It’s never a good sign when you go to sleep after a frustrating match and wake up the next morning with a fresh perspective and sit down to write and discover that — even after a night’s sleep — the most memorable moment of the game still isn’t an actual play.
That’s in part because there weren’t a great number of memorable plays in Saturday night’s scoreless draw with visiting Rochester. By either team.
But here’s the other part of the equation: When we finally sit down in August or September and take stock of the Battery’s 2013 season, the only two things we’re going to remember about this match were the confusion caused by the almost identical uniforms and the face-palming moment in the 83rd minute when the officials ejected defensive midfielder Amadou Sanyang — a man who has to wear protected headgear because of his injury history, for crying out loud — and then told the coaching staff it was because Sanyang had headbutted a Rochester player.
It sucks that I’m talking about that Red Card the morning after, but so be it. Here’s how it came about:
In the 62nd minute, Charleston midfielder Michael Azira picked up a Yellow Card right in front of the Charleston bench. Moments later, just behind the play, a scuffle broke out between players, and a scrum quickly formed around the instigators. For the first few seconds it was simply the usual chaotic eyeball-to-eyeball chest-bumping — what Battery Captain Colin Falvey typically calls “handbags.” And then a Rochester player — apparently defender Tyler Bellamy — put two hands on Sanyang’s chest and shoved him backwards out of the pile.
Sanyang responded with the classic mental error: He returned like-for-like. And the referee responded with the classic officiating error: He punished the player who retaliated for the original foul.
“That’s exactly what I saw as well,” said substitute midfielder Zach Prince. “That’s why I questioned the referee after the game. Why didn’t the other guy get a Red Card? He said they didn’t do the same thing, the other guy pushed, someone headbutted. Whatever. I didn’t see a headbutt. I’m kinda baffled by the decision. But it is what it is.”
By the time things all got sorted, Sanyang had to leave the field, and Bellamy took a yellow. Frankly, yellow is what both players deserved — Bellamy for the first shove, and Sanyang for retaliating. But once that Red got pulled for a phantom headbutt, the game got testier. By the final minutes, when I reached the field in anticipation of the final whistle, the sidelines had become a not-too-pleasant place for the officials, with both coaches producing an impressive string of blue invective.
What effect did the controversial ejection play in the outcome? Less than you might imagine. Despite playing with a one-man disadvantage, it was the Battery who seemed to be pressing matters down the stretch. Rochester did manage to force an Odisnel Cooper punch-save in the 85th minute (one of his two saves on the night), and the big Cuban had to come off his line in the waning seconds to snuff out a Rochester chance. But otherwise the late pressure came from Charleston.
“I don’t know what happened,” Coach Mike Anhaeuser said afterwards when asked about the ejection. “He gives a Red Card to our guy and says he headbutts him, and their guy comes in and puts two hands right to the face. I’ll have to watch it, but if you’re going to put (discipline to) two guys, you gotta send their guy off with our guy. Because that put us under pressure then. They actually had a chance. But I think we had a few more chances when we went with 10 guys… So we actually kept the pressure up, but we were missing that extra player to maybe catch that late goal.”
Official, but wrong
One other note about the official aspect of this match. According to my notes, Azira’s yellow came in the 82nd minute, with Sanyang’s red and Bellamy’s yellow following. On the official stat sheet submitted to the league, however, those events are listed as occurring in the 62nd and 63rd minutes. After reviewing my notepad, I’m sticking with my version instead of the official one — in part because there are multiple pages of game description between the 62nd minute, when Jose Cuevas and Dane Kelly subbed out of the match, and the 82nd minute, when the trouble started.
Additionally, I question the accuracy of another official stat from last night. According to the game statistician, Charleston managed only two corner kicks all night. But my notes have details on Battery corner kicks in the 14th, 45th, 60th and 80th minutes, and my camera roll from the first 12 minutes of the match includes pictures from back-to-back corners taken by Cuevas. So that’s a minimum of six Battery corner kicks.
Some soccer statistics are fairly subjective. Was a goalie’s action a save? The person keeping the record gets to decide. But without being too uptight about it, a corner kick is either given, or it isn’t. How do you miss marking down at least four of them?
