Charleston returns to the friendly confines of Blackbaud Stadium on Saturday for their first home game in three weeks, and the roster that you remember from earlier this season has changed quite a bit.
One of the things that I’ve noticed is that it’s the little things about players that help you understand their individual stories, and how they fit into the big picture. Talents, personalities, roles, conflicts, aspirations — the whole package. So to make watching this week’s home match a little more enjoyable, here’s a field guide to this year’s team — complete with angles to watch for when you see them take the field.
0 ODISNEL COOPER: He’s the strong, silent type. Only 22, but you’d never guess it by his demeanor. A former starter for the Cuban Men’s National team who defected to Canada in the fall of 2012, Cooper impressed the Battery’s coaching staff with his athleticism in the 2013 preseason and won the starting job in a close competition with returning keeper Kevin Klasila. In an up-and-down (but mostly up) rookie season that represented a long-term club investment in a raw young player, Cooper turned in solid numbers. He spent the offseason working in a local Mexican restaurant, coaching youth players and improving his English. Missed time this preseason with a sprained thumb, but is off to a great start in 2014. Reacts with dazzling velocity and power. Named USL PRO Player of the Week on May 6, his second appearance on the Team of the Week. He’s a serious Christian. Devotes a lot of time to the kids who mob him under the West Stands after every match. Left behind a wife in Cuba, but a reunion could be in the works. Stay tuned.
THE ANGLE: Cooper impressed on the international stage before defecting and is already making a case for top honors in USL PRO. At what point do MLS clubs start arguing over who has his Discovery Rights?
1 ERIC SHANNON: A product of the L.A. Galaxy academy system and Cal State Bakersfield (where he logged 75 saves and posted a 0.81 GAA in his senior season), Shannon started his pro career with Antigua GFC of the Guatemalan First Division last spring. Emerged from a crowded field of six competitors vying to replace Klasila as the backup to Cooper in February and March. Shannon stood out for his ferocity between the pipes during the preseason, but despite the bald head, goatee and intense expression while minding the net, the 23-year-old Californian is a smiling, friendly guy off the field. Made his North American pro debut at Rochester on April. Other teams listed him at 6 feet. Battery lists him as 6-2.
THE ANGLE: Shannon has already proven he has the talent for the professional game, but what will the Battery do to get him game experience? No starting goalkeeper is ever more than a jammed digit from missing multiple matches.
25 JOHN WILSON: At 36, he’s the grand old man of Charleston soccer. Started his pro career in Charleston as a rookie out of Clemson in 1999, converting from forward to left back. Left the team after the 2003 season for Rochester and later D.C. United, but crashed out of MLS with a chronic injury and was considering retirement before Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser talked him into giving soccer another shot in 2008. Holds all sorts of team records. Has three Battery championship rings. Announced his retirement in 2012, but changed his mind. Performs lots of coaching-type duties and is an important figure with the club beyond the field. He’s from Seneca, S.C., but lives in Uptown Charleston year-round and has a second job as a speaker and adviser to high school athletes who are going through the college recruitment process. Wilson says this will be his last season, so enjoy him while you can. His natural speed may have diminished a bit — though he’s still quite fast — but watching him school young opponents in the finer points of the game is often worth the price of admission.
THE ANGLE: Should we believe him? If anyone could play his position at 37, it’s Wilson.
32 COLIN FALVEY: He’s the team’s captain, spokesman and defender, a charismatic Irishman from Cork whose natural fitness and intelligence carried him to New Zealand and the United States. Spent a year in Wilmington before signing with Charleston 2010, and has been a fixture with the Battery ever since. He’s the team’s reigning MVP and the league’s 2013 Defender of the Year. A sneaky scoring threat, particularly on set pieces. Wildly popular with the local fan base, as evidenced by the “Falvey’s Army” t-shirts you’ll spot around Blackbaud Stadium. Uses his offseason to travel. Enjoys clean sheets, driving opponents nuts, giving his teammates “a bit of stick” and downing the the occasional pint. Falvey’s also in the final year of his current Battery contract and could leave this offseason if MLS comes calling. Officially listed as 6-1, but skepticism is warranted.
