Preview: Hammers looking for form

Preview: Hammers looking for form

Charleston Battery vs. Wilmington Hammerheads
7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 10 at Blackbaud Stadium
Regiment tailgate begins at 5 p.m. Gates open at 6 p.m.
Sports Radio 1450 AM /and streamed online via www.charlestonbattery.com

Saturday’s clash with the Battery’s frenemy club, Wilmington Hammerheads, is brought to you by the numbers eight and four.

That’s eight games for Charleston (2-2-4) and just four for Wilmington (1-1-2). To put that in context, the Battery have played four games in just the last two weekends (going 2-1-1) and the team played its fourth match of 2014 way back on April 18th (when it was 0-1-3). So yes, calendar time matters (in terms of training and injuries), but when it comes to developing a squad, minutes in regulation play probably trumps everything.

This match is the first of a back-to-back home-and-away series — one of the quirks of this season’s schedule.

WILMINGTON

A little pain in a Battery-v-Hammers match is not uncommon.

A little pain in a Battery-v-Hammers match is not uncommon.

The Hammers came to Blackbaud back on March 11 in one of those preseason matches that tells you almost nothing substantial about either team. The Battery had been training since mid-February but was just being introduced to its new Vancouver players, and Wilmington was so early in its camp that the club didn’t even have 18 players available to make the trip down Highway 17.

Since then the North Carolina team has picked up reinforcements from its MLS affiliate Toronto F.C., gone 0-1-2 on its home turf at Legion Field, and grabbed a nail-biting 4-3 win at luckless Pittsburgh. But the most telling stat about the Hammerheads so far (if you can call numbers from just four matches “telling”) is that the team has been unable to score in every match but its victory, drawing Harrisburg, losing 0-2 to pesky Charlotte and ending level on nil with Rochester last week.

On one level, that’s just Dave Irving‘s Hammerheads. They’re tough, disciplined and physical, and though they seldom have great attacking talent, they make use of their strengths and often “punch above their weight.” Irving and Anhaeuser share a defense-first philosophy, and their teams are always organized along the back. But without dynamic strikers — a common condition in USL PRO — Wilmington often pins its offensive hopes on set pieces and counter-attacks. That’s not a criticism, either. It’s just smart coaching given the standard pool of talent available.

Cody Arnoux (Hammerheads photo)

Cody Arnoux (Hammerheads photo)

The Hammerheads best-known name on offense coming into 2014 is still Cody Arnoux, a local product who signed with Everton as a forward out of college and spent some time in MLS with the Whitecaps before returning home two seasons ago. He’s appeared in all four matches and is tied for second on the team in shots, yet he’s been on the field for just 115 minutes. As good as Arnoux can be, he’s been limited by injuries. He got his first start of the year last week, going 61 minutes against defense-minded Rochester.

This year’s offensive leader so far is 27-year-old Samuel Ochoa, a Mexican forward who spent three seasons with Seattle. He has two goals and an assist, but all of those came against Pittsburgh, and he has just three shots in his other two appearances. Also keep an eye out for unheralded forward Steven Miller, a trialist who earned a spot and is getting good minutes.

The defense is far more settled. Hammerheads stalwart Gareth Evans is gone, but Andre CampbellChristian DavidsonAshani Fairclough and Tom Parratt have started every match, as has 19-year-old Toronto goalkeeping prospect Quillian Roberts. It’s not clear whether Roberts is that good, or just whether the dynamics of their team’s affiliation with Toronto dictate his minutes, but the youngster is keeping 28-year-old veteran Matt Glaeser on the bench. Battery fans may remember Glaeser (a starter last year at Fort Lauderdale) as the mystery man on the Charleston bench in the season opener. Wilmington loaned him to Charleston for one night to replace backup Eric Shannon, whose international paperwork hadn’t yet arrived from Guatemala. Glaeser, BTW, was simply a bad-ass during that March 11 preseason scrimmage.

Former Battery trialist Drew Ruggles provides depth.

The midfield standouts so far have been veteran Englishman Paul Nicholson and loaned rookie Daniel Lovitz, a dangerous player drafted in he second round out of Elon.

CHARLESTON

Omar Salgado

Omar Salgado

The Battery finally got the breakout weekend it’s been looking for since March, but the week since has been dominated on the news front by the departure of Omar Salgado. The 6-4 forward earned a spot on the USL PRO Team of the Week with two goals and assist, but got recalled to Vancouver and has a shot to play his way into a starting role for the Whitecaps if he continues the form he established here.

And its one of the ironies of sport that the position with the biggest glut of talent last week is now the biggest question mark headed into Saturday. Salgado and backup Marlon Ramirez are both in Vancouver, and Charleston’s two returning forwards — Dane Kelly and Heviel Cordoves — are both being monitored by the team’s athletic trainer. Kelly has been limited all week by a bruised knee, and Cordoves picked up a facial injury on Friday. That leaves just Mamadou Diouf and Adam Mena — although there’s probably a good chance that at least one of the other two will be available tomorrow night.

What changes, however, is that Anhaueser will have fewer fresh legs to rotate through the top of his formation in the second half.

Jarad van Schaik

Jarad van Schaik

Of course, it’s not like Charleston’s scoring punch is limited to forwards. Midfielders Zach Prince, Andre Lewis, Jarad van Schaik and Maikel Chang are all threats from the run of play, and the number of aerialists Charleston can push forward for set pieces is one of this year’s most under-appreciated developments.

Van Schaik and Amadou Sanyang form the team’s central corps, and they’ve been excellent. So has the defense, where Charleston enjoys the services of emerging star Odisnel Cooper, the league’s reigning Player of the Week, and five starter-quality defenders in Colin Falvey, Quinton Griffith, John Wilson, Taylor Mueller and Shawn Ferguson. Midfielder Aminu Abdallah is the team’s most reliable sub, and has appeared in every match.

These teams know each other — by style if not by personnel — and it’s a standard bet that neither will get too cute. Irving can be expected to fight it out in the final third and look to spring his strikers on long passes. When Anhaeuser respects an opponent’s defensive structure he often emphasizes “breaking them down properly” —  an approach that typically involves more sustained possession at home than on the road.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

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

Cooper is in such good form right now that you’ll certainly want to pay attention to his every move, and if Diouf gets a run as a traditional target forward, he’ll be an interesting story line. The lean former UConn star got his USL PRO baptism by fire in that March 11 scrimmage, with Wilmington giving him a pounding few rookies could withstand. Yet Diouf was resilient enough to beat the visitors off a spectacular header. The assist? Andre Lewis, who is proving to be a valuable weapon as both a starter and a sub.

But the man I’ll be keeping a sharp eye on is right back Quinton Griffith. He’s quietly having a good season, and though he hung back more during the last four road games, his ability to work forward could be key to stretching that disciplined Hammers back line. Griffith has game-breaking speed for an overlapping fullback, crosses the ball with touch, and can deliver a venomous strike. He has three shots and an assist on the year.

TOP IMAGE: Battery rookie forward Mamadou Diouf collides with veteran Hammerheads midfielder Paul Nicholson in a preseason scrimmage on March 11. Diouf’s late goal settled matters 1-0. Dan Conover photos.