After the starters rolled to a 4-0 first half that looked like an extended finishing drill, second-half substitute Mamadou Diouf recorded a hat trick to close out Georgia Southern and the 2014 preseason with 7-0 win Tuesday at Blackbaud Stadium.
The blowout against the Eagles of the Southern Conference inflated the Battery’s goal differential to +12 over the course of a 5-2-2 preseason that included a draw and two losses against MLS teams and an uninspired 1-1 tie against Coastal Carolina in which trialists figured heavily.
Tuesday’s tune-up gave Coach Mike Anhaeuser one last look at the lineup that will most likely take the field Saturday evening at Blackbaud in the season opener against the Orlando City Lions. It featured Odisnel Cooper in goal, a back line of Quinton Griffin, Taylor Mueller, Shawn Ferguson and John Wilson, a midfield of Maikel Chang, Amadou Sanyang and Jarad van Schaik, with Heviel Cordoves, Zach Prince and newcomer Adam Mena interchanging at the top of the formation.
Prince, who acted as team captain Tuesday, opened the scoring in the early going with a free header on a cross from Griffin. And it’s no exaggeration to say that the Battery would have led 7-0 at the half if it weren’t for a few missed shots and a heroic performance from Georgia Southern goalkeeper Chris Katt, a 6-5 rising red-shirt sophomore from Waynesville, N.C.
Cordoves bagged the next goal, taking a pass back to the center and drilling it. Then it was van Schaik’s turn.
The central midfield leader out of Portland, Ore., hasn’t been as aggressive moving forward in the past couple of weeks, often ceding that role to newcomers on loan from Vancouver. But the flow of Tuesday’s game invited him to move into the attacking third on at least three occasions, including one instance where he held up the ball like a target forward and waited for his teammates to get into position. His score, however, came off a corner kick from Chang.
Chang’s set-piece cross went to Sanyang, who snapped a header sharply on frame — and directly at van Schaik, who simply couldn’t get out of the way. He alertly chested it down, got a good touch, and spun left to shoot into the top of the net from point-blank range as the defense converged.
Then Mena got in on the act, heading in on a cross from Griffin for the 4-0 halftime lead and his fourth goal in three games with the Battery.
At the Battery end of the field, Cooper’s biggest problem during his 45-minutes of play had to be staying warm on a raw, windy day. He barely handled the ball, and wasn’t called upon to make a significant play. At the other end, however, Katt lived under constant attack. He made his first spectacular save of the day to deny Prince’s side-footed volley in the first half, and would have earned several more if anyone had been keeping score.
After the first 45, Anhaeuser replaced his entire lineup. Eric Shannon started the second half in goal, behind Drew Ruggles (rookie), Jackson Farmer (Vancouver U-18), Colin Falvey and Michael Kafari (Whitecaps). Justin Portillo (rookie), Aminu Abdallah (Whitecaps), Dante Marini (rookie) and Andre Lewis (Whitecaps) worked out of the midfield, with Diouf (Whitecaps) and Austin Savage playing up top.
That Savage-Diouf combo paid off almost immediately. Sprung down the left flank, Savage gained enough room on his marker to zap a centering pass back to Diouf, who was lurking centrally near the top of the box. He smashed it to the Upper 90, giving Katt zero chance to make a play. Diouf’s next two goals would come off headers. He pegged the first from point-blank range off an assist from Farmer within the six, and redirected a longer pass in the dying minutes to pad the scoresheet up to seven.
Shannon dealt with a few more situations than Cooper faced, as the Battery surrendered a corner kick and a free kick in the second half. But his defense largely kept him clean throughout.
While the story of the match was clearly the 7-0 score, that score was built more on the Battery’s absolute domination of midfield than on any particularly deft play in the attacking third. The Eagles struggled to possess the ball beyond their back line, and the Battery’s high pressure clearly gave them fits. This trend continued in the second half, although Georgia Southern managed some nominal improvement.
With chances coming their way like the spinning chamber on a loaded revolver, the Battery still managed to miss a few they’d certainly like to get back. But with five players scoring, and the memory of a few remarkable stops by the opposing keeper, the home-side starting lineup heads into Saturday with the muscle-memory of four first-half finishes.
Forwards Dane Kelly and Marlon Ramirez (Vancover PDL) sat this one out. It’s increasingly likely that Kelly will not return from his hamstring strain in time for the first Orlando City match on Saturday.
Diouf and Lewis returned to the Battery lineup after sitting out Saturday’s match.
Charleston’s likely season-opening starting lineup will consist of four players who started last year’s season-opener (Cooper, Wilson, van Schaik and Griffin), six other returning players (Mueller, Ferguson, Sanyang, Chang, Prince and Cordoves) and one newcomer (Mena). Of the four players who started the 2013 opener at Richmond, only Cooper and Wilson will be playing the same position. Griffin and van Schaik were outside midfielders when they made their first regular-season starts for the Battery last April. Griffin in now the team’s right back, and van Schaik has moved inside.
In case you’re wondering why Falvey wasn’t in the starting XI, it’s because he’ll be serving a one-game suspension on Saturday from last season’s year-ending playoff loss at Orlando. Mueller will take his place.
Kafari made his second appearance of the Battery preseason Tuesday after missing the last three games with an aggravation of an old knee issue. Though typically a defensive midfielder, Anhaeuser gave him a run at right back.
Drew Ruggles, a Georgia Southern soccer player and football kicker who finished his NCAA eligibility in the fall, played 45 minutes against his school in the second half.
For those of you keeping track at home, Whitecaps Adam Mena and Mamadou Diouf finished tied for the team scoring lead despite limited service. Both scored four goals.
Heviel Cordoves finished preseason with three goals, one more than Prince. Ruggles, Falvey, Marini, Griffin and van Schaik each scored once.
TOP IMAGE: Jarad van Schaik spins left to finish his first goal of the preseason. Dan Conover photos.