Preview: And then there was one

Preview: And then there was one

As a first-time season-ticket-holder, here’s how I experienced the 2013 regular season: I started with this envelope stuffed to the max with tickets, and then watched with growing alarm as it shrank. Some time early last month it reached disturbing thinness, a reminder that all good things pass.

Keeper Odisnel Cooper makes a diving save on a shot by Jose "Chiva" Cuevas during a Wednesday morning finishing drill.

Keeper Odisnel Cooper makes a diving save on a shot by Jose “Chiva” Cuevas during a Wednesday morning finishing drill.

So it comes down to this: A visit Thursday night from the 0-24-0 Antigua Barracudas, The Regiment’s fan appreciation picnic with the team on Sunday, and then the playoffs, either as the host to the fifth or sixth seed (more likely) on Saturday, Aug. 24th, at 7:30, or on the road as the fifth  (less likely), time and place TBD.  The horizon extends no farther.

Other teams face must-win situations against top opponents. Both of the matches on tonight’s USL PRO schedule are games with huge implications for the playoffs, none bigger than Orlando’s 7 p.m. visit to Richmond.

The two top contenders for the Commissioners Cup are tied with 51 points with two games remaining, but either team can lock up the  top spot in the playoffs Wednesday night with a win. If host Richmond wins, they’ll secure the Cup via the head-to-head tieb-breaker, thanks to its 2-0 win at the Citrus Bowl on June 29th. If visiting Orlando wins, the head-to-head tie-breaker is neutralized, and the Lions would take the Cup via the second tie-breaker: Total wins. Richmond would control its destiny if tonight’s match ends in a draw.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh heads to Wilmington for a 7:30 start. The outcome of this one creates a more complex set of playoff scenarios, but suffice it to say that surging Wilmington has a chance to sneak back into the postseason — if it can take care of business against the Riverhounds.

Charleston’s task is less complicated. Just win.

Mike Anhaeuser

Mike Anhaeuser

“We have to be professional,” Coach Mike Anhaeuser said. “I would (manage the roster differently for Antigua) in a different situation, but it’s the last game. So we’re going with the guys we’ve gone with.”

By beating the Barracuda, Charleston would finish the season with 45 points — and at least momentarily pass Harrisburg for the third seed in the tournament. So winning would put the City Islanders under pressure heading into their Saturday night showdown at Dayton, where the Dutch Lions will be hoping to secure their club’s first playoff slot. A win would also give the Battery a 9-1-4 record at home, good for 31 points. Anhaeuser said the team’s season goal was to wring at least 30 points out of its home schedule.

Playoff seedings can boil down to some complex equations involving tiebreakers and goals scored, but Charleston escaped that swamp with its win at Phoenix last week. There are, however, some less-immediate marks that the team could be playing for on Thursday.

Despite the prevailing sense that its 2013 edition has struggled to live up to its offensive potential, there’s a remote — but not absurdly so — opportunity for Charleston to reach or exceed the goal total put up by the 2001 Battery squad. All-time Battery great Bobby Paul Conway set the club’s single-season scoring record that year with 27 goals, leading the team to 51. That’s not as many as the 2000 team (59), but it’s good for at least a spot in the Battery’s top three.

With 45 goals going into Thursday, the Battery would need to hang six goals on Antigua to equal the 2001 total. The Battery men haven’t done that yet this season, scoring five goals twice. But here’s the deal: Antigua has given up six or more goals four times this season: May 4, 2-7 at Orlando; June 7, 0-8 at VSI Tampa Bay; July 4, 0-6 at Los Angeles Reserves; and July 15, 0-6 at San Jose Reserves.

Speaking of Antigua

We’ve written repeatedly about how tough this season has been for the barnstorming Barracudas. That 0-24-0 record pretty much tells the story, but if you need more of the ugly, try this one on: 10 goals for, 84 goals against.  Teams hosting Antigua this season average 3.5 goals per match against them.

So yes, they’re bad. And yes, they showed up for their most recent match (an 0-5 loss) at Charlotte with just three outfield players in reserve. And yes, the odds are long against them.

But these are professionals. And this is soccer.

And look, it’s not like they haven’t been close this season.

On July 28, the Barracudas kept the Rochester Rhinos off the board until the 88th minute. They lost 1-0 to the Phoenix FC Wolves on July 6th, then played them again on the 11th and kept the Wolves scoreless into stoppage time (Phoenix won again 1-0).

But the real heartbreaker for Antigua came on June 21 at Rochester. The Barracudas took the lead in the 57th minute off a goal by Orlando Mitchum and were still holding onto it in the 70th minute, when substitute Rochester defender Lucas Fernandez got himself ejected seven minutes after entering the match. Up a goal and a man with 20 minutes remaining, Antigua still managed to surrender the equalizer in the 77th. They gave up the game-winner — and their best shot a a point all season — in the 88th.

