Charleston reversed its downward momentum with a dramatic 2-0 win on the road in Richmond on Saturday night, moving into fourth place in the USL Eastern Conference.
The Battery had not won in six games, and went to Richmond with the weight of two back-to-back losses from the previous week hanging on their backs. It was always going to be a tough test on the road in Virginia, and the home team was boosted by a season-high attendance of 5,957. (Although a few of those were Battery fans!)
The Kickers looked confident and were playing better soccer for the first 30 minutes, but found themselves trailing by two at the halftime break after two quick goals sparked by a penalty. The Battery defense never broke, absorbing the pressure and maintaining the shutout. The Kickers had to really pour men forward in the second half, and they outshot Charleston 7-1 in the final 45 minutes after a more even 6-4 advantage in the first. But Battery goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper made five saves on the night to frustrate the home team’s attack.
Points at a premium as season winds down
The Battery helped relieve some of the pressure on themselves with the three points taken in Richmond, but the rest of the schedule does not get any easier. They play the Riverhounds in Pittsburgh Saturday in another important match. Pittsburgh is in sixth place with 35 points. Charleston is ahead with 39, but has played one more game than the team from Pennsylvania.
As things stand right now, Charleston is level on points with the New York Red Bulls II, but the Red Bulls have the edge in the tiebreaker. Head-to-head records is the first tiebreaker, but both match-ups between the two teams this season have ended in 1-1 draws. The second tiebreaker is the total number of league wins. New York has 11, Charleston has 10.
But of course, there are still four games left for both sides.
After a week off, the regular season concludes with two home games on consecutive Saturdays at MUSC Health Stadium. First up is Louisville City FC, which is in second place on 45 points (9 behind first-place Rochester). Then the Charlotte Independence will help the Battery close out the regular season.
Theoretically, it is possible that Louisville could lose the rest of their games at the same time, letting Charleston jump them for second, but that has about a good a chance of happening as me playing professional soccer next season. So let’s look at the remaining schedules for the teams fighting to make, or hold onto, their playoff spots.
Richmond has a difficult game Saturday hosting Rochester, then they travel to Harrisburg, who, at the moment, is at number 7, the top team among those that won’t make the playoffs. The City Islanders have 34 points through 24 games, putting them one point behind Pittsburgh. The Kickers close out the season against Toronto FC II, a team with only 19 points this season.
The Red Bulls have a tough, tough end to their season, playing both Louisville City and Rochester, with FC Montreal sandwiched in between those games. As for Pittsburgh, after they play Charleston they will compete with Wilmington (last place with 16 points), Rochester and Harrisburg.
So, a lot can still change. The standings are very tight among the teams vying for the playoffs, as only 8 points separate third place from eighth.
GK: Cooper DEF: Adjetey, Ferguson, Mueller, Griffith. MID: Portillo, van Schaik, Chang, Garbanzo, Prince. FWD: Kelly.
Charleston had a week off between games, so Coach Mike Anhaeuser was able to field his first-choice lineup. There are two players still out with injuries — O’Brian Woodbine and Austin Savage. When healthy, Woodbine has seen a lot of playing time at left back. He last played in the Aug. 1 meeting with FC Montreal, starting going the entire 90 minutes. He and Adjetey were the starting fullbacks when Quinton Griffith was recovering from his knee surgery.
30th minute, GOAL (Portillo. Penalty kick.)
The Battery put themselves in front of Richmond on a penalty kick that came totally against the run of play. Richmond had been dominating the game, scarcely allowing Charleston any attacking touches. The Battery’s first corner kick of the game came in the 29th minute, and led to the eventual penalty call.
Portillo took the corner kick from the left side, and the ball bounced to Shawn Ferguson right in front of the goal. His shot was saved on the line by a sliding defender. While the ball bounced out of the box, some of the Charleston players closest to the action were appealing to the referee for a handball call.
Meanwhile, Portillo, who was still near the corner, collected the ball on the wing and sent it back in to the box. Dane Kelly attempted to head the ball down to a teammate, but during the play the referee blew his whistle and awarded a penalty kick, due to a foul by Richmond goalkeeper Travis Worra. Portillo converted the penalty to put the visitors ahead.
37th minute, GOAL (Prince, assisted by Griffith.)
The second goal scoring sequence started with a defensive interception by center back Taylor Mueller. He then played it to Portillo on the right. Portillo laid it off to Griffith, who looked up and saw Zach Prince making a run towards goal.
Griffith played a lofted ball to Prince, who brought in down in the box, took a touch around a pair of defenders and blasted a shot in from a difficult angle. It was a really nice shot by Prince, and a good team goal.