Charleston won nine games at Blackbaud Stadium during the regular season and was easily one of the best home teams in the USL Pro division this summer.
WHO: Charleston Battery at Orlando City
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
Regular-season series: Orlando won, 1-0-1
Unfortunately for Charleston, the best home team during the season was Orlando City — the Battery’s USL Pro semifinal opponent Friday night. The two teams will face at the Citrus Bowl beginning at 7:30 p.m.
The Lions were 12-2-0 at the Citrus Bowl this season, outscoring their opponents 36-12 in 14 matches. A week ago, Orlando crushed Pittsburgh, 5-0, in the opening round of the playoffs at home. The Lions routinely play in front of large crowds — last week’s game against the Riverhounds drew more than 8,400 fans. The last time the Battery was in Orlando in July, the Lions had more than 8,700 fans in attendance.
“Orlando is a very good home team,” said Charleston coach Mike Anhaeuser. “They don’t lose many games at their place and they have great supporters. We know this won’t be an easy task, but I think we’re up for the challenge.”
It’s a marquee match-up that features the last two USL Pro champions. Charleston captured its fourth USL title a year ago, beating Wilmington, 1-0, in the finals. The Lions won their first title back in 2011.
“I’m sure we’re both going to draw on what it took to win a championship,” Anhaeuser said. “Both teams have a lot of experienced players that know what it takes to win a championship.”
The Battery went 0-1-1 against the Lions during the regular season. The two teams played to a 1-1 draw on July 5 on Daniel Island, while Orlando defeated the Battery, 2-1, at home a week later.
“We probably should have won down at their place,” Anhaeuser said. “The key to beating a team like Orlando is to finish the chances when you get them. You don’t get many chances against them, they are very good defensively, so when you do get a scoring opportunity you have to put the ball in the back of the net.”
The Battery is playing some of its best soccer of the season, going 7-2-0 over its last nine games. A major reason why is forward Dane Kelly, who has 11 goals, including one last week in the Battery’s 2-1 victory over Los Angeles in the opening round of the playoffs. Kelly said he’s looking forward to the matchup against the Lions.
“Orlando is always trying to bump into my back, jam me and get me out of my game, so that’s the toughest thing for me as a player,” Kelly told uslsoccer.com.
Kelly had plenty of scoring chances in each of the two matches against the Lions, but failed to score against Orlando.
“I was so frustrated,” Kelly said. “In the first game at Blackbaud Stadium, I got a lot of chances, but I wasn’t able to capitalize, so I was very frustrated.”