OK everybody, cheer up

OK everybody, cheer up

Wanna know why I didn’t write my standard game-wrap on the VSI Tampa Bay FC game?

Because sometimes it’s not worth looking back.

That’s not to say that there aren’t things to be learned from defeat. Of course there are. Good teams and good players do that. But they don’t dwell on failure, either.

Hell, it’s late Monday night, and the team hasn’t even posted the result on its official website yet. Talk about not dwelling on the negative…

What does it all mean? Next question, please.

What does it all mean? Next question, please.

And to be blunt about it, there are lots of different kinds of losses, including a “WTF Was That?” category that covers what we just saw down in Tampa. One size does not fit all, which is why trying to draw conclusions from the Battery’s 2-4 loss to the Alphabet Soup Team is like trying to write a technical manual for a Salvador Dali painting. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

When the Battery lost at Richmond despite outplaying their hosts in the first half, the Battery went back to basics and won their next five games. When they lost at Charlotte on a night that should have ended in a scoreless draw, they got mad and grew a bit tougher. The loss to Harrisburg at Blackbaud Stadium — the team’s only home loss of 2013 — came in the midst of a stretch of scheduling that resembled a forced march across the Sahara, so there wasn’t a lot of time or inclination to obsess over that one.

That’s actually it for losses this season — before last week’s road trip, anyway. As we’ve written here before, Charleston out-played Orlando on Thursday, so the only thing you take from that is that you’ve got to find a way to log points in those situations.

So yeah, Tampa happened. But the story of Charleston’s season thus far really isn’t a story of losses, but of visiting teams who left Blackbaud with draws that never should have been. The team is still a good mixture of talent and experience, the players are basically healthy and fit (I haven’t done any real reporting on the team since Tampa, so there could be situations I don’t know about yet, but so far as I know…).

And when you look at the remaining schedule and the statistics from across the league… well, there’s reason to be optimistic.

What won’t be, what can be

Heading into April, I expected the Battery to be the kind of team that averaged about two goals a game (more at home, less on the road) and allowed about one, a pair of stats that would have put them in position to contend for the Commissioner’s Cup against Orlando.

The defense held up its end of the bargain. But the offense has struggled since mid-May. The 5-1-0 Battery team that drove up to Charlotte on May 14 was averaging 2.33 goals per game and allowing 1.17, and that was pretty much what I expected them to do all season.

Quinton Griffith: Charleston speedy winger from Antigua  doesn't have great stats, but he's been one of the keys to the Battery attack.

Quinton Griffith: Charleston speedy winger from Antigua doesn’t have great stats, but he’s been one of the keys to the Battery attack.

But of course Quinton Griffith didn’t play at Charlotte, and though Jose Cuevas was starting to work his way back into shape at the time, Chiva was still hobbled by his bad hamstring. Charleston’s offense fizzled over the next five league matches, averaging 0.80 goals per match as the Battery went 1-2-2 (not counting Open Cup matches).

The Battery played their best match of 2013 (IMHO) on June 8, beating the Houston Dynamo Reserves 4-1, but since then they’ve been in a funk, collecting four points in six matches on a 0-2-4 stretch in which they’ve scored just six goals while allowing nine. Which ain’t gonna feed the bulldog.

In the process, the Battery lost out on their hopes of playing for the Commissioner’s Cup. They’re unlikely to play more than one playoff match at Blackbaud, too. Those things were there to be taken, but now they’re in the past.

Nicki Paterson: When Jose Cuevas' goal-scoring cooled down midway through the 2012 season and the team fell into a slump, Paterson picked up the slack.

Nicki Paterson: When Jose Cuevas’ goal-scoring cooled down midway through the 2012 season and the team fell into a slump, Paterson picked up the slack.

But in case you’ve forgotten — as I had — the 2012 USL PRO Champion Charleston Battery were pretty much of a basket case around this time last year.  They lost five out of six last July, then limped into the playoffs on a 1-2-2 August.

Not only is this team better than that, I think this team is significantly better than that.

Right now the Battery, Tampa and the Dayton Dutch Lions are deadlocked on 27 points and slugging it out for the sixth, seventh and eighth spots in the USL PRO playoffs. And that’s nerve-wracking for Battery fans who remember sitting in third place just two weeks ago.

But I’m here to suggest that we all chill out.

Despite our anxieties, it would actually be difficult for the Battery to miss the playoffs this season. Despite the tough games remaining on our calendar, the Battery’s challengers for playoff spots four through eight face far more demanding schedules.

More on that — MUCH more on that — tomorrow and Wednesday.

All we really want is goals

So back to the original point. If you want to know why the Battery are scrapping for a low playoff seed instead of sitting atop the table, it’s simply a lack of scoring punch. The defense has been stalwart, but the offense has been stagnant.