THE ANGLE: Battery fans are torn when it comes to Falvey. Do you cheer for him to get a well-earned shot at the top league, or hope that he sticks with the Battery? Now in his late 20s, Falvey’s window of opportunity is narrowing.
11 QUINTON GRIFFITH: One of several players on the team who receives regular attention from MLS scouts, the 22-year-old Griffith is a two-footed player with blazing speed, a wicked shot from distance, more hairstyles than DeAndre Yedlin and a huge, fun-loving personality. He’s a Caribbean kid from St. John’s, Antigua, and a starter for the Antigua and Barbuda Men’s National team. Got his professional launch with the now-defunct Antigua Barracuda before Anhaeuser enticed him away in the 2013. Spent most of last year as an attacking winger, but returned in 2014 as a fullback and seems to have found a home as the replacement for retired right back Mark Wiltse. Can play either side in defense or midfield. He’s also the team’s karaoke star and clearly enjoys a good night out, but if anything his competitive intensity seems to be rising.
THE ANGLE: Some people were surprised to see Griffith moved back to defense this spring, but the general consensus is that he’s a better MLS prospect as a fullback than as a winger. His development as a back is one of the big stories of 2014.
4 TAYLOR MUELLER: There are times when it seems like Mueller’s remarkable versatility works against him. He can play center back. He can play either fullback spot. He’s a tall player with strength. He’s a fluid player who can run. Result: Rather than settling in at one position, he plays all over the place. His long-range throw-in is a dangerous weapon in the attacking third, and he’s the guy who took over Odisnel Cooper’s goal kicks when the keeper’s hip stiffened up at Pittsburgh. A friendly, relaxed guy off the pitch, Mueller can be demanding and occasionally testy in practice. A good long passer who wins balls in the air. He’s off to his best start in three seasons with Charleston and appears to have improved every aspect of his game. Missed a match early in the season with a head injury.
THE ANGLE: Mueller’s weakness was supposed to be inconsistency, and that hasn’t been an issue this season. He’s entering his soccer prime at 25, and the only question surrounding him isn’t whether he’ll play in most of the Battery’s matches, but whether he’ll start most of them. He’s essentially a lock to start whenever Wilson doesn’t, but who gets the nod week-to-week at the second center back spot is always an interesting decision.
6 SHAWN FERGUSON: A rookie enigma from the College of Charleston in 2013, Ferguson split his first pro season juggling Battery duties while finishing up his degree downtown. If you’re looking for a candidate for Most Improved Player of 2014, the 6-4 Ferguson is one of several early front-runners. He’s a strong, no-nonsense central defender in his second season, but he’s also the winner of the team’s fitness test, and has the speed to play outside as an overlapping right back. Has made the most of opportunity presented by center back Cody Ellison‘s departure. Like Ellison — Ferguson’s an aerial threat on set pieces, and his presence in the back gives the under-sized Falvey a sturdy partner in the center of the defense.
THE ANGLE: Ferguson growth as a player was one of the surprise stories of the spring. Tall, strong defenders with the fitness to play back-to-back matches over a single weekend are a rare commodity. Just how high is Ferguson’s ceiling?
18 JACKSON FARMER: A tall, rangy defender from Edmonton, this 19-year-old prospect has already been capped by Canada and is part of Vancouver’s residency program when he’s not on loan to Charleston. Local wags were skeptical that a raw teenager could contribute on the Battery back line, but he’s progressed since his arrival in February and has already logged four appearances and three complete games. He gets upfield and likes to overlap into the attack from right back. Playing in a back line that features veterans Wilson, Falvey and Mueller should be an education, and with just six defenders on this year’s Battery, Farmer is sure to get plenty of minutes. The Maple Leafs have high hopes for this one, making him one of at least four Battery players (Omar Salgado, USA; Andre Lewis, Jamaica; Griffith, Antigua and Barbuda) with a meaningful chance at figuring in his nation’s international team plans.
