No doubt, beating the Earthquakes is an achievement that most USL PRO teams would mount on their brag walls. Charleston will, too, in it’s way.
But the thing that should be apparent now, after three consecutive wins against MLS competition (Houston in the Carolina Challenge Cup, Houston Reserves at Houston in interleague play, and San Jose in the Open Cup) is that beating top level teams is no longer a season-defining event here. It’s nice, but here’s what it got them: A date with Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto on June 12. I don’t think these guys plan to enjoy the scenery, or to “manage” fan expectations. I think they seriously, realistically understand that they can play to win, and know how to do it.
This was the ninth time that the Battery have knocked an MLS opponent out of the Open Cup. But they don’t get to think about that now, because they’ve got Harrisburg on Friday night, and they’re still trailing Orlando City in the USL PRO table, with Richmond, Los Anglese and the City Islanders all within three points of them. So lets get on to the business…
Moments worth remembering
Since the U.S. Open Cup is still kinda of the bastard child of U.S. Soccer, finding reliable stats on these matches is still a challenge at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday. So I’m working from my notes here, but this is what I’ve got.
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: In the 18th minute, Colin Falvey saves a shot by Mike Fucito to keep the game scoreless. In the 73rd minute, Jose Cuevas‘ brilliant free kick finds Falvey for a header to make it 1-o. In the 74th minute, a spectacular play by John Wilson, Zach Prince and Dane Kelly draws a second yellow on defender Brad Ring, leaving San Jose a man down for the remainder. And in the waning seconds of stoppage time, Odisnel Cooper makes a fingertip save on a Chris Wondolowski free kick from 28 yards out to deflect the ball off the frame and preserve the win.
Respect is a two-way street
One of the bigger angles from last night’s games are the ways the different how the teams treated their appearance in the Open Cup. MLS teams typically try to get through their first round of Open Cup play while spending the least amount of starter minutes possible. And typically this works out. Only two MLS clubs lost to lower-league opposition last night.
San Jose’s lineup, while not their Top XI, was no reserve squad. Five of their starters — centerback Victor Bernardez, left back Justin Morrow, central midfielder Rafael Baca, outside midfielder Shea Salinas and forward Steven Lenhart — are top-quality MLS players and regular starters for the Quakes. Forward Mike Fucito gets regular minutes, and veteran right back Dan Gargan started the team’s first seven matches while Stephen Beitashour (unused sub last night) recovered from offseason surgery.
Only defender Ring, and midfielders Mehdi Ballouchy and Cordell Cato were reserves.
And with the game on the line, the Quakes played to win. MLS MVP Wondolowski came in during the 58th minute, followed by attacking midfielder Marvin Chavez (13 assists last season) in the 68th, and rookie scoring leader Adam Jahn (four goals this season) in the 79th.
The Battery started in a nominal 4-3-3 with Cooper in goal, Wilson at left back, Falvey and Cody Ellison at centerback, and Mark Wiltse at right back, plus Jarad van Schaik, Michael Azira and Prince at midfield, and Cuevas, Nicki Paterson and Kelly at forward. Taylor Muller was the only sub, replacing Prince late as the team bunkered down.
Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser said after the match that he felt the Quakes showed respect to his players, and there were several exchanges between the teams after the match that showed it. Not that they hugged and sang campfire songs. In some cases they just worked out why they’d f-bombed each other during the run of play and then shook hands.
But here’s the truth: These teams are just a lot alike, and I heard that over and over. No wonder there was some mutual respect.
Bernardez and Chavez
Anhaeuser’s biggest surprise of the match was that the Quakes sat back as much as they did in the first half. Mine was spotting Bernardez and Chavez in the pregame warmups.
In doing my research for the game preview, I kept looking for evidence of their status, since both have been called to international duty by Honduras. The team website didn’t offer details, but I did find an MLS source that listed them as unavailable.
But here’s the thing: That’s unavailable for MLS play this weekend.
To me, it says something about how the Quakes viewed this match that they brought these two excellent MLS players with them to Charleston. And Bernardez was huge in this game — which is redundant, I know, because he’s huge all the time — but without him they’re just not the same defensively. In fact, much of my pregame optimism was based on the thought that with Bernardez out, the Battery would find space up top.
Beating them on a set piece goal with Bernardez back there? That’s something the Battery can point to with pride.
What they said
You know what? We have great players. That’s what teams forget. We’ve got players that a lot of them should be in the MLS and a lot of them could be in the MLS, so it’s a matter of just getting them the opportunity. This is their opportunity to showcase what they have.
(On Falvey’s goal) He deserved it. He’s had so many chances, but he timed it perfect. Jose whipped in a great ball. It takes a great goal to win a game like that. And just like there (at the end), they had one free kick and hit the post and it went out. But right now: 1-0 Charleston, we’re moving on, but we’ve got to get ready for our league game now. And we’ll have to make sure we keep our guys healthy and make sure we can use all our squad.
