Pittsburgh Riverhounds vs. Charleston Battery
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Blackbaud Stadium
A week into the preseason, Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser surveyed the practice field and realized he had a problem.
The Battery, which had built a reputation as one of the top defensive teams in the USL Pro Division over the past three seasons, was depleted at the defender position. Gone from the 2013 roster were defenders Emmanuel Adjetey, Mark Wiltse and Cody Ellison.
The veteran coach thought about bringing in another defender when he remembered that midfielder Quinton Griffith had played right back for the Antigua and Barbuda national team during World Cup qualifying matches.
Griffith had spent the previous summer with the Battery as an attacking outside midfielder with blinding speed and nifty footwork.
Anhaeuser cautiously approached the young midfielder about a position change.
"I knew he'd played in the back before, but I wasn't sure he'd be open to the idea of moving," Anhaeuser said.
But showing a maturity beyond his 22 years, the Antigua native understood that if he wanted to help the Battery win another championship and eventually one day play in Major League Soccer, his best chance might come in the back.
"I want to play at a higher level, hopefully in the MLS, and to get there I think right or left back is going to the position that will get me there," Griffith said. "We didn't have many defenders in preseason, so I was playing back-and-forth. I just think that right now, in my career, playing right back or left back suits me best."
The problem for Anhaeuser was being able to utilize Griffith's speed and at the same time change his mind set to become more of a defense-first player without losing his ability to push forward in the attack.
"When you've got a player that has the kind of pace that Quinton has, you want to take advantage of that," Anhaeuser said. "We needed guys in the back, and Quinton had played there before and done a good job. But he'd been such a very dangerous player for us last season, I wasn't sure I wanted to lose that."
So far, so good.
Griffith has proven to be an excellent one-on-one defender and has shown a knack for getting forward and putting pressure on the opposition's defense.
"He has to defend properly and so far he's been very good back there," Anhaeuser said. "He's a very difficult player to break down one-on-one because of his pace. If he gets beat, he's quick enough and fast enough to recover and still make a play on the ball."
Griffith also has been able to push up on the attack, routinely making long runs down the flank and either getting a shot or making a cross.
"There are not many players in this league that have the kind of pace that Quinton has," Anheauser said. "When he gets his legs really moving, he puts a tremendous amount of pressure on a defense. We want him to make those long runs, and so far he's proven he can back defensively."
Griffith said his transition from midfielder to defender has had only a few bumps so far. He's hoping that MLS teams have taken notice.
"I've been improving each game," Griffith said. "I'm getting more and more comfortable. I'm not worried about the MLS right now because if I play well, that will take care of itself. I'm just worried about getting better and learning the position."
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