THE ANGLE: He’s currently with Vancouver after a surprise recall on May 1, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll return. While Farmer could always impress the Whitecaps staff and leverage injuries on their back line to a permanent spot on the first team, it’s probably more likely that he’ll help them through the Canadian Championship schedule and return to Charleston for the bulk of the USL PRO season. It’s bad news for the Battery if he doesn’t return, since the need to get him minutes probably had something to do with the club shipping rookie defender Drew Ruggles up to Wilmington in March.
23 AMADOU SANYANG: A child soccer prodigy from The Gambia, Sanyang was a international prospect at 15. Signed by Toronto F.C. before he was old enough to play in Major League Soccer, he made his MLS debut on his 18th birthday in 2009. Over the next two years he appeared in 25 MLS games, but a series of concussions and some freak nerve damage to his left leg caused his stock to tumble. He joined the Battery in 2012 after stops in Seattle and Chicago, was part a big part of the Battery’s championship season, and helped key the team’s late run in 2013 after returning to full strength from injuries. Sanyang is amazingly experienced and composed for a 22-year-old, anchors the back of the Battery midfield, scores off set-pieces and does a good job keeping the attacking crew connected to the back line. He is a humble, devout Muslim whose attitude seems to be reflected in the “God First, Bro” t-shirt he likes to wear. Lives in Seattle during the offseason.
THE ANGLE: Though his injury makes him more right-footed than he would otherwise be, Sanyang is essentially still the same talented MLS prospect that he was as a teenager — only smarter, mentally tougher and more experienced. His only issue has been his injury history, and if he can finish out the year in good health, that would be a tremendous step.
14 JARAD VAN SCHAIK: Remember Mike Azira? Spent his first season in Charleston as a supporting player before blossoming into an MLS prospect in 2013? Van Schaik could be on a similar trajectory in 2014 — and it’s not like his quality went entirely unnoticed last season. He’s a Portland native who was drafted by Real Salt Lake but wound up coming to Charleston after two seasons with the Puerto Rico Islanders. In 2013, van Schaik filled in at outside midfielder and defensive midfield. This year he was arguably the team’s best player in March and April, working almost exclusively in central midfield. Van Schaik is smart, clever and outrageously fit. He’s the kind of unflappably tough guy who never blusters, but doesn’t suffer fools gladly, either. Has a good free kick. Possesses a wry, ironic sense of humor, and doesn’t give stereotypical jock answers to questions. San Jose Earthquakes looked at him as a left back in the 2013-14 offseason, and he’ll get more interest if he keeps delivering the quality he’s shown early. He’s already been named Man of the Match once and been picked to the USL PRO Team of the Week twice this season. Just changed his number from 19 to 14.
THE ANGLE: The departures of Azira, Nicki Paterson and Jose Cuevas changed the Battery’s midfield landscape dramatically, but the developing partnership between van Schaik and Sanyang offers this year’s squad a calm, competent center. If the Battery were a symphony, van Schaik would be its conductor.
24 ZACH PRINCE: Want to know what a successful mid-career USL PRO veteran looks like? Study Prince. A high-scoring forward out of Irmo and College of Charleston, Prince signed with the Battery in the spring of his senior year in 2010. A fluid athlete who is both driven and competitive by nature, Prince has completed the transition from collegiate striker to young pro substitute to a well-rounded, trusted starter, equally capable of shutting down opposing players or knocking in candidates for league Goal of the Year. Started 2013 like a runaway chain saw, but tailed off as the demands of his soccer career and a 40-hour-a-week professional job dragged him down. Returned in 2014 with the Battery as his sole professional focus and jumped right back to the form he flashed a year earlier. Works to get into the heads of his opponents, but isn’t a dirty player — just an annoying one. Leads the team in yellow cards (four in eight matches), at least two of them for non-contact infractions.
THE ANGLE: If you watch only one player for clues to the Battery game plan, keep an eye on Prince. He’s a dogged defender when Anhaeuser wants to grind out a result, and when the coach decides to release the hounds, Prince can knock in Goal of the Year candidates.
