BY JOHN ACE
ORLANDO — The Battery are still searching for their elusive first win of the season after falling to defending champions Orlando City 1-0 Saturday on a late goal from substitute forward Brian Span.
Charleston (0-1-2) opened its home season with a 1-1 draw against Orlando (2-0-2) and knew it was in for a chippy, physical affair. There have been three red cards given out in recent meetings between the clubs, including one to Captain Colin Falvey in last year’s playoff semi-final, and another to right back Quinton Griffith on March 22.
The Battery’s game plan appeared to frustrate their hosts early. But after an evenly matched first half, Span’s game-winner in the 73rd minute was the result of a patient Orlando attack that took greater control of the action after the break.
The match got off to a slow start, with a lot of balls played long. But while both teams had a few successful through-balls into feet, the strikers struggled to stay onside.
Because of this, the game didn’t seem to settle until around the 22nd minute, with Zach Prince led the charge down the left. The veteran midfielder, who had scuffed an earlier effort, created the first real chance for either side when he played playing a corner in to Mamadou Diouf. The rookie forward’s header beat keeper Miguel Gallardo, but was headed away off the line by a defender at the near post.
Charleston would rue that missed chance, as Orlando soon grew into the game. Forward Corey Hertzog got to a ball from right back Tyler Turner from the left side, but shot wide. As the half progressed it became clear that chances would come at a premium, and that one goal would likely decide matters.
The game was being played mostly in midfield, with the bulk of the long balls being cut out.
Both sides defended well, and though Orlando were getting most of the possession, Charleston had a half chance on 35 minutes, with Diouf heading again and producing a top save from Gallardo.
Due to that defensive effectiveness, there were only three shots from the Battery, with one on target. The first half was largely 50-50 in terms of chances, and both sides had to be hoping for that little bit of opening that the second half may provide.There were no subs at half, and both teams seemed to come out with a bit of extra drive.
Five minutes into the second half, Prince eared a yellow card for a tough challenge. It was — surprisingly, given the history between the two teams — the first of the match. The resulting Orlando free kick came to nothing, and in the 54th minute the Battery earned their own free kick in a promising position.
Midfielder Jarad Van Schaik took it, and by the build up there seemed to be a chance on the cards. But the ball lofted slowly in and above everyone for a goal kick.
Span replaced midfielder Aodhan Quinn two minutes later. And when Hertzog and midfielder Anthony De Luz made way for forward Dennis Chin and midfielder Adama Mbengue just after the hour mark, the match began to shift dramatically in Orlando’s favor.
The Lions nearly made their subs’ efforts count after 66, when Mbengue hit Battery goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper‘s left post.
This would prompt the Battery’s own double substitution, with Prince and Diouf — who had been largely ineffective in the second half — giving way to forward Heviel Cordoves and midfielder Maikel Chang in what looked to be a like-for-like swap.
But although Charleston’s subs were as about attacking as they come, it was Orlando that broke the deadlock. The game-winner came when Mbengue drove to the byline, beating players on the left, and squared it back for Span, who finished well from eight yards out to give Orlando the lead.
Rookie attacking midfielders Dante Marini and Andre Lewis came on to give the Battery a late push, and with seven minutes left to go, Cordoves connected with a corner and headed the ball toward goal. When it drifted just wide of the post, hope began to ebb away.
Orlando could have sealed Charleston’s fate a minute from time full-time. Cooper made a fine save to stub-out a Lions breakaway, but needed a clutch Griffith save off the line to prevent a goal off the rebound.
Midfielder Aminu Abdallah made a late cameo appearance, coming on in stoppage time for Shaun Ferguson. But there was to be no late drama in the two extra minutes, and the Battery slumped to their first defeat of the season.
Charleston’s search for its first 2014 win will continue will look to improve as we return home to Blackbaud on Friday, April 18th, against the New York Red Bulls Reserves.