Photo courtesy Kim Morgan Gregory / Charleston Battery
The Charleston Battery continued their streak of reaching the postseason in every season of the USL’s history last year, but experienced déjà vu as they were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals for a second consecutive year by Louisville City FC. As the club enters its 25th season, its remarkable success on the field looks in good shape to continue as a strong core of players returns to push for another trip to the postseason. One of the league’s most consistent clubs alongside its perennial rivals the Richmond Kickers, the Battery should remain one of the tougher sides to face in the Eastern Conference.
Head Coach: Mike Anhaeuser
Stadium: MUSC Health Stadium
2016 results: 13-8-9, 48pts
2016 postseason: W 2-1 at FC Cincinnati; L 0-1 at Louisville City FC
Goalkeeper: 2015 All-League selection Odisnel Cooper re-signed with the club this offseason after taking somewhat of a back seat to Atlanta United FC loanee Alex Tambakis a year ago, and will be looking to regain his No. 1 spot in goal for the Battery. Tambakis, who made 21 appearances between the regular season and playoffs, could be a candidate to return on loan this year from Atlanta, after competing for the Battery during the Carolina Challenge Cup.
Defense: The core of one of the USL’s best back lines returns, with center back Taylor Mueller and fullbacks O’Brian Woodbine and Quinton Griffith all rating highly a season ago. With Shawn Ferguson’s decision to retire at the end of last season, the Battery signed former Toronto FC II and MLS SuperDraft First Round selection Skylar Thomas, and he will compete with returning center back Forrest Lasso for a place alongside Mueller. Another new signing, Tah Brian Anunga, will provide cover at fullback, while also having the versatility to play in midfield.
Midfield: The Battery’s midfield has all of its key elements back in place, with holding midfielder Justin Portillo – who had six goals and four assists a year ago – back after acute appendicitis ruled him out of the playoffs late last season. Maikel Chang also returns after a season that saw him scored six goals and add six assists. The duo of Trinidad & Tobago internationals Neveal Hackshaw and Ataullah Guerra also return, as does local standout Dante Marini after recording more than 1,000 minutes of action for the first time a year ago.
Forward: The Battery’s leading scorer from a season ago, Romario Williams, is back on loan with the squad after being acquired by Atlanta this offseason, and looks set to lead an attack that will also have Cuban forward Heviel Cordoves back for his fourth season after re-signing this offseason. Another player arriving on loan for a second year is Atlanta youngster Jeffrey Otoo, while the prospect of seeing U.S. U17 international Andrew Carleton back in Battery colors on loan from Atlanta, as well, would certainly be a pleasing one for Charleston’s fans.
Photo courtesy Charleston Battery
Strengths: The Battery have been strong defensively throughout their history, and the returning trio on the back line in addition to a tenacious midfield should ensure that continues. Led by Taylor Mueller, who last season surpassed 100 regular-season appearances for the club, Charleston should again remain difficult to break down, especially at MUSC Health Stadium, where it has been challenging to beat over the past three seasons.
Weaknesses: With Romario Williams leading the way the Battery were solid in front of goal a season ago, but would benefit from more consistency in the final third after recording 38 goals in 30 regular season games. The preseason form of Heviel Cordoves, who had three goals a season ago, has been a major highlight for the Battery ahead of the new season. If he can add to the secondary scoring provided by Maikel Chang and Justin Portillo a season ago, the Battery should be in very good shape.
Key number: 15 – The Battery conceded only 15 second-half goals a season ago as they proved adept at maintaining advantages gained by the club’s attack, and making the first goal in many of the club’s games crucial.
Noteworthy matchups: The Battery open their 25th season with a visit from FC Cincinnati on March 25 in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals clash that saw the Battery upset FCC in front of more than 30,000 fans at Nippert Stadium. Charleston’s first meeting with longtime rivals the Richmond Kickers arrives on June 10 at MUSC Health Stadium, while the club’s final game of the season on October 14 against the Charlotte Independence could have plenty on the line for both clubs.
Coach’s view: “I think things have gone well, from the Challenge Cup to our games with North Carolina FC and the college teams. We’ve played Coastal twice and the College of Charleston. They’ve been great tests and we’ve been able to build us up as a team. We’ve done well being able to get players minutes on the field and get them time, and everybody’s contributed. They’ve done well and moved the ball and done things in the right way, and that’s all you want to do in preseason.” – Charleston Battery Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser
Current roster (updated: March 21, 2017):
Goalkeepers: Odisnel Cooper, Joe Kuzminsky
Defenders: Forrest Lasso, Taylor Mueller, Skylar Thomas, O’Brian Woodbine, Quinton Griffith
Midfielders: Neveal Hackshaw, Ataullah Guerra, Dante Marini, Justin Portillo, Maikel Chang, Tah Brian Anunga, Kotaro Higashi, Ricardo Garbanzo, Nico Rittmeyer, Ryan Arambula
Forwards: Romario Williams, Heviel Cordoves, Jeffrey Otoo, Robbie Robinson