12 MAIKEL CHANG: Of the three Cuban defectors who signed with Charleston in 2013, Chang flashed the biggest potential and delivered the least production, missing essentially the entire season with a string of muscle injuries. He rejoined the team in late preseason after a highly productive and healthy indoor season with the Wichita B-52s, and has been giving Battery fans their first extended look at his emerging skills. Chang has average size (5-10, 175), average speed for his position, and doesn’t possess a big leg for set pieces. Yet Chang possesses rare ball-control skills, excellent vision, and can be a quality passer. He’s a work in progress, and could yet develop as either a connecting-type midfielder or a creative attacker. Improving on defense. He’s neither loud nor extroverted, but his salsa-dancing goal celebrations in Wichita made him a fan favorite there this past winter. Of Charleston’s three Cubans, he’s made the least headway in mastering English.
THE ANGLE: Fans of Cuban soccer considered Chang one of the country’s best attacking prospects, but Charleston has played him deeper in the midfield — with excellent results. When the Battery go to a 4-3-3 look with Chang operating underneath three strikers, his ability to play the unexpected pass ahead can be a joy to watch.
22 AMINU ABDALLAH: Fairly or unfairly, Abdallah was the 2013 Whitecaps player who caught the most grief from Vancouver fans in online forums. Maybe it was high expectations (fellow Ghanaian Gershon Koffie, also a midfielder, has been an important part of the Whitecaps since 2011). Maybe they didn’t like his style. Maybe the fans wanted someone else. Whatever. But since his arrival in Charleston in March, Abdallah has been a pleasant surprise. He’s tall (6-3) with long legs and a kind of floating grace, and yes, that looks a little unusual in deep central midfield at times. But he’s one of just three players to have appeared in all eight matches for Charleston (including three 90-minute starts), and the staff is likely still evaluating how best to use him. He’s a good friend of 2013 Batcap (that’s Battery player on loan from the Whitecaps) Emmanuel Adjetey, and his personality appears to be on the bright and friendly side.
THE ANGLE: Abdallah is one of only four players on this year’s squad who have earned a spots on an MLS first-team roster in the past, and its pretty easy to see why the Whitecaps gave him a chance last season. Right now he figures primarily as Charleston’s top substitute, but does he have the potential to contend for a regular starting job?
8 ANDRE LEWIS: The MLS Superdraft attracts a particularly rare brand of geek passion, and Superdraft nerds can tell you all sorts of things about Lewis. Yes, he was drafted at No. 7 in this year’s class, but there were experts — professional and armchair alike — who thought that was too low. Like fellow Whitecaps first-rounder Kekuta Manneh the year before him, the 19-year-old Lewis was an inexperienced teen phenom who shot past dozens of quality college players into the elite group at the top of the player pool. It’s not hard to see why, either. He’s a creative player with the ability to separate, cross and finish, and at 5-9/145 he’s just strong enough to hold up under the stress of the pro game. Played for Portmore United in Jamaica. Was a star for the U-20 Reggae Boyz — the nickname of the Jamaican national team. Has appeared in the last seven Battery matches, with four starts, one goal and two assists. And yes, he’s that guy who made headlines as the dude who got drafted by Vancouver after already signing a contract with the New York Cosmos. Given all the buzz around Lewis, his loan to Charleston was one of the surprises of the preseason. But the thing to remember is that — for all his talent — he’s still a teenager from another country adjusting to the demands of competitive, professional life. His stint with the Battery gives him time to adjust, adapt and find his groove away from the big-market televised spotlight.
THE ANGLE: Thing One is, you’re almost certainly watching a future MLS player every time he steps onto the pitch. Thing Two is that, whether he starts or comes off the bench, he’s emerging as an offensive catalyst on the outside. When he’s in the lineup, the Battery are on the attack.
