Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser surveyed the field Wednesday night at Blackbaud Stadium and couldn't help but feel a sense of pride it what he was witnessing.
It was a Charleston Battery reunion of sorts at the Carolina Challenge Cup. Four former Battery players and another on trial took the field at Blackbaud Stadium, but not in the black-and-yellow jerseys they'd worn in the past.
This time when the five players took the field, it was in the uniforms of teams from Major League Soccer.
The Seattle Sounders FC featured four former Battery players - forward Lamar Neagle and midfielders Osvaldo Alonso, Alex Caskey and Mike Azira, who is on trial with the MSL club this month. D.C. United starting keeper was Andrew Dykstra, who helped lead the Battery to a USL Pro title in 2012.
The results of the second night of the week-long tournament were almost an afterthought.
Charleston defender Drew Ruggles headed in a shot off a corner kick with than 30 seconds left in regulation as the Battery and D.C. United played to a 1-1 tie. Meanwhile, Seattle and Houston played to a 1-1 tie in the first game of the night in the second round of the Carolina Challenge Cup.
Seattle (1-0-1) will take on D.C. United (1-0-1) on Saturday in the final day of the tournament beginning at 5 p.m., with the winner taking the tournament crown. The Battery will face Houston at approximately 7:30 p.m. in the final match of the event.
Anhaeuser said watching his former players go on to bigger and better things is one of the best things about coaching the Battery.
"I think first, you're tremendously proud of what they've accomplished," Anhaeuser said. "You know the work they've put into their craft, and to see them get rewarded by moving onto the next level of soccer is a great feeling, not only for them but for me and the club."
Dykstra, who made two saves against his former team in a half of play, credits his time in Charleston for helping secure a spot with D.C. United.
"Obviously, Mike has a knack for finding quality players," Dykstra said. "I've always felt like the time I spent here was crucial in getting me to D.C. United. I owe a lot to Charleston and this club. I was to able get games under my belt and get some confidence and realize I belonged in the MLS. I got a few welcome homes today from some of the fans, which was great to know that they remember me and I had an impact here."
Alonso, Caskey and Neagle started and played in the first half against Houston, while Azira played the entire second half for the Sounders. Neagle assisted on Brad Evans' goal for the Sounders in the 14th minute.
Caskey, who played in 24 games for the Battery in 2011, enters his third season with the Sounders. Caskey has played in 30 matches over the past two years for Seattle, recording a goal and four assists.
"I learned how to be a professional when I was here in Charleston," Caskey said. "Making that transition from college to the professional level here helped prepare me for the MLS."
Azira, who has played with the Battery for the past two seasons, has been with Seattle for about a month. He played for the Battery on Saturday night in the opening round of the tournament against the Sounders. On Wednesday, he was back with the Sounders.
"I think I'm having a good preseason and hopefully they like what they see and I can earn a roster spot," said Azira, who scored the game-winning goal against Wilmington in the USL Pro finals in 2012.
Trailing by a goal most of the first half, Seattle forward Obafemi Martin scored in the 44th minute to tie the match with Houston at 1-1.
The Battery is 0-1-1 after two matches and got a dramatic goal from Ruggles in the final seconds to tie the match and get a point. It was a beautiful corner kick from midfielder Justin Portillo that eventually found Ruggles' head just inside the six-yard box.
"They wanted everyone up for the corner," said Ruggles, who played last season at Georgia Southern. "I snuck into the near post and was able to make pretty good contact with the ball. It was awesome to get a result after the way we played."
The Battery went toe-to-toe for an hour against D.C. United's second-string unit. With about 30 minutes left in the game, D.C. United's normal starters entered the game, which included United States national team striker Eddie Johnson. Midfielder Davy Arnaud's header off a set piece put D.C. United up 1-0 in the 72nd minute.
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