Sapakoff: Seattle Sounders soccer match adds to display of Charleston Battery power
Not that many of America's minor league sports teams have a large and cozy pub built into their friendly confines.
A Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout and black pudding, please.
But what really separates the Charleston Battery from normalcy is the consistent pattern of big-time soccer competition at Blackbaud Stadium. No other soccer franchise - indeed no baseball or hockey franchise - can match the Battery's marquee history.
It started in 1993 when the Battery, in its inaugural season, edged Jamaica's Constant Spring FC, 2-1. It continues with a Saturday night match against the Seattle Sounders FC.
There have been many Daniel Island roars in between - for the Battery against Major League Soccer, English Premier League and Mexican Primera foes. Olympic teams from more than one country have played at Blackbaud. Charleston has pulled its share of upsets.
"I honestly can't think of another team playing at our level that has been able to do anything like what we have been able to," said Battery President Andrew Bell, who has been with the team in various capacities since 1999. "For each of the past 11 years we have brought three MLS teams to Charleston for the Carolina Challenge Cup. It's a completely unique situation and we are very fortunate to have been able to keep it going for so long."
Credit an assertive management team, a shiny facility and good fan support.
The Sounders are the latest Carolina Challenge Cup treat. They play at CenturyLink Field, also the home of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. The team has led the MLS in attendance since joining the league in 2007. The Sounders averaged 44,038 fans per home match in 2013 - almost exactly double that of the next-best MLS draw, the Los Angeles Galaxy (22,152). Among Major League Baseball teams in 2013, only the Dodgers had a better home attendance average (46,216).
Minority owners include Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen and comic actor Drew Carey.
The Battery and its fans won't be intimidated. Their mega-match memories go back more than 20 years. The Battery lost to the U.S. Olympic team in 1996 as it was preparing for the Olympics in Atlanta.
Paul Young scored the game-winning goal in a 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Mutiny of MLS in 1998. Young, a 30-year-old Jamaican at the time, was called up to Tampa Bay the day after his game-winning goal. Young was reunited with Mutiny head coach Tim Hankinson, who had been his Battery coach in 1994.
A bigger Battery triumph came in 1999, a 4-3 overtime upset of a strong D.C. United team in a U.S. Open Cup match.
"That was a watershed moment for us in many ways," Bell said, "because we had defeated an MLS team in a competitive game. Since then we've beaten MLS teams in the U.S Open Cup on nine occasions."
Last year, the Battery defeated the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0.
Best of the best?
The best team the Battery has faced in Charleston?
"Almost impossible to quantify," Bell said.
Let's give it a try. How about the Bolton Wanderers of the English Premier League?
"Probably, on paper at least," Bell said. "They beat us 2-0 but we had a pretty good go at them and had a couple of good chances to score. That team had some incredible players on it. Gary Cahill (a veteran Chelsea defender and a member of England's national team) was in their starting 11."
The Battery got the best of Puebla FC (Mexican Primera League) in 2002. Charleston won an exhibition match, 2-1, thanks to Steve Klein's game-winning goal.
"A really feisty game," Bell said.
Ejections forced the Battery to finish with nine players. Chris Ramsey, the Battery coach that season, also was sent off.
Current Battery head coach Mike Anhaeuser better pace himself during this Carolina Challenge Cup. Along with the Sounders, Charleston also plays host to D.C. United (Wednesday night) and the Houston Dynamo (March 1).
The Seattle roster includes former Battery players Osvaldo Alonso, Lamar Neagle and Alex Caskey. Former Battery midfielder Mike Azira, who scored the game-winning goal in the 2012 USL Pro finals, is on trial with the Sounders as well. Then there are U.S. national team defenders Brad Evans and DeAndre Yedlin.
But Battery history says Charleston is more prepared for a big game against the Sounders than the Denver Broncos were for a showdown against Seattle's other popular team. There is no chance of losing 43-8.