20 JUSTIN PORTILLO: I’ll confess to a pro-Portillo bias. I watched him play for Coastal Carolina several times in 2013 and often thought he was the best player on the field. Not the flashiest, biggest (5-6/135) or fastest — just smart, precise and creative. Despite his lack of size, I expected to see him with an MLS team, not the Battery. The Battery typically ask Portillo to play a deeper-lying role than the central-attacking-mid style I remember him running in college, and they’re also trying him outside. Portillo is already on the MLS’ radar — he was invited to the league’s 2014 Combine — and he has the quality to make the jump if he can get stronger and adjust to the pro game. Has four appearances for the Battery, including a 60-minute start at Rochester. His father was one of the best players in El Salvador, but immigrated to the U.S. during the troubles there, and Justin holds dual citizenship. If you run into him, say hello. He’s a thoughtful conversationalist with genuinely interesting things to say.
THE ANGLE: Other than a natural player, what is he? An undersized winger? A connecting central midfielder? A secondary striker/CAM? Portillo has a stacked depth chart ahead of him, so every time he gets on the field is an important moment in his professional development.
19 DANTE MARINI: Like Portillo, Marini didn’t make the Battery team because he was the best player available at a position of need. Other players with more complete resumes came and went. What Marini offers are — to borrow a line from a Liam Neeson movie — a particular set of skills. He’s fast. He’s good with the ball. He can finish. And while his height (5-3) works against him in most evaluations, it also gives him a low center of gravity and the ability to change direction in a flash. Mix in a surprising degree of lower-body strength and general tenacity, and you start to get the picture. Had six goals and five assists for Northeastern University last fall. All Conference in the Colonial Athletic Association. MLS Scouts liked him, but teams couldn’t get past the size thing. Battery use him on the wing. He turned in some eye-opening performances in preseason, but has only three appearances and 48 minutes in eight regular season matches.
THE ANGLE: It’s all about the depth chart when it comes to Marini. Like Portillo, he’s the kind of player who could become a long-term contributor to the Battery, but as a pure attacker he’s stuck in traffic behind some big-time talent.
5 MICHAEL KAFARI: Born in Ghana. Grew up in Idaho. Played soccer at the University of New Mexico. Led the Lobos to the 2013 Final Four. Started off as a forward but became a ball-winning central midfielder. Has tremendous athletic skills, personal poise, a calm demeanor and a dry wit, all of which combine to make him a likable teammate. Drafted in the third round by Vancouver in 2014, he quickly won-over several local soccer writers with a good camp. But two things worked against Kafari, the first being the number of young players at his position (including 2013 Batcap Bryce Alderson) the second being injuries. Kafari arrived in Charleston the first week in March and immediately played in the team’s March 7 2-0 win over a squad of NAIA all-starts. After the match he had some soreness in his knee, which the club eventually determined to be an aggravation of an injury he’d brought with him from Vancouver. The team shut him down for the rest of the month, and it was well into April before he returned to training. He has yet to make a regular-season appearance, but Kafari’s athleticism is apparent to anyone who watched him in that March 7th match, or in recent practices.
THE ANGLE: He’s usually thought of as “one of the Vancouver guys,” but he’s one of two Whitecaps prospects who actually signed with the Battery. No one is really sure what the club has in him yet.
9 DANE KELLY: Kelly came to Charleston as a skinny, teenage Jamaican prospect on loan from Tivoli Gardens in 2011. He finally bloomed into the team’s top forward and leading scorer in 2013, logging 11 goals. The performance drew offseason attention from the Philadelphia Union, but the 23-year-old returns to Charleston as very much the man he was last year: A fast, tightly wound striker with the muscle to hold up against physical centerbacks and the stamina to make multiple lung-busting runs through the heart of a defense. In 2013, the Battery’s shortage of fit forwards put an emphasis on Kelly, and the team’s offense hinged on his energy level for much of the year. When all else failed, teammates would simply spot Kelly isolated on a defender and boot it his way. The downside of his style is that he misses a lot of time with muscular injuries. He’s not even been in the 18 for five of Charleston’s matches, but started the other three. The team’s fastest forward. Tenacious and combative in matches. Played as a lone striker in almost every match he started last season. Will mix it up with opponents if challenged. Can be streaky.
