Canadian youth international Ben Fisk scored off a pass from Jose Cuevas in his Blackbaud Stadium debut Saturday night — and then returned the favor four minutes later as the Battery beat the Wilmington Hammerheads 2-0 in preseason action.
In a game notable for a sturdy first-half effort by the outmatched visitors, the scoring began with a flourish in the 69th minute and concluded in the 73rd with a great individual effort
Early in the 69th, substitute defender Sean Ferguson’s sliding tackle broke up a rapidly building Hammerhead threat, and moments later wing Quinton Griffith laid down a sliding tackle of his own near midfield to win back possession for the Battery. The resulting throw-in went to Cuevas, who slotted a pass across the field to the left, where the speedy Fisk outran the Wilmington line near the top of the area, got a good first touch, and then calmly beat the exposed keeper.
The second goal began with an excellent effort by veteran left back John Wilson, who pushed ahead into the attacking third to create the chance. When the ball went wide left to Fisk, “Ben 10″ pushed it back to the center, where Cuevas was closely marked by a center back. The 2012 Rookie of the Year coolly chipped the ball over the head of his man, spun around him to settle it, and with only the keeper left to beat, shot far post for the score.
Fisk’s efforts earned him Man of the Match honors.
The game was star midfielder Nicki Paterson’s first since Feb. 23, when he strained his groin in the Battery’s win over the Houston Dynamo. Paterson went 45 minutes, occasionally pushing forward aggressively, before giving way to Fisk at the half.
With Wilmington’s starters on the pitch in the first 45 minutes, Charleston possessed the ball much of the time, yet struggled to create rhythm and opportunities. They came close in the 29th minute, though. When forward Dane Kelly held up the ball against a larger center back just above the box, it gave his teammates a chance to push forward. He passed back to Michael Azira, who passed ahead to a sprinting Quinton Griffith on the right side near the top of the penalty area. Griffith, who has scored two long goals this preseason, didn’t hesitate to try his luck again, but the ball sailed high. It was one of at least two optimistic shots by the speedy Antiguan, who cut off his his braids this week and came to the match sporting a blonde hairdo.
Kelly, who continued a strong run of form Saturday, nearly scored in the 33rd minute, but his turn-and-fire shot from distance drifted high. Four minutes later, he posted up a Wilmington defender with the ball at his feet again, only this time passing out into the box for the charging Griffith, one of the league’s fastest players. Hammerhead keeper Troy Hernandez came boldly off his line to kill the chance and the two collided. Kelly played 58 minutes and seemed to be battling the Wilmington back line in each of them. I’m not the only one who has noticed that the 2013 version of the Jamaican forward seems physically stronger and more assertive than the 2012 edition.
Wilmington opened the second half with at least six substitutes (unannounced in the stadium), and used the preseason free-sub rule to replace players throughout the final 45. Charleston made three changes (Kevin Klasila for Odisnel Cooper, Sean Ferguson for Michael Azira, with Taylor Mueller sliding into right back, plus Fisk for Paterson), and the new matchups seemed to benefit the Battery.
Though Klasila was seldom called upon to make a difficult play, his distribution and goal kicks were excellent, Ferguson made a series on nice defensive plays, twice with sliding tackles and once with his head. But it was Fisk’s ability to combine with Jose Cuevas and John Wilson that changed the balance of power in the second half.
Evier Corodovez, who replaced Kelly in the 58th minute, won two free kicks for the Battery and only a great play by the Wilmington keeper kept him from getting a head on one of those free kicks by Cuevas.
By my count, Cuevas’ goal was his sixth of the preseason. It’s getting redundant to keep saying this, but this kid is, uh… pretty good.
Also worth noting: John Wilson continues to play like a man who isn’t in any way worried about pacing himself. On multiple occasions he was operating far ahead of midfield partners Griffith and Fisk, and yet I don’t remember him being out of position on defense all night. He broke down defenders with technical skill, won balls, and played a key role in the sequence that led to Cuevas’s goal.
MORE ON ‘BEN 10′: According to the Battery’s front office, Fisk is officially a trialist. Unofficially he’s a 20-year-old Canadian youth international with a Whitecaps PDL contract who reported to Charleston this week to begin a season-long loan. Whether he’s the first of several Whitecaps to join the Battery roster on loan this year is something I haven’t been able to confirm. Vancouver media says yes, but Battery President Andrew Bell says nothing has been finalized.
