The Big Payback
It was another Charleston Battery and Richmond Kickers playoff match up and it was another classic. Following last year's extra time victory by the Kickers over the Battery, these two teams battled to a 0-0 Full Time result at MUSC Health Stadium. Both teams had decent chances through the first 90 minutes with neither side wanting to make too aggressive a move that might provide an advantage for the other on a counter attack.
Charleston led in shots through the match, but that advantage did nothing as none seriously tested Kickers GK Ryan Taylor. The Kickers defense did a good job through regulation making Dane Kelly earn any touch he got. They battled him with multiple defenders all night. A big key to the Battery attack was the stellar runs by Quinton Griffith and substitute Navion Boyd. Both speedy players pushed the pace from their back positions into the attacking zone, lobbing crosses into the box or firing the occasional shot themselves.
After the full 90' finished scoreless, it didn't take long for a big play to happen. After a Richmond cross into the box, defender Taylor Mueller got a foot on it, but due to a serious amount of crazy spin and unfortunate great placement, the ball dropped over a leaping Odisnel Cooper for an extra time own goal. Shortly after, Dante Marini came on for Ricky Garbanzo, and at the Extra Time intermission, rookie Forrest Lasso came on for the dejected Taylor Mueller. The club, while disappointed, seemed to rally around their steady defender Mueller when he needed them most and played on.
In the 107' minute, they equalized. A great cross from Marini found the USL's All Time leading goal scorer, Dane Kelly, leaping in the box, who knocked the ball home with a strong header. With momentum back on their side, Charleston looked for the winner. Forrest Lasso continued to press forward and the Battery continued to attack the Kickers defensive backs. A series of corners in the 114th minute ended with Lasso banging home a Justin Portillo corner, removing his shirt, and sending the Battery to Louisville City FC. Things, of course, would get a bit more interesting when Boyd was sent off in the 120nd minute for his second yellow card, but Charleston was able to close out the match with 10 men in part due to an incredible point blank save by El Gato on Matthew Delicate.
The Good Guys: Charleston Battery (3rd Seed in Eastern Conference)
The Battery had Heviel Cordoves back on the pitch as a sub after returning from a hamstring injury. Another Cuban forward, Ariel Martinez, was eventually deemed ineligible by the USL after previously being determined as eligible. So with suspensions looming for Boyd and Ricky Garbanzo, who received a red card after a sideline incident, Martinez would be a very welcome addition to the fray on the attacking side for the Battery. Odisnel Cooper was in great form Saturday with his usual cat-like reflexes and athleticism in goal. However, the most important thing Cooper provided Saturday was his confidence and positive attitude. Following the own goal by Mueller, Cooper was the first player to comfort the distraught defender. Even from the stands, Battery fans noticed Cooper instilling a confidence amongst his teammates, urging them to go forward and win the match.
The Bad Guys: Louisville City FC (2nd Seed in Eastern Conference)
With a bye in the first round, the Eastern Conference semi finals will be the playoff debut for the rookie Louisville City FC franchise. After a midseason surge, Louisville clinched the 2 seed, but a three game losing match to close the regular season had to leave some negative thoughts in the players and coaches minds. With a top 5 attendance in the USL, Louisville will be relying on a packed Sluggers Stadium to potentially provide an advantage over the visiting Battery. The Battery and Louisville split the season series, with each winning their home match, 2-0 and 3-1 respectively. Louisville is led by the USL's single season goal scorer record holder, Matt Fondy. It will be a battle of a high powered Louisville offense against the sturdy defense of the Charleston backline.
The Dirty Details
10/3 at 7:30
The Hired Gun
Unfortunately, Memo Rodriguez was not among the active 18 men against Richmond. With Battery midfielder Navion Boyd and forward Ricky Garbanzo suspended against Louisville, the Houston Dynamo loanee may not only be active, but could have an extended role in the conference semifinals.
The Bear And The Cuban Cuisine
After a very successful day of training by the goalkeepers, they discovered a small toy bear. It was immediately decided that the bear was partially responsible for their great training performance and he has been a part of the club ever since. "El Oso" as he's deemed, Spanish for "The Bear", was certainly a part of the playoff victory debut. Another good luck charm may have been provided by yours truly. During last week, I told Odisnel Cooper I'd love to make a Cuban dish for good luck before the match Saturday. He provided me one of his favorite native recipes, the delicious chicken fricasse. This week's good luck Cuban dish will be another Cooper favorite, bistec with onions. So until the Battery season ends one way or another, El Oso and Cuban food are guaranteed to be a part of the Battery game day rituals.