Since we last previewed the Wilmington Hammerheads — exactly a week ago — each team has gone 1-1.
Charleston lost to the Hammers on Saturday — their only home loss of the season, and the first home loss since their only home loss of 2013 (to Pittsburgh, also in May) . But in Open Cup play on Wednesday, Charleston defeated Panama City Beach Pirates of the PDL 4-0 to advance, while Wilmington lost 2-1 at Chattanooga FC of the NPSL to crash out.
One might reasonably ask: How is it that a team like Wilmington can beat Charleston and then turn around and lose to an NPSL hosting its first-ever home match against a professional club? And the best answer I can come up with is that Charleston-Wilmington is turning into a true derby.
A true derby, by the way, is not defined by geography or marketing. It simply means more to the fans of both teams, while meaning so much to the players that they approach the game differently. When records don’t matter, and everything else adds up, it’s a derby.
Of course, Wilmington-v-Charleston is a bit like Liverpool-v-Everton. It’s a friendly derby. But as Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser said, it’s on Charleston to drive up to North Carolina and get a win. So if last Saturday was a big game, the rare home loss makes this Saturday twice that. If this game were a motorcycle helmet, it would be Gary Busey Helmet Protector Protector Size.
So, remember that Manu Aparicio ejection melt-down on Saturday? The one when the teenage Wilmington forward/midfielder picked up a second yellow card and was ejected from the game? And he left, too — after screaming at the officials, coming back onto the field, punching a hole in the visiting dugout, and being escorted from the field by police.
We’d heard that the root of Aparicio’s outrage was mistaken identity. As in: It’s not that he claimed there was no foul on the play, it’s that he was saying that the officials got the wrong guy. Which matters if you’re carrying a yellow card and doing your best to stay out of trouble.
Well, apparently the young man was correct, if a little overly passionate. The league reviewed the tape this week and revoked his red card, which means he won’t be suspended for the second Charleston game.
I’m always happy to see justice served, even if it helps the other team.
But red cards continued to be an issue for Wilmington this week. They picked up two at Chattanooga — not that either will affect the Battery match.
The Hammers went into the game short-handed because of international slots (USL PRO allows more than the Open Cup rules, which also count Canadians as foreign… but not Cubans who seek asylum in Canada and move to the United States). But the bigger issues for them now are road-weariness (Chattanooga is a bit of a hike) and the loss of midfielder Danny Lovitz, who was recalled to Toronto FC on Monday. Lovitz was the set-piece specialist whose free-kick forced Odisnel Cooper into a diving save, producing the rebound that midfielder Paul Nicholson buried for the 1-0 game-winner.
Oh, and remember Quillian Roberts, the young Toronto goalkeeper who started in goal a week ago for the Hammerheads? He made the league’s Team of the Week for his late saves against the Battery. One thing about Charleston: The Battery sure do manage to produce a lot of Goalkeeper of the Week winners for their opponents.
Earlier this season, all aflutter about the surplus of attacking talent I saw collected on Daniel Island, I used to ask Anhaeuser lots of questions about his strikers. And typically he’d answer, smile, and bring up the defense.
Nine games into the USL PRO season, it’s pretty clear that he was on the right track. Ten goals in nine games isn’t exactly inspiring, but when you only give up seven, you’re doing generally doing OK. As Anhaeuser says — repeatedly — “If they don’t score, you can’t lose.” It’s a philosophy he shares with Wilmington’s Dave Irving.
Charleston’s big issue used to be helping the offense catch up to the defense. Now it’s simply depth.
The team is down to four healthy defenders (Jackson Farmer was recalled to Vancouver on May 1 and is in camp with the Canadian U-20 team in Florida through the weekend; Taylor Mueller is out with a bad knee), so starting midfielders Zach Prince and Jarad van Schaik may have to fill in at fullback. But Anhaeuser held left back John Wilson out of the Open Cup match, which means Charleston could be able to field it’s first-choice back line on Saturday.
There’s a similar problem developing at striker, where Heviel Cordoves and Andre Lewis (who played winger and CAM until starting at forward on Wednesday) joined forward Dane Kelly on the injury list Wednesday night. Only Mamadou Diouf and Adam Mena were at full strength after the mid-week match, but the good news is that only Kelly remained in Charleston when the team left for Wilmington on Friday.
Fortunately, the team remains deep in the midfield, where only Amadou Sanyang will miss this weekend’s match with injury. Aminu Abdallah is essentially a rotational starter, and rookies Dante Marini and Justin Portillo show some untapped talent against Panama City Beach.
NOTES: Regarding players recalled to Vancouver: Both Farmer and Omar Salgado were on the 18 for the first leg of the Canadian Championship series with Toronto, though only Salgado made an appearance. The Whitecaps were eliminated on penalties in their home leg on Wednesday, with Salgado again figuring as a substitute and Farmer off with the U-20 camp… Salgado also subbed on in the Whitecaps’ 1-0 win at Columbus over the weekend… That’s three substitute appearances in a week… While it’s probably unlikely that Vancouver will send Salgado down for a second stretch with the Battery, it’s worth noting that 2013 MLS Golden Boot winner Camillo Sanvezzo is now being rumored for a return to the Whitecaps. It was the departure of Designated Player Kenny Miller that opened the door for Salgado’s recall. Would a Camillo restoration pave the way for Salgado or one of the Whitecaps’ other young strikers to come down south for a bit? … And will the end of Canada’s U-20 camp on May 18 conclude with Farmer flying back to British Columbia, or making the much shorter trip back to Charleston?
TOP IMAGE: Charleston’s Adam Mena tracks Wilmington’s Paul Nicholson on May 10. Dan Conover photos.