It’s been more than three weeks since Dane Kelly played in a competitive soccer match.
Who: Orlando City vs. Charleston Battery
When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Blackbaud Stadium
Radio: WQNT 1450-AM
He spent the last two weeks in his native Jamaica, trying to finalize the paperwork on his United States green card. Although Kelly is still a few weeks away from getting his immigration status settled, he was happy to be back in the Lowcountry this week training for the Battery’s match tonight against Orlando City at Blackbaud Stadium.
“It’s good to be playing again,” Kelly said. “I was able to train a little bit when I was home, but I probably lost a little bit of fitness. I’ve needed the training this week to get my legs back. I can’t wait to get back on the field.”
Kelly, who leads the Battery with five goals during the regular season, hasn’t played for Charleston since its 1-1 draw with Pittsburgh on June 15.
Without Kelly in the lineup, the Battery managed just one goal in its last two games. Charleston’s attack looked especially anemic during a scoreless draw against VSI Tampa Bay on June 22 – its last game before its current 13-day break.
“With his pace, Dane has the ability to stretch a defense and get behind guys and create scoring chances,” said Charleston coach Mike Anhaeuser. “He gives us another dimension we’ve been missing the last couple of matches. Dane’s also done a good job holding the ball this whole season. He’s really improved his game in that area. He’s doesn’t have to rely on his pace to be effective.”
The return of Kelly to the lineup along with the nearly two-week layoff has rejuvenated the players for the second half of the season. No team needed an extended break more than the Battery. After a fast start to the season, Charleston was just 1-1-4 in its last six matches and has managed just two goals in its last three matches.
“We played something like five matches and 10 days and I know we had some heavy legs that last match against Tampa Bay,” said Charleston midfielder Nicki Paterson. “I think the time off has really helped us. I know having some time away from the pitch and watching the Confederation Cup has gotten everyone excited about playing again.”
It’s been nearly two weeks since the Battery last played. Anhaeuser said there’s bound to be a little rust to the Battery’s game, but nothing that can’t be overcome after the first few minutes of the match.
“I just don’t see that being much of an issue,” Anhaeuser said. “We gave the guys a few days off last week to rest up and hopefully get over some injuries. We’ve had some very good practices. The guys have been sharp. The game sharpness might not be there for the opening kickoff, but after the first 10 or 15 minutes we should be fine.”
Despite capturing their fourth USL title a year ago, Charleston had little luck against Orlando in 2012, losing all three times. Despite having its 25-game home unbeaten streak snapped last Saturday night, Orlando remains the team to beat in the USL Pro Division. The Lions feature the top offensive attack in the USL Pro, scoring a league-high 34 goals and only Richmond (9) has given few goals than Orlando (13).
“They are very technical up front and they are very organized in the back,” Anhaeuser said. “You’ve got to be at the top of your game to beat them.”
Paterson said the team shouldn’t have any problem getting motivated to play against Orlando.
“If you can’t get up for a game like this, then you need to do something else,” Paterson said. “They’re the best team in the league. We’re chasing them in the table. We’ve had plenty of rest to get ready. I’m looking forward to playing them.”