(On Friday’s match against Harrisburg) We’ve got to be ready for them. Harrisburg’s a good team. So we’re really going to have to wipe it off. We know that we’ve got the winner of Salt Lake and Atlanta. Harrisburg is very good offensively, we can get at them offensively, but we’ve got to make sure that we really rest a couple players that we need to, and that we get some players ready so we can look at the whole package of games instead of just taking it for Harrisburg right now, because we don’t want any injuries, especially when you’ve got four or five games in a row.
All we can do is keep putting ourselves in front of (MLS scouts) and keep showing them what we can do. They can’t keep saying no forever, because I’ve been 10 years pro or whatever now, and this side is as good as I’ve played with. Defensively, magnificent, every one of us. We were great tonight, and I’m proud of them, and it just keeps the tradition of this great club going. Mark Watson, their assistant, he’s been here for seven years. He knew it was going to be a tough game, and they respected us tonight. You could see that. Got a little bit worried, brought the likes of Wondo off the bench. And as I said, everything they threw at us, they threw the kitchen sink at the end, and we dealt with it. A great performance. Honestly, I’m more happy with the shutout than my goal.
(On Harrisburg Friday) It’s a quick turnaround, but we’ve been all in this league now a while. We’re used to playing back-to-back games. We’ll enjoy it tonight, we’ll have a nice laugh in the locker room, a nice joke tomorrow morning. But we’ll be back to training, back to business. We dropped two points against Rochester last week, we want to keep those and our gap on Orlando, and… another big win on Friday night is what we’ll be aiming for.
(On his first goal of the season) I’m not quite sure who was in front of me. I stole half a yard on, I think it’s the boy Lenhart. There was great whip and great pace on the ball. All I had to do was help it on its way. I got a nice little touch on it and was delighted to see it fly into the top corner. To be fair, Jose put in some great balls, right down the keeper’s neck, hard to deal with.
Forget about the goal. These boys tonight were absolutely magnificent defensively. The last 10 minutes they were throwing everything at us, they were throwing bodies, they were throwing the kitchen sink, and we answered everything. I’m absolutely over the moon for them.
(On San Jose) To be honest, they played very similar to us. We knew if we could just match what they had tonight in terms of … commitment and desire and will to win, I thought if we could just edge that out of them, I thought we were going to edge them on the scoreboard, and that’s exactly what it was.
They’re a good side, let me tell you that. They’re physical. I’ll be sore tomorrow. To be fair to Lenhart, he throws himself about and I gave as good as I got. The two of us were laughing and joking a few times with each other. Because we knew, you know.
He’s just hard-nosed, gets on with it. He didn’t moan or bitch really, he got on with it and the two of us respected the game. I’m sure he’ll be sore tomorrow, because I definitely will be.
It’s kinda interesting that we’ve been affiliated with the MLS this year, so we’ve gotten a little experience, especially with our Challenge Cup real early, and then we just played Houston the other week, so it’s not a shock to us. We’re not intimidated, really. We know what to expect from them. And so it was good for us. We know that we’re slightly an underdog, but we’ll play with them face-to-face. It was good for us to get that exposure early on.
(On his assist to Falvey) Right away, I tend to aim for Cody and Colin. I tend to aim for them and just ho
pe for the best, because they’re great headers. So I kinda aim with a cross shot. It was aiming for that second post. So good thing that Colin got on it, because even if (he) didn’t get on it, it was going in that back post.
Both of them were there. Colin was even being held, being brought down, and I don’t know how he got that header off, to be honest. But a lot of credit to him.
(On his recovery from his April 13th hamstring injury) I feel 100 percent now. My legs felt so good during the day, and I knew I was going to have a pretty good game because it allowed me to actually sprint this time (laughs). So I made a couple of good runs and felt fine. So hopefully I’ll keep going like this. Bobby (Weisenberger)‘s done great work keeping me healthy, so lots of credit to him.
(On playing against Lenhart) Oh yeah. Dealing with him up top, he’s a big guy. I’m usually the biggest guy on the field, but tonight that wasn’t the case. It was a big challenge, but we got the job done. He can be a good guy, I guess, but not on the pitch. Like, every corner (lifts shirt to reveal evidence of their confrontations).
(On San Jose’s style of play) They’re pretty much just like us. The difference between our league and their league, they’re a little bit faster, some going harder. But other than that, it’s the same thing. Some USL teams, like ourselves, we can compete with the best MLS teams. You’ve seen it here. It’s not much different.
TOP IMAGE: Mark Wiltse throws the ball into the attacking third in the first half of the Battery’s 1-0 Open Cup win against San Jose. Dan Conover photo.