Friday, 7:30 p.m., June 27th
Richmond Kickers at Charleston Battery
Blackbaud Stadium, Daniel Island
Gates open at 6 p.m.
Tickets: $10-$18, 971-GOAL (4625) or through the website.
Online video stream via the Battery’s YouTube channel.
Here’s one of the greatest stats in all North American soccer: The Charleston Battery played their first match in club history back in 1993, defeating the also-brand-new Richmond Kickers 2-1. And after 49 meetings, their long-running series is absolutely even. Both clubs are 22-22-5.
Now that’s a competitive rivalry.
It’s also a rivalry that’s produced some quality soccer and memorable games. Charleston-Wilmington matches are often most memorable for the colorful bruises they produce. Charleston-Charlotte matches are typically best forgotten. But the Kickers and the Battery both tend to to up their game when they meet.
In 2013, the Kickers ran Charleston out of Richmond 4-1 in the Battery’s season-opener, only to have the Battery deliver a 5-2 beat-down at Blackbaud Stadium in August. By quirk of league scheduling, this year the teams play three times: Richmond scored the final goal of the night here to earn a 2-2 draw in March, Friday’s match is the second match at Charleston, and the two sides close out in Richmond on July 19.
Richmond has been on the rise in recent years, and has clearly benefited from its affiliation with DC United. Its loss to Charleston on Aug. 3, 2013, was its first loss of last season, and the Kickers went on to win the Commissioner’s Cup (awarded for the best regular season record in USL PRO). This year they’re well on their way to sewing up the race for the second spot behind MLS-bound Orlando, which is running away with this year’s USL PRO regular season title.
Meanwhile, the 2014 Battery have been the most inconsistent performers this side of Nicholas Cage. Brilliant two weeks ago against the LA Galaxy II, almost unwatchable last week at Charlotte. But given the history between these two clubs, the safe bet is that we’ll see the Good Battery — not its under-achieving twin — on Friday night.
MARCH 29, 2014: RICHMOND 2, CHARLESTON 2
We’ll remember this match for several things: Two goals by Richmond’s George Davis IV; a Battery comeback from an early concession to take a 2-1 lead in the second half; Amadou Sanyang being swarmed by teammates after his go-ahead goal; Davis’ second-half equalizer; and Odisnel Cooper‘s mind-bending save to preserve the draw.
In the larger scheme of things, however, the big story from the first game was the sight of big Battery forward Omar Salgado limping off the pitch in obvious pain in the 56th minute. Salgado — who had subbed-on in the season opener against Orlando to set up Mamadou Diouf for his go-ahead score — was making his first start for Charleston. It had been an active — if largely unproductive — performance. When he came off with an injury to his chronically injured right foot, the outlook for the Battery season changed.
Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser had been working to integrate the late-arriving Salgado into the team’s attack. When Salgado went down, the offensive focus of the team changed. The 6-4 Texan would miss the next two matches before appearing in four consecutive road games, assisting once and scoring twice. He looked so good doing it that the Whitecaps recalled him to Vancouver almost immediately.
So Richmond was Salgado’s only home start in Battery stripes. And had he had finished that match and started in the next two, it’s easy to imagine quite a difference in the unfolding of the Battery’s 2014 fortunes.
Friday is the first leg of a 2/24 road trip for the Kickers, who enter the weekend with 30 points on 15 games. They’re 8-1-6, with 33 goals scores and 15 allowed. And there’s really nothing wrong with them.
They’ve recorded three clean sheets, have yet to allow more than two goals in a match, and have allowed two goals just four times.
On the other side of the pitch, they scored more than two goal six times, winning by more than a single five times. Three times this season the Kickers have won by more than two goals. That’s more times than they’ve been shut out (twice).
Their only real blemish is a 1-2 loss at Charlotte early in the season. Otherwise they’ve beaten lowly Pittsburgh and Harrisburg twice apiece, while notching wins against Dayton, Arizona, Oklahoma City and Charlotte. Their six draws have come against the Battery, Pittsburgh, the Chicago Fire Reserves, Wilmington and Rochester — twice.
