(Editor’s note: This round-up includes a complete rundown of offseason news for all 2013 Battery players — plus some interesting bits about players who could be in the mix for 2014 — at the bottom. Read on, McDuff! — dc)
Yes, it’s dreary out there. The depths of winter.
But do you realize just how close we are to starting up a new season of Battery soccer?
I mean, like that close.
Battery players are already returning to the Lowcountry from all over in advance of the first day of the team’s official training camp on Tuesday, Tweeting images from the road. Meanwhile, hopefuls will converge on Blackbaud tomorrow and Friday for a second round of open tryouts, with the team’s invitation-only combine scheduled for this weekend.
And then, just five days after the start of training camp, the 2014 season kicks off for real with the opening night of the Carolina Challenge Cup on Feb. 22, when the Battery host the Seattle Sounders. Over the next week, they’ll also contend with the pros from D.C. United and Houston Dynamo in a four-team tournament table. And lest you think a USL PRO team has no business playing against top-flight competition, consider this stat: In 2013, the Battery compiled a 4-3-0 record against teams from MLS. They also swept their three matches against the Dynamo, which could make the clubs’ rematch on March 1 a bit more heated.
After the CCC, there’s a shorter-than-last-year preseason (opponents not yet announced), leading up to a massively significant season opener on March 22 against USL PRO Champion Orlando City, who will be making their final trip to Charleston before moving up to MLS in 2015. It’s the first of three regular season meetings with the Lions.
See what I mean? If may feel like winter, but Battery fans are about to step onto a rapidly moving conveyor belt that will transport us through a regular season schedule that now carries us through the height of summer and well into September.
One of the things you’ll notice around here is that the Battery have signed on as a sponsor for CHSSoccer.net in 2014. We really appreciate their support, too.
We’ll be looking for additional sponsorships to help pay for things like photographs from local shooters, away-game coverage by returning writer John Ace, and — you know — my time. We’re also recruiting new local soccer bloggers and pushing the idea of a cooperative fan-media network to expand exposure for the Lowcountry game. But the bottom line is, things are getting better. If you’re interested in any of this, email me at email@example.com.
Meanwhile, with Charleston joining the ranks of U.S. cities with an American Outlaws chapter in 2013 (We’re No. 92!), the 2014 FIFA World Cup means big opportunities for the Battery to expand its fan base by reaching out to passionate Lowcountry soccer supporters who follow remote clubs, but haven’t yet adopted the Battery as loyal fans who “cheer local.” As we publish this, the Battery’s front office is working on plans to open the Three Lions — and possibly other portions of Blackbaud Stadium — for World Cup Watch Parties this summer. Stay tuned on that one.
What we can report with confidence is that 2014 is already turning into the Year of the Supporter. The Battery partnered recently with the American Outlaws to offer A.O. members discounted tickets to the Carolina Challenge Cup. So far, more than 100 (more like 130, we hear) fans — many of them coming in to support Seattle and Houston, plus a large contingent of traveling D.C. United fans — have taken them up on the offer.
And there will be changes to the layout of Blackbaud Stadium this year, too. The Supporters Section — formerly encamped out in the distant reaches of the East stands — is being moved from E10 to E01, putting members of The Regiment and Barra Barra right in the game-day mix of casual fans, beer-garden partiers and people entering the stadium. Team officials and Regiment leaders have been meeting to discuss ways to improve the fan experience and boost the team’s energy level.
Plus, the Battery have already decided to make fan-outreach a big part of this season’s marketing push. Club interns, working as “street teams,” have been heading out to local soccer bars this winter to interact with fan groups that support teams in the English Premier League. They were with the Official Liverpool Supporters Club of South Carolina at Madra Rua for last week’s big win over Arsenel, and the push will continue. It’s a pretty simple message: Great fans support their local club, too.
If you missed it, 2014 is already turning out to be a big year for USL PRO. The league added teams in Sacramento, Oklahoma City and Los Angeles (the L.A. Galaxy II, the first USL PRO club owned by an MLS franchise), while subtracting Antigua and Tampa (the L.A. Blues changed their name to the OC Blues, as in Orange County). With a second year of competition against MLS reserve teams, that means the Battery will play a 28-game season. Unfortunately, that expansion resulted in a schedule that is weirdly unbalanced. And with a deadline looming for MLS teams to affiliate with clubs from our league, the offseason saw Charleston and Vancouver officially tie the knot in December.