And then there’s the jersey thing
One of the things that struck me as odd last night was that the two teams stepped onto the field wearing essentially the same jersey design. Concerns about teams wearing similar designs and color schemes have been in the news over the past week, and given the attention the officiating crew at Harrisburg paid to the white training tape over Nicki Paterson’s socks, I was surprised that the officials allowed the game to be played in such closely matching jerseys.
But here’s the problem. Rochester played at Charleston in their primary, or what they call their “home” jersey. It’s got dark-green-and-yellow vertical stripes. And I was prepared to be all miffed about that until I looked up their road jersey — which features black and white vertical stripes.
Would the black and white kit have been easier to distinguish from the black and gold Battery home uniform? Maybe. Maybe not.
The No. 1 problem is that Rochester’s two kit choices don’t allow for them to EVER look distinct from Charleston’s players, unless Charleston plays in its red “away” jerseys. I suppose the Battery could have chosen to play in their secondary kits at home to keep things clear. But shouldn’t the league have a talk with the Rochester front office about this?
And lest you think this is just a homer soccer writer getting his shorts in a twist, consider this post-game comment from Cuevas. In the 16th minutem midfielder Jarad van Schaik took a throw-in from Nicki Paterson and passed ahead to Cuevas, who had posted up a defender with his back to the goal inside the penalty box. As Rochester moved in to shut him down, Cuevas attempted a clever no-look back-heel pass… to absolutely no one. When I mentioned that I liked the thought on that back-heel attempt, Cuevas replied:
“I was hoping Jarad was making a run, because he’s the one that played me in. I was trying to do the one-two, but it kinda confused me about the jerseys. I saw him run, (but) it was actually one of their defenders. So that was a bummer. And at the end, after I’d played the ball, I saw Nicki coming on. I could have played him, but it was just one of those split-second decisions.”
Exactly. And certainly it affected both teams. But did it affect both teams equally? Of course not. Rochester came in with a plan to play defense and get a point, and they did an excellent job. Seriously. A great defensive effort in a tough road assignment.
But Charleston was playing to win, and a creative attack requires the kind of split-second decisions Cuevas mentions above. Van Schaik and Taylor Mueller both agreed after the match that the jerseys were harder to distinguish in the bright light at the beginning of the match, with things getting easier in the second half after the sun went down.
For the record and for what it’s worth (see above), the Battery officially out-shot the Rhinos 15-4 last night. Eleven of those 15 Battery shots came in the second half. “Even if it just makes everything one touch slower, you know, you have to make sure,” van Schaik said. “It can make a difference.”
So. Just sayin’.
The early going
Both Cuevas and Coach Mike Anhaeuser used their post-game comments to credit Rochester for an excellent defensive performance in the first half. Cuevas and Anhaeuser both said that the Rhinos’ emphasis seemed to be on shutting down Cuevas and Paterson, and for the most part, it worked.
“Usually we’re the ones that create the plays, and taking us out of the game, we had to throw it wide and just whip it in and hope for the best,” Cuevas said.
With Charleston’s typically high-powered Blackbaud attack sputtering, the Battery managed only a few isolated threats by Dane Kelly and Mike Azira in the opening minutes. Between the 14th and 16th minutes the Battery managed to generate two headers off consecutive corners, plus Cuevas’ misdirected back-heel pass. Paterson missed on one of the night’s better opportunities in the 23rd minute when a centering pass found him with enough room to strike from 19 yards out, but the ball sailed. Paterson also attempted to turn and volley on a nice cross from left back Emmanuel Adjetey in the 41st minute, but didn’t quite connect.
On defense, Adjetey made several standout plays in the first 45, Cooper took care of a couple of threats, and van Schaik appeared to be in the midst of a lot of successful midfield action. But there wasn’t much to talk about.
The second half
Charleston certainly came out of the break on the front foot, not that it did them much good. There were exciting moments, like a 58th minute Falvey pass ahead to Cuevas that the Californian centered deftly to Kelly off a single touch, but the shot missed wide. Two minutes later Sanyang got a head on a Battery corner kick but was pushed on the play and the ball looped high, resulting in another cross, a sharp Falvey header, a block, and yet another cross into the box, this time from van Schaik. But the team’s finishing touch seemed to evade them.
