boyd.
Boyd was brought on in the second half to replace Zach Prince. With Boyd’s addition the Battery’s tactics took a different turn. Now, almost every attack seemed to come with a long, lofted ball down the right wing where he could use his speed to get towards the corner and look for a teammate. He would then either cross the ball into the box or play it to another player making a supporting run.
3. Crosses into the box.
Once the Battery went behind in extra time, it was prompted a major shift in tactics as Anhaeuser knew the season was over if they couldn’t score. Charleston subbed in three players to attack and went from a four-man backline to a three-man composed of Griffith, Ferguson and Adjetey. They poured the rest of their players forward in search of a goal. Obviously, it worked.
Previewing Louisville City
Louisville and Charleston have met twice this season and split the series. Louisville won 3-1 at home on Aug. 22, and then Charleston won on the return visit, 2-0 on Sept. 12. That loss to Louisville was the last time Charleston has been defeated this season.
The Battery put out some interesting playoff statistics before the game against Richmond. The last time Charleston lost a home playoff game was in 2001. Since then, they have gone 10-0 at home. However, in that same amount of time the team was 1-7-1 when playing a road playoff game. Louisville was 9-3-2 at home this season. So, advantage Louisville in that area. But the home team hasn’t been in the greatest form lately, losing four of their last five games to close out the season.
Of course, when you think Louisville, you think of Matt Fondy. The forward set a new USL record for goals in a season with 22. The Battery will have to focus on shutting him down, which they did in that Sept. 12 meeting at MUSC Health Stadium.
Charleston will be without two players, as Garbanzo and Boyd will both have to serve one-game suspensions for their red cards. The loss of Garbanzo hurts the most, as he was red carded while already on the bench and is a regular starter. Memo Rodriguez has started in the same spot as Garbanzo in the past, and Marini can also play there, but it has been Garbanzo’s spot for most of the season. Maybe the Battery could choose the aggressive route with both Kelly and Cordoves up top. We will find out Saturday.
Looking further ahead…
If Charleston manages to beat Louisville and NY Red Bulls II can upset Rochester, Charleston would host the semi-final. If Charleston advances all the way to the final, the only way they would be able to host is if the LA Galaxy II reach the championship.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. and can be viewed live on Louisville City’s Youtube channel. If you’re in the Charleston area, The Sparrow in Park Circle will be having a viewing party, as usual. Come on out and watch with your fellow fans!
Top photo: Ricky Garbanzo receives a pass from Maikel Chang on Saturday. Photo credit: Kim Morgan Gregory Photography.