ANTIGUA FORM: LAST FIVE
July 15: 0-6 at San Jose Reserves
July 23: 1-3 at FC Dallas Reserves
July 26: 1-3 at Dayton
July 28: :0-1 at Rochester
Aug. 10: 0-5 at Charlotte

Though they have 10 goals on the season, only seven of those goals were scored by players currently on the roster. Forward Thomas Mamorley has four goals on 41 shots and 2,010 minutes played in 24 matches. Forward Orlando Mitchum has two goals. Midfielder Eugine Kirwan has two assists, the only assists on the team.

Defender Karanja Mack leads the team in minutes with 2066.

Leading goalkeeper James Molvin has 16 appearances and a 3.870 goals against average. Corey Whisenhunt, who spent last season in Dayton, has eight games for the Barracudas.

Charleston closes it out

Cody Ellison (right) bangs on teammate Shawn Ferguson during a finishing drill.

Cody Ellison (right) bangs on teammate Shawn Ferguson during a finishing drill.

The Battery come into this match needing loses by Harrisburg and Charlotte to match the 3rd seed they claimed in 2012 before running the table in the playoffs. But the 2013 Battery are a far cry from last year’s edition. The 2012 Battery went 12-10-2, compiling 38 points. This year’s squad is 12-7-6.  Last year the Battery scored 36 goals and had a +10 goal differential. This year they’ve got 45  with a +16.

So keep it simple. This is a better team than the one that seized the USL PRO Championship last September.

And here’s a thought that ought to haunt the team’s playoff opponents: The Battery scrimmage I watched today was the first time I’ve seen all 22 members of the squad in action simultaneously.

Ever.

Austin Savage, Ben Fisk and even Maikel Chang were all out on the pitch Wednesday, and Anhaeuser said after practice that while none of them were fit for 90 minutes yet, Fisk could return to his role as a second-half substitute.

Anhaeuser’s comment about the Battery playing with the guys who’ve been regulars because it’s the final match of the season probably means a lineup of familiar faces. But there are three question marks:

Who starts in the place of Nicki Paterson? The Scot will sit this match out for accumulation of yellow cards. Canadian midfielder Bryce Alderson has been getting more playing time of late, but Jarad van Schaik and Zach Prince could figure in this spot as well.

After winning USL PRO Team of the Week honors for yet another quality outing, is the spectacularly fit Emmanuel Adjetey still a substitute? With John Wilson due a start on the left side, is it Adjetey or Mark Wiltse at right back?

Former Cuban international teammates Odsinel Cooper (front) and Heviel Cordoves make their way down the signing table after practice on Wednesday. With the season winding down, the team took time out to sign promotional materials the team will use for different purposes during the offseason. The players live in apartments the team leases around the league schedule, and most of the Battery players will be gone by the middle of September.

Former Cuban international teammates Odsinel Cooper (front) and Heviel Cordoves make their way down the signing table after practice on Wednesday. With the season winding down, the team took time out to sign promotional materials the team will use for different purposes during the offseason. The players live in apartments the team leases around the league schedule, and most will be gone by the middle of September.

What happens at the half? Anhaeuser said that he might well treat this game like two 45-minute units. He has one of the strongest benches in the league, including super-sub striker Heviel Cordoves. If he’s inclined to do so, Anhaeuser can run in five top-quality substitutes in the second half, keep the pressure on Antigua, and take his team into more than a week of playoff training with the maximum number of players humming off a game performance.

Based on Anhaeuser’s post-training comments, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Odisnel Cooper in goal, with Wilson, Colin Falvey, Cody Ellison and Adjetey across the back line. A midfield of Quinton Griffith and Alderson outside Michael Azira and defensive mid Amadou Sanyang would make sense, with forwards Dane Kelly and Jose Cuevas rounding out the Battery’s nominal 4-4-2.

A few things to look for Thursday night: 

Azira and Falvey should finish the season as the only two Battery players to appear in every league match.

Kelly is tied for 7th in goals with nine. He’s also third in the league in shots with 60.

Five players on the squad have scored four or more goals: Cuevas, four; Azira, five; Paterson, seven; Cordoves, seven, and Kelly with nine.

Goalkeeper Cooper is third in the league with a 1.142 Goals Against Average. But a big part of that story is how well the defense has played in front of him. Cooper is 10th in the league in saves with 48, but as an average that’s just 2.29 per match, by far the lowest among the top 10. That’s not a knock on Cooper — it’s just evidence that the unit led by Falvey has done a great job of keeping him clean.

Honorable mentions for the league’s Team of the Week on Tuesday included Kelly and a name that we haven’t called that many times in 2012: Kevin Klasila. The team’s backup keeper has a 1.25 GAA over four starts, a 2-1-1 record, and logged his second clean sheet of the season last week against Phoenix in absolutely brutal conditions.

TOP IMAGE: Coach Mike Anhaeuser passes back to forward Austin Savage Wednesday morning in the finishing drill that closed out the morning session. The team has moved up its practices to 9 a.m. to beat the August heat. Dan Conover photo.