The heavy rains that soaked the Lowcountry over the past 24 hours put the start of Saturday’s Carolina Challenge Cup finale in jeopardy.
But once the game kicked off, the fans at Blackbaud Stadium were treated to an entertaining affair as a 75th-minute strike from Summerville native Austin Savage keyed the Charleston Battery to a 2-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo.
Savage, a trialist from Clemson University, entered in the 72nd minute with the score knotted, 1-1, and immediately made an impact. He torched the Houston back line to serve a dangerous cut-back pass to Evier Cordovéz, whose shot was blocked. On Zach Prince’s ensuing corner kick, however, Savage’s back-post header gave Dynamo netminder Tally Hall no chance.
“Austin’s a funny one,” said Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. “He’s got a nose to score goals. Just like in training, every day he seems to get there. He’s not the biggest guy, but he snuck on the far post and put a great header on target.”
The Chicago Fire had captured the tournament title earlier in the night by virtue of its 1-1 tie with the Vancouver Whitecaps, but Saturday’s nightcap still held value, especially for a Houston squad that opens the MLS season next weekend.
The Dynamo’s Giles Barnes initiated the scoring in the 16th minute, but Dane Kelly equalized two minutes later with a left-footed shot from outside the box took a slight deflection past Hall into the net.
The strong lineup employed by Houston coach Dominic Kinnear, which included powerful forward Will Bruin and seasoned veterans Brad Davis and Adam Moffat, continued to test Charleston’s defensive unit, but the Dynamo was unable to break through.
Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, one of three players in camp with the Battery who defected to the United States prior to Cuba’s World Cup qualifier against Canada in October, turned in a sensational performance. He saved Jermaine Taylor’s point-blank shot in the 26th minute and a Davis penalty kick in the 36th before parrying away Bruin’s 15-yard volley six minutes later.
“Cooper played fantastic,” Anhaeuser said. “That kept us in the game. And when you play a team like Houston, that’s what you’ve got to have.”
While Cooper has not yet signed a contract with the Battery, doing so will be a mere formality. He is in Anhaeuser’s plans for the season but is currently awaiting his working papers.
The Battery now must wait seven weeks — until April 13 — to begin its USL Pro schedule.