BY JOHN ACE
PITTSBURGH — The Charleston Battery ground out a scoreless draw against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Highmark Stadium Saturday to earn a point on the road, but the search for their first win of the year continues.
The hosts had most of the possession in the first half, but were stymied by a staunch Battery defense. The Battery couldn’t get much going on their own, either, before the two teams went into the break.
Charleston came out a bit better in the second half, but ended the night with only five shots. Pittsburgh managed just seven on the night, six of them in the second half.
But the last was the most dramatic. On the final play of the night, at the end of four minutes of stoppage, a short-range shot at the near post forced Battery keeper Odisnel Cooper to come up a clutch save. It was his third of the night, and gave the Battery their first clean sheet of 2014.
Maikel Chang, Zach Prince, Omar Salgado, Heviel Cordoves and Shawn Ferguson all returned to the starting lineup. The start was Salgado’s first action since the Richmond draw on March 29. With team captain Colin Falvey sidelined by a suspension, left back John Wilson wore the arm band.
The match got off to a slow start, with not much happening in the opening 15 minutes. Each time the Riverhounds got anywhere near the box, it was hoofed clear by a Battery player trying to find Cordoves. But the home side did a good job of getting to those long balls first.
Jarad Van Schaik picked up a yellow in the 23rd minute, though he claimed to have gotten the ball. But it was a two-footed challenge.
There was one instance in the half that the Battery did have a decent chance with a 3-on-2, but Salgado decided to go alone rather than play a pass to the left where he had a teammate in a better position, and put a tame effort straight at the keeper.
The teams went into half-time after a first half that could only be called “uneventful.” Though no subs were made in the interval, there seemed to be a slight change in mentality for both teams in the 2nd half.
The Battery appeared to change their approach in the second half, keeping the ball on the ground more frequently. But ex-Battery player Justin Evans had Pittsburgh in the 3-5-2, which gave the Hounds five men to the Battery’s four in midfield. It produced a possession advantage.
And they nearly made it count on 48 minutes, when Rob Vncent played a decent ball for Kevin Kerr. His strike sent sent Cooper lunging to his right to make the save.
Prince was booked for diving after working the ball well into the area following a decent bit of passing. Three minutes later he would send three consecutive 62nd-minute corners into dangerous spots, but the Battery was unable to convert.
Salgado subbed out for rookie attacking midfielder Andre Lewis in the 57th minute as Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser started rotating fresh legs into the match. Not long after he came on, Lewis was booked after a coming together near the sideline that left the Pittsburgh player struggling to get up as he was pushed into the treatment table off to the side of the pitch.
With 20 minutes to go, forward Adam Mena replaced Cordoves, who had had a quiet game by his standards, though he was lacking the service he would’ve wanted.
Justin Portillo would also come on four minutes later, replacing Chang as the objective shifted to conserving the point. And Amadou Sanyang, who nursed a knee injury this week in training, limped off the field in the 78th minute, replaced by Aminu Abdallah.
In the four minutes added time, it looked more and more like a draw was on the cards, though Pittsburgh had a chance at the last to break Battery hearts. A late flurry forced a gutsy tackle in the box by van Schaik, and led to Cooper’s dramatic final save just moments before the referee blew for full-time.
Neither team will be altogether pleased with their performance, but with the Battery playing Sunday away to Rochester, perhaps they would’ve been the ones more positive coming out of the result.
TOP IMAGE: With team captain Colin Falvey suspended, center back Shawn Ferguson returned to the lineup for the first time since the loss to Orlando and turned in a solid shift; Odisnel Cooper earned his first clean sheet of the season; Jarad van Schaik had a relatively quiet match against the five-man Riverhounds midfield, but made a big defensive play in stoppage time.