There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Charleston and Richmond when it comes to scoring defense. That’s largely a product of intimidating DC United goalkeeper Joe Willis (7-0-4) and veteran defender William Yomby. Midfielder Luke Vercollone has more than 1,000 minutes, as does the diminutive and disruptive Samuel Asante.
What separates the Kickers from most of the league this season is simply its ability to score goals. Ten players have put the ball into the back of the net for Richmond — led by resurgent veteran target forward Matt Delicate. He has 10 in just 781 minutes. Davis has seven, backed up with two assists. Midfielder Kyle Porter has four, and teen sensation Michael Seaton is in the books with three.
Richmond’s proximity to Washington, DC, helps shape its relationship with DC United, and the easiest way to see the value of that partnership is by counting the number of players who have appeared for the Kickers this season. Here, I’ll save you the trouble: It’s 27 — six more than the same count for Charleston.
If you want to know the value of a single statistic, consider this: On average, Charleston scores 1.07 goals per match and allows 0.93. That’s the third-best scoring-defense average in the league.
Richmond allows an almost identical 1.00 goals-against average — but scores at a 2.20 gpm rate. Which means the average Battery match ends in a 1-1 draw, and the average Kickers’ game ends in a 2-1 win. Which is why the Kickers have 30 points and the Battery just 16.
Charleston’s up-and-down season hit a bump last week, with the only highlight coming on a sweet Maikel Chang give-and-go with his good friend Heviel Cordoves. Their 46th minute goal temporarily lifted the team’s spirits, and earned Chang his first USL PRO Team of the Week honorable mention. It was his first goal in league competition.
The Battery’s other strikers struggled. Substitute Adam Mena got credit for taking two shots — making him the most frequent shooter on the team.
Veteran Dane Kelly has started four of the team’s last five matches, the last three with Diouf working as his strike partner. The two forwards are tied for the team scoring lead with two goals (along with Sanyang, Salgado and Cordoves), but Diouf is now officially in a drought. He hasn’t found the back of the net since May 2 — a streak of eight league matches, seven appearances and six starts. Cordoves appears to be in good form and could contend for a larger role. He has six league starts and seven appearances as a substitute, and leads the Battery in points across all competitions with 13 (five goals, three assists).
Emmanuel Adjetey‘s return earlier this month appears to have permanently shifted Quinton Griffith up to an outside midfield role, which is creating a log-jam along the back line and the outside midfield. Central midfielders Sanyang and Jarad van Schaik own the middle of the pitch, which leaves defender Taylor Mueller, rookie attacking-mid Andre Lewis, veteran outside midfielder Zach Prince and Cuban prospect Chang to compete for two available spots in the starting XI.
Left back John Wilson, who says he will retire at the end of the season, missed the Charlotte game with an injury. He’s been having a great year. The central duo of Colin Falvey and Shawn Ferguson has been efficient in front of Cooper, who — Charlotte aside — has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the league.
With back-to-back games against Charleston and Wilmington, Richmond Coach Leigh Cowlishaw will be rotating his deep squad this weekend. Whether that will turn to the Battery’s advantage is not clear, since the statistical advantage on 2/24 road trips is with the home side on the second night.
However, with the Battery beginning the back-half of the 2014 season Friday night, there is reason for optimism. Charleston will be at home for eight of the final 14, and after a front loaded schedule that include three matches against Orlando (twice in Florida), the summer schedule includes home dates against Charlotte, Arizona, Dayton, Orange County, Rochester, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, twice.
They travel to face Richmond, Rochester, Montreal Impact Reserves, Oklahoma City and Sacramento.
Friday night is the Battery’s annual Christmas in June promotion. Anyone who brings a new (unopened/unused) toy for Toys for Tots gets a free ticket.
Richmond defender Henry Kalungi and the Battery’s Jarad van Schaik get contentious in the tense late minutes of March 29’s 2-2 draw. Dan Conover photos.