THE ANGLE: Last season the Battery were never a Kelly hamstring away from disaster, but he held up remarkably well. This year the team has a deep staff of forwards and wants to pair him with a strike partner — preferably someone who can knock down balls for Kelly and hit him in stride. How will he adapt to that new approach?
16 HEVIEL CORDOVES: No player on the Battery roster changed more physically in the offseason than Cordoves, who dropped more than 20 pounds while playing indoors with Wichita. The result is a 6-2, 180-pound forward with the same thunderous right foot from 2013, but the stamina and speed to keep putting that foot in scoring position. The old Cordoves was athletic, and finished the season with seven goals — most of them as a substitute — but it essentially took him a year to get into shape after living in poverty between his defection and his signing in Charleston. Was often one-dimensional in his rookie season, but the 2014 version is a more complete player, leading Charleston’s high-pressure defense, making runs to open things up for teammates and interchanging freely. Much better work rate. Despite his size, Cordoves isn’t much of an aerial threat, preferring to get the ball at his feet. Has been in the 18 every match, appearing in seven matches with four starts, an assist and a goal. His English is much improved, which opens up a big, brotherly personality. At 24 he’s already one of the older guys on the 2014 squad.
THE ANGLE: Fans wanted to see more of Cordoves in 2013, but Anhaeuser kept him on a short leash because of fitness concerns. He may not get the recognition his progress deserves due to the crowded field at forward, but he’s already turning into a team-first, hard-working contributor. Most of his goals last year came off blasts. Has demonstrated more nuanced finishing technique this season.
10 MAMADOU DIOUF: If there was a player on the Vancouver roster who was destined to wear Battery stripes this season it’s Diouf, a Senegalese striker from the University of Connecticut whose draft stock tumbled from elite to afterthought based on a single injury last August that effectively limited his senior season to pitching in during the NCAA playoffs. Still, some draft pundits thought so highly of Diouf that they predicted he’d be gone before the middle of the first round. Instead he fell to the Whitecaps in the second — and right into a crowd of promising young strikers. Since arriving in mid-March, Diouf has been every bit as good as advertised. He’s got decent pace, good strength and he might be the top aerial weapon in USL PRO. Scored the Battery’s dramatic first goal of the season against Orlando. Has six appearances, three starts, two goals and an assist.
THE ANGLE: Diouf has the potential to succeed as a true target forward, and is used to being the guy who draws the defense and dishes to teammates. His ability to get up and knock down long passes gives the Battery a dimension it lacked in 2013.
29 OMAR SALGADO: Like a lot of soccer fans, when the news broke that the Battery had affiliated with Vancouver, my first thought was “Do you think they’ll send us Salgado?” After all, Omar Salgado is one of the top enigmas in U.S. Soccer, a teenage blue-chipper from Texas who could have played for Mexico but chose to represent the United States instead. Drafted No. 1 by expansion Vancouver in 2011 at age 17, Salgado attracted plenty of media attention, but was mostly known as The Gifted Top Prospect Who Couldn’t Stay Healthy. He sat out all last season to give his troublesome foot time to heal. Early word was that he looked likely to make the first team. Whitecaps fans say team staff was critical of Salgado’s attitude, but he fit in easily in Charleston after arriving on the eve of the season opener. Entered the Orlando match in the second half and immediately changed the game, setting up Diouf for the Battery’s goal in the 1-1 draw. Reinjured his foot versus Richmond but returned for the Pittsburgh match and has appeared in every game since. Picked up two goals and an assist this past weekend. At 6-4 and 210 pounds he’s dominant in the air but has the range to play on the left wing, too. Has made some brilliant passes during his short stint with the Battery. Was a Team of the Week Honorable Mention in his first game, and made the Team of the Week on May 6.
