The Blues (27 points on 23 games, 9-14-0) reversed a six-game slide Sunday with a 1-0 victory on the road at Rochester, claiming three precious points to vault past Charleston, Wilmington and Pittsburgh into sole possession of the league’s eighth and final playoff spot.
But the Battery (26 points on 22 games, 6-8-8) have been taking care of business during the Blues’ summer slump. The home side is on a five-match unbeaten streak, its longest of 2014, climbing from a tie for last place to contention for a playoff spot. The team is now in the middle of a three-match home stand, and holds a game in hand on Orange County heading into Wednesday’s showdown.
The first match of the three consecutive home dates ended with an anti-climactic thud on Friday, when the Dayton Dutch Lions’ David Clemens stung the host team with an 85th-minute 2-2 equalizer. Charleston’s unbeaten streak continued, but the club was disappointed to share points on a night when three appeared to be well within reach.
Despite being blessed with a stable of talented young striker prospects in preseason, Charleston’s strength continues to be its defense. Coach Mike Anhaeuser has found success over the past three weeks by shifting to a 4-5-1 formation that features more creative midfield personnel, but the net effect of the change has been a tightening up on the defensive side of the ball. In its past five matches, Charleston has allowed just three goals.
They’ve done that with two of their key defensive contributors hobbled. Captain Colin Falvey, a center back, has missed the past two matches, but could return this week. Defensive midfielder Amadou Sanyang returned to the 18 on Friday after a couple of weeks spent working his way back to fitness, but did not play.
In their absence, the Battery have relied on the central defensive pairing of Shawn Ferguson and Taylor Mueller, while central midfielder Jarad van Schaik has dropped into a deeper role. That’s made room for rookie Justin Portillo in the central spot, and he’s responded with two Man of the Match performances. His pairing with recently re-signed attacking mid Jose Cuevas, and the resurgence of lone forward Dane Kelly, have been the bright spots in an improving Battery attack.
But with Wednesday’s match at Charleston serving as their final road test of 2014, the Blues have to feel good about their playoff chances. They finish with four consecutive home matches.
The Blues are led by 33-year-old striker Allan Russell, a Scottish veteran formerly of Kilmarnock and the Carolina Railhawks of NASL. Russell has seven goals on the season, including the decisive score from the penalty spot at Rochester. A remarkable 36 players have appeared for the Blues in league matches this season.
Tickets for Wednesday’s match are $10-18 and can be purchased by phone at (843) 971-4625 or online at www.charlestonbattery.com. The gates at Blackbaud Stadium open at 6 p.m., with kickoff set for 7:30.