Charleston Battery midfielder Nicki Paterson leads the USL Pro Division in scoring
Nicki Paterson stood over the ball 30 yards away from the goal, took a deep breath and tried to clear his head.
The Charleston Battery midfielder had been unsuccessful on free kicks so far this season. With the score tied 1-1 and 20 minutes left in regulation, the Battery needed a goal to put away an upstart amateur team from Reading, Pa., in the opening round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“I’d been putting the ball on frame, but I just hadn’t been able to get one in the back of the net,” Paterson said. “I remember thinking that the boys were having a good bit of fun at my expense during training all week, so I needed to shut them up.”
Paterson held his hand up to signal the referee, took a powerful stride toward the ball and whipped in a wicked bending shot that baffled Reading goalie Martin Emmanuel.
It’s been that kind of season for Paterson, who leads the Battery with seven goals heading into tonight’s USL Pro Division game with Antigua at Blackbaud Stadium (7:30 p.m.). Paterson is leading the league in scoring with 14 points.
Despite scoring eight goals a year ago in his first season with the Battery, Paterson was used primarily as a defensive holding midfielder. It was Paterson’s job to do all the dirty work behind the ball and help set up goals rather than score them. But as the 2011 season moved into June and July and injuries began to mount for the Battery, Paterson was encouraged to join the attack.
“You could see that bit of quality that Nicki had and we needed to get him more involved in the offense,” Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser said. “He was a first-year player, so we didn’t know what his role was going to be when he first got here.”
With a season under his belt and his scoring touch already established, Paterson’s role has evolved into that of a goal scorer. Anhaeuser brought in Amadou Sanyang to essentially play the same position Paterson did last summer.
Sanyang has filled in nicely, allowing Paterson to move behind striker Sallieu Bundu at the top of the Battery’s formation.
“It’s where I played when I was younger, so I’m comfortable up there,” Paterson said. “There’s a little less defensive responsibility, so I’ve got the freedom to go forward when the opportunity is there.”
After getting shut out in the Battery’s season opener on the road against Richmond, Paterson scored in the home opener against the Kickers the following week, then proceeded to rip off goals in the next three home games.
“I got that early goal and that got my confidence going,” Paterson said. “After that, it seemed like I was getting good chances and finishing them every home game.”
Paterson credits Bundu and Jose Cuevas with giving him more space on the field to work with. Bundu, a veteran target striker, is able to hold the ball and distribute it to Paterson and Cuevas.
“(Bundu) is such a smart player and knows exactly when to get you the ball,” Paterson said. “He certainly makes my job a lot easier.”
Paterson has three goals in his last three games, including two against Pittsburgh on May 31.
“The ball is just going into the net for me,” Paterson said with a shrug. “I’m not complaining.”
Antigua (2-6-0) returns to USL PRO action after a one month hiatus while the Antigua & Barbuda national team played FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Several Antigua Barracuda players also play for the national team, and Tom Curtis is the head coach for both the club and national teams.
Antigua & Barbuda lost 3-1 to the U.S. National team last Friday night in Tampa with the lone Antigua goal scored by Barracuda’s striker Peter Byers.
This is the second of four games scheduled between Antigua and the Battery. Charleston defeated the Barracuda 4-0 on May 4 behind goals from Paterson, Cuevas, Bundu and Dane Kelly.