THE ANGLE: Vancouver recalled Salgado on May 6. With injuries, a heavy schedule and one key Whitecaps departure, it’s not clear whether he’ll ever return to Charleston. He had two shots saved and set up Kekuta Manneh for a goal in a substitute appearance in the Whitecaps’ 2-1 loss Wednesday to Toronto. Not surprisingly, he wasn’t on a plane back to Charleston Thursday. Vancouver plays at Columbus on Saturday, and Salgado’s role will bear watching. “I enjoyed Charleston,” he said Wednesday. “I got five-six games in and that’s what I was looking for. There’s a lot of games coming up and hopefully we can beat Toronto and keep this competition going.” So if he does ever return (like for the USL PRO Championship), don’t miss a minute.
27 ADAM MENA: Two injuries — both related — basically wiped out the last two years of Mena’s career. He returned to Vancouver camp this winter in good health and impressed Whitecaps observers with his obvious athleticism. However, Mena (pronouced MEN-ah) was always one of the players on the Mostly Likely to Go to Charleston list, and few people knew what to expect. He arrived shortly after Kafari, at a time when the Battery were still short on strikers and in need of an offensive spark. He provided it almost instantly, scoring early and often in the preseason campaign. That performance won him an opening-night start against Orlando. He has six appearances, three of them starts. Mena is a fluid athlete who sometimes resembles Prince in his attacking mode. Great ball control. Great runner. Battery want more out of him on defense. For an average-sized striker he’s quite good in the air. Earned a Team of the Week Honorable Mention against Richmond. Was a star on a loaded Notre Dame team heading into his final season in 2012, but injured his knee in the season opener.
THE ANGLE: Mena is the other Vancouver draftee signed by the Battery, so we don’t have to worry about him getting called back to the Mothership. That makes him one of the players Anhaeuser can count on. When you watch him, think about this question: Is he more of a forward or more of a winger? Because that’s something the coaching staff is asking, too.
21 MARLON RAMIREZ: Talk about an enigma. When Ramirez signed with Whitecaps a year ago out of C.D.S. Vida in Honduras’ top league, reporters not only couldn’t agree on his position (midfielder? forward?), they couldn’t agree on his age (18? 21? 24?). Even after showing up in a few Reserve league and U-23 matches last season, there wasn’t much more to find about him. When news first came that he was headed this way on loan back in late February, the Whitecaps still hadn’t written a web profile for the player. We can now say that he’s 19, 5-5 and very much an athletic, explosive forward. We can also say that he has struggled to win minutes here. Ramirez made the 18 three times and got one start, a 60-minute run in the 0-1 loss at Rochester. He is a Spanish speaker who speaks no English.
THE ANGLE: The Whitecaps’ decision to recall Ramirez on May 1 got even less publicity than their recall of Jackson Farmer, whom he accompanied back to Vancouver. He didn’t figure in the first team roster during the Canadian Championship match on Wednesday. So it’s a mystery — unless the Whitecaps figure he’ll get more minutes with their PDL squad.
(AUSTIN SAVAGE): He’s not on the roster, but there he is, day after day on the practice pitch. Savage is a local kid from Stratford High and the F.C. Bridge program who went off to Clemson and won a spot on the 2013 Battery despite still recovering from an ankle injury sustained his senior season. He had some memorable moments — including the game-winner against Houston in the Challenge Cup and the only goal in the U.S. Open Cup match at Portland’s U-23s — but Savage figured his big chance would come in his second year. Then affiliation happened, and with five attacking players in from the North, Savage was over-run by the tyranny of numbers. The Battery didn’t offer him a 2014 contract, and started speaking about getting him on with the Palmetto Bantums of PDL in hopes of giving him another shot with the pro club later. But Savage stayed on, and continued training with the team.
THE ANGLE: At its peak, Charleston had 23 players on its 2014 roster. Heading into the Wilmington match, that number is down to 20, and two of the players who aren’t here play Savage’s position. That doesn’t mean they won’t return… or that someone else from Vancouver’s endless supply of young talent won’t come down for a while. But Savage’s relentless pursuit of a professional career remains part of the story of this season, whatever happens. He’s dropped a bunch of weight recently and appears to be in excellent shape.
TOP IMAGE: Photo illustration by Dan Conover. Dan Conover photos.