Things began to change — dramatically — when Anhaeuser subbed out Kelly and Cuevas in the 62nd minute, replacing them with center forward Heviel Cordoves and midfielder Zach Prince. Outside midfielder Ben Fisk replaced van Schaik seven minutes later, and forward Austin Savage came in for Paterson in the 77th.
“They did what they needed to, because the game was static, wasn’t it?” Anhaeuser said “Ben got a few chances. We got two, three corner kicks and then Zach did well on the right side, too. Even Austin came in and got in the box and was sneaky and almost got one there.”
The first man to make his presence felt was the 195-pound Cordoves, who repeatedly muscled up against Rochester’s physical defenders. In the 67th minute, his soft touch on a long pass set up his first turn-and-fire shot from 18 yards (it went straight to the keeper). Just a minute later, an almost identical play resulted in a Cordo screamer from 19 yards that looked like a game-winner — before Rochester keeper Kristian Nicht made the save of the night to preserve the draw. With the Rhinos unable to stop that play, the Battery kept going back to it. Cordoves’ hold-up-turn-and-fire move produced two more shots in the late going.
As good as those opportunities were, Fisk turned in the flashiest performance of the night. An excellent throw-in by right back Mark Wiltse reached the Canadian in scoring position from 18 yards out, but his volley attempt settled into the netting on top of the goal. In the 80th minute, Fisk was one of three Battery players to attempt a shot off a pin-balling Prince corner kick. He also made two long, swerving, foraging runs down the left side of the pitch in the game’s frantic final minutes, shedding defenders and pressing upfield like a Brazilian time-traveler from the 1960s. But his final play — a cross in stoppage time — sailed harmlessly out of bounds.
All in all, it was an encouraging performance from a 20-year-old who underwent knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus just 24 days earlier.
“I felt good physically,” Fisk said. “Obviously I’m lacking a bit of match fitness, but I felt good on the ball. I think I’m a little rusty. My first game in a few weeks. That one cross, for example, that I shanked out of bounds. But overall I felt good. I felt like I impacted the game, and that’s what you have to do coming off the bench.”
Fisk appeared to be running ahead of schedule when I watched him train on May 17, and he scrimmaged with the team on Friday. Anhaeuser wasn’t ready to declare him fully recovered at the time, but indicated that Fisk was the injured player closest to returning to action. Considering that the prognosis on Fisk’s return back on May 9th was still two-to-four weeks, his play is a particularly welcome sign.
“I told everyone when I got the surgery that I’d be back for this game,” Fisk said. “I don’t think anyone believed me. But I heal pretty quick.”
MotM: It was the other guy
Last night’s announced Battery Man of the Match was keeper Odisnel Cooper, who stepped up each time he was called upon. And this is no knock against him. It’s just that he wasn’t called upon very often.
No, the real Man of the Match last night was without question 6-foot-5-inch Rhinos keeper Kristian Nicht, who probably has one of the best goalkeeper names on the planet. “Nicht” is German for “not,” or negation. As in “Nicht in meinem haus,” which means exactly what you think it does. I suppose it could be better if some woman with the last name “Stopper” named her son “Golem,” But that’s just silly.
Nicht, whom Falvey described as “massive,” was the 2012 USL PRO Goalkeeper of the Year, and if he doesn’t make the next USL PRO Team of the Week, it’s either because of an oversight or a spectacular performance elsewhere.
Officially, Nicht made six saves Saturday, but every play a keeper makes isn’t counted in that tally. The big 31-year-old from Jena in the former East Germany stepped up boldly to snuff out chances on multiple occasions. Other Rhino defenders deserve some credit, but let’s put this plainly: Without Nicht in goal, Rochester leaves Charleston with a loss.
Last night’s match was the Battery’s third in six days, and they’ll play again on Tuesday at home against the San Jose Earthquakes of MLS in the Third Round of the U.S. Open Cup. The team will train on Monday.
What’s wrong with this picture?
OK, Battery fans. According to the official attendance, there were 3,325 of you there last night. What was different about Blackbaud Stadium Saturday?
Leave your answer in comments.