Does anyone still care about the USL regular season with all the hoopla around the US Open Cup? What is the Charleston Battery all about? The answer to the first question is “yes,” and I went to Drew Bartow of Soccer n Sweet Tea to uncover some detail about the latter heading into Saturday’s contest.
For Club and Country: What were the preseason expectations for the Battery, and how has the lived up to them to date?
Drew Bartow: Everyone wrote the Battery off as a rebuilding year and to finish at the bottom of the table. However, Coach Anhaeuser has a eye for talent and a way to develop players and he does it better than anyone else. The Battery always make the playoffs and as you can see, where we stand in the table after week 10, they critics were wrong. While we have several new additions to the team, to watch them in practice and under the lights on Saturday’s, you can see the chemistry is there. Coming out of preseason and the Carolina Challenge Cup there were really good performances, but it looked a little rough at times as well. The season started off slow, the loss against the Baby Bulls definitely hurt, but the team gained focus and plays incredibly well as evident with the 8 game unbeaten streak.
FCAC: Charleston has played a relatively easy schedule to date. Is there anything that gives you confidence (or the opposite) about what will happen when Louisville, Indy, et al come up?
DB: Easy schedule is a misnomer. Any team is capable of beating the #1 team or a undefeated team. Ask anyone in Indy about Lou City or Charlotte about FCC. Everyone predicted FCC to crush Charlotte who had not scored in four games and not won in over a month, but they upended FCC 4-1, only to turn around and lose to a PDL team in Open Cup play. Why I don’t lose sleep at night…The Battery are tough to beat, especially at home. Coach changed the form moving to a 3-4-2-1 offense and it has made a huge difference in the way the Battery play.
FCAC: Who are some of the key players for Charleston offensively and defensively? Is there anyone specific who needs to step up for the team to achieve its potential over the rest of the year?
DB: On offense, key players, no doubt, it has been Ataulla Guerra and Gordon Wild along with Kotaro Higashi. Ian Svantesson is learning a whole new system and playing in a different conference coming from Tulsa, but he opened his scoring account against Atl 2 the other week and hopefully that is what he needs to put numbers like the 11 goals he scored last year in the books for us.
Midfield, Tah Brian Anunga has been an absolute juggernaut. Along with Vincenzo Candela they can get the ball moving up field quickly and efficiently.
On defense the backline has been a fortification. Jarad van Schaik, Neveal Hackshaw, Taylor Mueller, Skylar Thomas and Jay Bolt. Opposing teams have only scored 2 goals and a PK since March 31st, the back line just breaks down opposing teams attacks and frustrates them.
The biggest difference is one we did not see coming. That was the change at goal. Joe Kuzminsky has changed the game play for the Battery. 5 starts, 4 clean sheets and the only goal conceded was a PK against Bethlehem on a “hand ball” in the box.
FCAC: Charleston is one of the older clubs in US Soccer (and certainly USL). What is the feeling around town about playing an expansion team – and especially one that’s expected to move to a different league within a couple years?
DB: The Battery is the oldest continuously operating professional soccer club in the US. With 4 Championships it has a storied history and lineage. We are certainly not the highest grossing team attendance wise, but no other team has the history and provenance that we do. But what I love about the Battery is that we are all one family. Players, fans, supporters, front office staff, and visitors, it does not matter, we treat everyone with southern hospitality and like family. The Regiment tailgates before the game are legendary the world over. EVERYONE is welcome, stickers and scarves are usually traded and friendships are forged over craft brews and the food served up by our grill master. After the match, everyone meets up in the Three Lions Pub and the tailgate continues as we celebrate with the players and guests. Charleston has a large population of transplants from Tennessee, New England and dare we say Ohio, hopefully we will get a good turn out and the weather to hold out.
FCAC: What’s your predicted lineup for the Battery?
DB, comin’ in clutch with the graphics:
FCAC: Any other specific predictions (including a final score)?
DB: The Battery has seen several of the NSC players with their old clubs, while there are some faces we have not seen before, playing in Charleston is hard for any team. It will be a good match, however the Battery will come out on top 1-0.
Many thanks to Drew for taking the time to chat about the Battery (engage in some Chattery? Still workshopping this one). Follow him on Twitter and read his work on Soccer n Sweet Tea for more on one of the USL’s longest-established clubs.