On the field: the 2015 players

On the field: the 2015 players

Watching a team come into shape in the preseason is a fascinating experience. There are the walk-on hopefuls, the players who want to come back, the ones who don’t, or can’t. It’s much more intimate than the NFL, my previous experience with off-season speculation. Football players are mostly known quantities, eyed by scouts from their first tender possibilities and followed with breathless commentary through high school to televised combine.  Soccer, at this level anyway, is much more accessible. Most of the preseason events are open to the public. Training, try-outs, matches. The players are accessible too, with opportunities for conversation and personal interaction.

Which gives soccer something extra. Sometimes, it’s less the the skills on the pitch that create favorites than the sense that a player is a good guy. The Battery, as almost any fan will tell you, seems to always manage to get both: Good guys and winning teams.

The roster includes two Dynamo players on loan from the club’s new MLS affiliate, a slew of returning favorites and some new faces bound to get attention. Returning midfielder Jarad van Schaik is the team captain, taking over for longtime Battery star Colin Falvey, who currently splits time playing in India and Canada.

The USL affiliation program, mandatory for MLS teams this year, partners Houston and Charleston.  Last year’s tango with Vancouver did little to convince fans that MLS affiliation was in the Battery’s best interest.  The Houston affiliation looks to be more promising.

The Texas team has sent midfielder Jose “Memo” Rodriguez and defender Oumar Ballo to the sunny Southeast. No word on which one of them has to fetch errant balls out of the alligator pond.

The Tower of Power

New defenders include Forrest Lasso (from that other Carolina) and Jamaican O’Brian Woodbine. Sort of new. Woodbine played for the Battery in 2009 before moving on to Finland, Canada, and a stint in MLS with the New England Revolution.  Also, he has fast hair.

Lasso  is a marathon man, starting 71 matches at Wofford College. He’s listed at 6’5″ and Woodbine at 6′. With Ballo (6’2″) and returning Battery players Shawn Ferguson (6’4″) and Taylor Mueller (6’2″), the wall gets tall. The tenacious quickness of Quinton Griffith and Emmanuel Adjetey paired with returning keeper Odisnel Cooper (who doesn’t always get the love for his clean sheets that he should) and newcomer Midwesterner Kevin Corby (both at 6’2″) and the multiple shut-outs in preseason look like a trend. This year looks like a defensive dream.

The Midfield Men

Speed and smarts are the mix in the middle. Van Schaik, Justin Portillo, Maikel Chang and Dante Marini are back from last season’s team. Navion Boyd was lured from Jamaica to Charleston where he played on loan in 2012, and Rodrigez is on loan from Houston. Crisp passes, disruptive moves and sheer stubbornness give the Battery a control that will be fun to watch. The preseason has Portillo and Marini in different positions over last year’s standard, and so far, their ability to cause mayhem in the midfield has paid off.

Fast forward

The flash from the front has already sparked wins in the preseason. The dangerous Dane Kelly returns as does veteran striker Heviel Cordoves. Newcomers are local favorite Austin Savage and Coastal Carolina star Ricky Garbanzo.   A fast and furious style tempered with patience and slyness, not the boot it/shoot it/lose it routine of so many teams. The ability to get it in the net has been good, and there’s plenty of time for the new set-up to gel into something great. Or not. I’m just an attentive fan, and the first game of a long season awaits.

Can’t wait.