Also, in what could be the best news so far, the league also announced that it was switching its livestream hosting to YouTube.
WHAT STAYS THE SAME
The big headline for fans, as far as I’m concerned, is that Molly Darcy’s is returning for a second year as the Official Away-Game Watch Party Host for the Charleston Battery. If you didn’t get out to any matches in 2013, I recommend you give Molly’s a try this season. Tommy Snee and his staff put on a great event, and with fans, Battery staff and non-traveling players often showing up to watch together, the whole scene is a lot of fun.
We’ve got the Battery’s second round of open tryouts (with some invited prospects and Battery players also in the mix) on Thursday and Friday. Thursday’s start time has been pushed back to noon because of the weather forecast. Other details still pending, thanks to the incoming “wintery mix.”
After that, the club’s invitation-only combine begins on Saturday and runs through Sunday. Everyone gets a day off on Monday, and then the prospects who make the first series of cuts will join returning players for the start of training camp on Tuesday, Feb. 17.
Then, just five days later, the Charleston Battery will take the field at 7 p.m., Feb. 22, against the Seattle Sounders.
Along the way, we’ll have a media day lunch with the CCC teams on Feb. 21st. Expect to see the Battery unveil their 2014 home kit at the event. Whitney Woods from the Battery front office says the Nike striped shirt will be largely the same, but “there is a tweak to this year’s jersey to make it different than last (year’s jersey).” And the club will host a meet-and-greet event for season ticketholders sometime between the end of the Cup on March 1, and the home opener on March 22.
OFFSEASON PLAYER NEWS ROUNDUP
Battery midfielder Mike Azira had a breakout year in 2013, moving from utility sub to regular starter, sparking the Battery’s late comeback against Orlando in the 2013 semifinals, earning a spot on the Ugandan National Team, and catching the eye of the coaching staff in Seattle. Azira scored for the Sounders’ reserves in a match against the Portland Timbers last fall, and though he spent the offseason here, he was back with the Sounders for the start of their camp in January. So far he’s been logging some long preseason minutes in Seattle, where the 2014 roster will be built around Clint Dempsey and former Battery star Osvaldo Alonso. From a distance, Azira looks like a perfect fit for the new-look Sounders, but whether he’ll stick will depend on what Coach Sigi Schmidt sees — plus whatever the Battery would want in a transfer agreement.
Which also begs the question: What color uniform with Azira wear when the Battery host the Sounders on Feb. 22?
The future of the other Battery star who attracted MLS attention this offseason — league Defender of the Year Colin Falvey — is a bit more mysterious. The Battery skipper has spent much of the last few months in Ireland, Scotland and Charleston, and while he’s confirmed that his agent has been handling some opportunities, it’s not clear what that means. One big complicating factor is the Battery’s new affiliation with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Does the MLS partner in a formal affiliation deal get first dibs on a veteran prospect from its affiliate’s roster? Battery club president Andrew Bell called that “a great question” in an interview last month. It’s worth noting that Falvey played in a reserve match for the Whitecaps last summer.
The Battery transferred Falvey’s good friend and running mate, Nicki Paterson, to the Ottawa Fury of NASL in November. The move made Paterson the first player ever signed by the club. He married his fiance, Cheryl McSeveney, this offseason in Scotland. The event was attended by Battery mates Falvey, Zach Prince and Kevin Klasila.
Another departure, USL PRO’s 2012 Rookie of the Year, Jose “Chiva” Cuevas, says he’s doing well in Farmville, California, and will be “helping out” his former PDL team, the Fresno Fuego, in two upcoming friendlies. He’ll be playing against the L.A. Galaxy II — the parent club’s new USL PRO entry — and the San Jose Earthquakes of MLS. Though Cuevas has had no comment on the topic, the former Battery star — who fell out of contract in October — has been connected with the Earthquakes this offseason. Loyal fans may remember that Cuevas assisted on Colin Falvey‘s set-piece header that knocked the Quakes out of the U.S. Open Cup in Charleston last May. Quakes Coach Mark Watson‘s background with the Battery can’t hurt Chiva’s chances with his favorite MLS club, either.