And when you compare the Battery’s scoring to it’s other rivals, you start to get a little inferiority vibe going.

After 18 games, Charleston’s 1.55 goals per match scoring average in USL PRO is the league median. Orlando, Los Angeles, Harrisburg and Richmond are all at 2 goals per game or above, and both Tampa Bay and Dayton have outscored Charleston with a game in hand.

While Paterson leads the team with five goals, Dane Kelly, Heviel Cordoves and Jose Cuevas have all chipped in four. The Battery have lacked a go-to scorer, but on the other hand, they've got a group of players who can get hot.

While Paterson leads the team with five goals, Dane Kelly, Heviel Cordoves and Jose Cuevas have all chipped in four. The Battery have lacked a go-to scorer, but on the other hand, they’ve got a group of players who can get hot.

But dig a bit deeper, and you’ll notice something important. Of those six teams, only Dayton has yet to play Antigua a second time. Nine of Orlando’s 42 goals came against winless Antigua. Los Angeles has 42 goals too, but 10 of them came against Antigua. Harrisburg got seven against them, Richmond got eight, and Tampa Bay scored 11 of their 30 goals — more than a third of their season total —  in just two matches against Antigua.

If you want to understand the balance of power in USL PRO this year, the only way to do it accurately is to remove Antigua from the statistics. Not to hate on the poor guys, but Antigua has yet to earn a point in 19 matches, all of them on the road. Their eight goals scored is less than half the amount scored by the next lowest-scoring team. You could take the next two most generous defenses and add all their goals together and you’d still have to come up with four more to match the 66 allowed by Antigua. The Barracuda are allowing an average of 3.47 goals per match. Ouch.

But when you take Antigua out of the mix, a more accurate picture emerges. Only one team — Orlando — averages more than 2 goals per match (2.06). Tampa Bay’s scoring and defending averages actually drop below Charleston’s. And the range of averages tightens into a more reasonable cluster.

Just in case you missed it

Over the weekend I retweeted some links to this excellent segment of MLS Insider about Charleston and its Cuban players — Odisnel Cooper, Heviel Cordoves and Maikel Chang. I don’t write about them as much as I’d like because my Spanish is now officially unusable, so it’s nice to have some tape with subtitles of Cooper and Cordo talking about what motivated them to come to America.

Odisnel Cooper

Odisnel Cooper

But what really takes this segment to another level for Battery fans is that MLS cameras went with the team in Real Salt Lake, simultaneously the high and low moment of the Battery’s 2013 “Road Trip from Hell.” You see the team in the locker room. You see Anhaeuser’s frustration boil over late in the second half — all the stuff we missed on the live stream.

There are lots of critical things you can say about MLS — its control-freak attitudes toward contracts, secrecy and rules foremost among them — but there’s not a professional sports league in the United States that understands social media better, and nobody — nobody — has devoted more talent and creativity to creating online media than MLS.

Why? Because the league hasn’t had a real national broadcast partner (although that is changing). Because MLS is an afterthought in the sports departments of most American newspapers.

But the people in the MLS front office figured it out. If you want fans to be excited about your product, give them media that helps make it exciting. Give them great (or, depending on your perspective, grating) columnists and analysts. Give them personalities and humor. Give fans contests and let them vote on weekly awards. Cover the hell out of your league and American soccer in general, and trust that eventually the fans will find you.

I think it’s a great bet. It’s my bet, too.

A reminder from American Outlaws Charleston

american_outlawsWe’ll be gathering at 8 p.m. Tuesday night to watch the U.S. Gold Cup squad take on Costa Rica. As we’ve been doing throughout the Gold Cup and the most recent Hex qualification window, we’ll be meeting at Madra Rua Park Circle in North Charleston.

If you’ve been meaning to join AO but just haven’t gotten around to it yet, now is always a good time to click this link and sign up. And if you don’t know what it’s all about yet, come out Tuesday and let us show you.

Once we get credited with the requisite number of members, we’ll have to decide on an official bar for the chapter. So be thinking about where you want to gather to watch the World Cup next year, because that’s what we’re all really deciding. We want your input.

Speaking of American Outlaws…

Little of bit site housekeeping here…

Timbers_Army_crestOn Wednesday, I’ll be driving north to start a trip that will include attending the Portland Timbers match in Philadelphia on July 20 with my friends from the Timbers Army, and then on to Baltimore with my American Outlaws friends to watch the USA play some other country on the 21st.

If you’re planning on attending either match, send me an email (dan@danconover.com). Should be a good time.

In the meantime, I’ve assigned game coverage of Friday’s crucial match against the Dayton Dutch Lions to John Ace, a lifelong Battery fan who will be taking on his first match story — though he’s had some experience writing about soccer culture for this site and Liverpool transfer news for an international fan site.

So there’s a lot going on right now. And I intend to enjoy as much of it as possible.