After failing to convert on nearly a dozen scoring chances last week against Antigua, the Charleston Battery spent a little extra time on finishing during practice this week.
The extra work paid huge dividends for Charleston midfielder Michael Azira.
Azira scored two goals and Charleston keeper Odisnel Cooper made just one save as the Battery defeated Pittsburgh, 2-0, Saturday night before a crowd of 3,246 at Blackbaud Stadium.
It was the second straight victory and the second straight shutout for Charleston, who improved to 2-1-0 (6 points) on the season and moved into a tie for seventh place in the USL Pro division. The Riverhounds are 0-4-1 (1 point).
Azira, a second-year player from the University of Mobile, isn’t known as a goal scorer. In 18 games a season ago, he had just one goal, but it was a big one, the Battery’s only score in their win over Wilmington in the USL Pro championship game.
Azira doubled his production from last year in just one game Saturday night.
The Battery grabbed a 1-0 lead on Azira’s first goal of the season in the 24th minute. After a cross from defender John Wilson deflected off a Riverhounds defender, Azira headed the ball loose into the net for the score.
“Coach is always telling us to keep running, push forward and get into the box,” Azira said. “When I saw John play the ball, I just ran to the box and the ball came right to me. It was a lucky goal, but it was still a goal.”
Charleston pushed its advantage to 2-0 on Azira’s second goal in the 61st minute. Former College of Charleston star Zach Prince got the ball on the left flank about 25 yards out, stepped past a Pittsburgh defender and slid the ball to a wide-open Azira, who was trailing on the play in the middle of the penalty box. Azira blasted a shot past Pittsburgh keeper Hunter Gilstrap for the score.
“That was just a great pass from Zach,” said Charleston coach Mike Anhaeuser. “He dropped the ball in the perfect position for Michael to make a run at it. Great finish again from Mike. That was a pretty goal to watch.”
The rest of the game wasn’t so beautiful. The Riverhounds were whistled for 21 fouls and three yellow cards. It was a scrappy affair for both teams as tempers flared throughout the game.
“It was a physical game,” said Battery defender Colin Falvey. “I was surprised with the way they came out and played. They played us pretty high. It wasn’t the prettiest games to watch, I’m sure, but we got back to the basics and that was what was important.”
It was the second consecutive shutout at home for the Battery.
“You can’t lose if you don’t give up a goal,” Azira said. “I thought everyone played behind the ball for most of the game.”