Not much has been heard from Cuevas’ long-time teammate and fellow Californian Cody Ellison. The big cowboy had a stellar 2013 with the Battery, but fell out of contract in October and is expected to sign elsewhere. Also departing the team was starting right back Mark Wiltse, who announced his retirement in January after receiving a promising job offer. He’ll stay in Charleston.
Another West Coast Battery man who spent time with Watson’s Quakes this offseason was Jarad van Schaik. The Portland native scored twice for the Quakes reserves last fall, but departed the West Coast for Charleston by car early this week. Here’s hoping he stays safe out there.
Former Battery goalkeeper and fan-favorite Kevin Klasila narrowly lost his 2013 preseason competition with new arrival Odisnel Cooper, and confirmed last September that he would not be returning. The big question was whether the capable veteran would continue to pursue a soccer career, and the Californian said he’d be considering his options this offseason. With the offseason now history, “Godzilla” confirms he’s decided to “hang up the gloves” as a pro keeper. He says he’s on the verge of starting a new career-oriented job, and has spent the last few months coaching at his former high school (Loyola High School in Los Angeles), where the team is undefeated, ranked 5th in the nation, and heading into the playoffs. He’s also been training for his first marathon — the L.A. Marathon — with plans to take up training for the Ironman Triathalon. “Things are looking up!” he said.
Speaking of Odisnel Cooper, he’s spent the offseason working in a local Mexican restaurant, training with the Battery, and improving his English. His progress is one of the Battery’s best offseason stories. He’s expected to win the 2014 starting job, but who will be his backup? His friend — and fellow former Cuban international keeper Andy Ramos — came down from Canada to stay with Cooper and train with the team in January, but reportedly left town without anything formal in place. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Scott Augevine –the former Coastal Carolina starter, MLS draft pick and MLS “keeper pool” member, had a good showing at the Battery’s open tryout in January. On Feb. 10 he Tweeted that he was headed to Charleston.
Staying on the Cuban front, forward Heviel Cordoves and attacking midfielder Maikel Chang have been knocking them in for the expansion Wichita B-52s of the Professional Arena Soccer League. They’ve also been teaching Kansas fans how to salsa dance after each Cuban score — a new tradition we’d like to see continued here in Charleston. According to the team’s current stats’ update, the finally healthy Chang has recorded nine goals and six assists (including four goals and four assists in his last four matches!), with Cordoves good for nine goals and three assists. Cordoves has been rapidly upgrading his English skills, too.
On the downside, the B-52s are in the hunt for a playoff spot, and it’s unclear when they’ll return to training with the Battery. Stay tuned.
As we explained in Part 1 of our interview with Zach Prince, the veteran midfielder got laid off from his office job in December, and he’s been focused solely on soccer ever since. Other players who’ve been joining Prince at Blackbaud for regular training session include defenders Cooper, Falvey, Taylor Mueller, Shawn Ferguson and John Wilson, with attackers Austin Savage of the Battery and Gibson Bardsley of the Dayton Dutch Lions also in the mix.
Coach Anhaeuser met with the club’s leading 2013 scorer, forward Dane Kelly, during his scouting trip to Jamaica, and said Kelly is expected to return for 2014. Kelly has been connected in reports elsewhere this offseason to the Philadelphia Union and the New York Cosmos of NASL.
Amadou Sanyang spent the offseason in Seattle, and is expected to return, as is Antiguan winger Quinton Griffith.
While it’s unclear who Vancouver will be sending to the Battery for 2014, the three Whitecaps from 2013 are making a push for the first team. Ben Fisk drew notice in a recent preseason performance. Bryce Alderson is on the roster, and spent some time on loan to the Queens Park Rangers U-23s. Both are members of the Canadian youth team, and represented their country in a tournament in France. Fullback Emmanuel Adjetey, who was one of the most improved players on the Battery’s 2013 roster, is also receiving minutes.
Though he wasn’t a Battery player, former head coach Chris Ramsey made a big move up at Tottenham Hotspur recently. Ramsey, who’d been the director of the club’s academy program, jumped to the first team in December with the sacking of former manager Andres Villas-Boas, and now serves as an assistant to replacement manager Tim Sherwood. Which means you’ll spot Ramsey on the sidelines while watching Spurs matches via NBC Sports.