Though a few die-hards got a glimpse of Fisk when he subbed on at halftime in the Battery’s draw with the College of Charleston at Patriots Point on Tuesday, his debut at Blackbaud was a far more impressive performance. He found opportunities in the attack on Tuesday, but each fizzled or went off target. On Saturday, however, he looked consistently sharp.
“I’d only been here a day or so (On Tuesday), so I was still pretty much falling asleep on the field,” Fisk said. “I was pretty tired. So I hope no one judged me on that performance and I think that today is something you can watch out for a little bit more.”
What’s your game like?
“I’m fast, I like to run at players, and I’m always looking for goals, so I’ll score lots of goals and hopefully set a few up as well.”
Where did the nickname ‘Ben 10′ come from?
“That’s from back home in Vancouver. The Southsiders (Whitecaps supporters group) there… they have a song they sing about me and they call me Ben 10. It’s a kid’s show back home. The guy’s got super powers, so they sing ‘Ben 10, he’s no ordinary kid,‘ or something like that.”
And how’s it going so far?
“I’m really enjoying myself. The facilities are beautiful, the (field) is top class, I really like the guys involved, they’ve all welcomed me really well.”
SHARK BOSS: There was a small Wilmington contingent in the East stands Saturday night, but it was a significant one. Club owner Bill Rudisill and his son Garrison attended the match, and both were impressed with the Hammerheads’ first-half performance. “I like what I see so far,” the senior Rudisill said.
That’s not to say that they weren’t realistic.
“You guys will probably end up winning,” he said, explaining that the Hammerheads were early in their preseason and using the trip to Charleston to evaluate players in game situations. “We’re not here to win the game. A lot of this team may not even play in the second half. ”
Which is exactly what happened.
Rudisill said he likes the Charleston franchise, talked up President Andrew Bell, and said his club has learned from ours. In addition to cheering for his side, he spent part of the half sending out social media updates on his phone. “My young staff, they make me Tweet and gave me a Facebook. I’m 62 years old, trying to stay young, I guess.”
Garrison Rudisill, who played two seasons for the Hammerheads, now lives in Charleston.
NEW KID: In the final minute of regular time, starter Jarad van Schaik made way for Chris Thomas, a rookie trialist who joined the Battery this week after being drafted in the second round of the MLS Superdraft.
Thomas played last year for Elon College, where he was Southern Conference Player of the Year and finished second in the NCAA in scoring. And yet, weirdly enough, he’s never used any of that to get a date.
Not sure what happened to him in New England, but he looks like an intriguing prospect.
CHANGES AND OBSERVATIONS: Sure enough, Nicki Paterson’s return pushed Cuevas up top. He was announced as a forward for the first time in weeks, this time in tandem with Dane Kelly. But the team didn’t look like it was playing with two forwards, and Cuevas’ role seemed more like an attacking midfielder.
When Mark Wiltse injured his MCL the first week in camp, Coach Mike Anhaeuser started experimenting with various players at right back. Taylor Mueller has spent much of the preseason in that spot, but Michael Azira played RB during the first half and looked comfortable there.
You could say that Odisnel Cooper getting the start was a mild surprise, but the two Charleston keepers have been splitting these preseason matches by halves ever since the Carolina Challenge Cup. Cooper certainly looks the part, and he came up with a save or two in the first half, but I swear I saw Kevin Klasila take two consecutive goal kicks that went 10 yards past the midfield line and straight to Charleston players. It doesn’t get the same attention as a spectacular save, but that’s quite a weapon if you can do it consistently.
The Wilmington starters didn’t look nearly as fast or as skilled as the Charleston eleven, but they did look beefy and tough. Charleston seems to play best when it’s got some swerve going, and the Wilmington starters did a yeoman’s job of limiting that.
BATTERY STARTERS: Odisnel Cooper (Kevin Klasila, 46th minute). Defenders: Center backs Colin Falvey, Taylor Mueller, right back Michael Azira (Sean Ferguson, 46th), left back John Wilson. Midfield: Amadou Sanyang, Quinton Griffith (Zach Prince, 77th), Nicki Paterson (Ben Fisk, 46th), Jarad van Schaik (Chris Thomas, 89th minute). Forwards: Jose Cuevas (Austin Savage, 77th) Dane Kelly (Evier Cordovez).
Top photo: Forward Dane Kelly fights off Hammerhead defenders in the first half of the Battery’s 2-0 home preseason win on March 23, 2013. All photos by Dan Conover.