A year ago, Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser struggled with his decision to keep midfielder Joe Cuevas after a strong preseason performance.
With a week left before the start of the regular season Anheauser released Cuevas, feeling the young midfielder would benefit from another season with the Fresno Fuego, of the Professional Developmental League.
This preseason, Cuevas is making Anhaeuser's decision relatively easy.
Cuevas had a goal and an assist as Charleston rallied twice to earn a 2-2 draw with Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew in the opening round of the Carolina Challenge Cup on Saturday night before a crowd of 5,713 at Blackbaud Stadium.
D.C. United beat the Chicago Fire, 1-0, in the first game of the night.
Anhaeuser said the decision to release Cuevas last spring wasn't easy for him.
"He played very well, but we just had a couple of other guys that were a little more experienced in front of him at his position," Anhaeuser said. "He is a very technical player whose very good with the ball at his feet. I felt like if he had another year in Fresno, he'd be able to come in this year and contribute right away and you can see the results. I thought about bringing him back for the playoffs last year, but it would have only been for two games."
Cuevas played during last year's Carolina Challenge Cup and was disappointed when he was sent back to California.
"Things didn't work out for me with the Battery last year, so I came in here this season determined to make the team," Cuevas said. "I didn't want there to be any doubt in (Anhaeuser) mind that I could play in this league."
Cuevas' got the game-tying goal just before stoppage time.
Charleston midfielder Orlando McBayne got the ball on the left side with less than a minute left in regulation. He served the ball to Salieu Bundu inside the 18-yard box. Bundu, however, was pulled down by Columbus defender Carlos Mendes.
Referee Carlos Osorio Rivero immediately called for a penalty kick as Mendes was given a red card. Cuevas went to the line and easily beat Columbus keeper Andy Gruenebaum for the goal.
"I was a little nervous, but I didn't want to take too much of a chance," Cuevas said. "I put it closer to the middle of the net that I would have liked, but it went it."
Columbus dominated the game early, going up 1-0 just six minutes into the game when midfielder Eddie Gaven scored from inside the 18-yard box.
After a nice build up by the Crew, Ethan Finlay got the ball on the right side and served a ball across the goal mouth. Gaven was wide open just outside the six-yard and easily shot the ball into the open net.
The Battery answered just before halftime on Dane Kelly's goal in the 41st minute. After a corner kick, Cuevas picked up the loose ball on the goal line, stepped past a Columbus defender and slid the ball to the back post. Kelly volleyed it past Columbus keeper Andy Gruenebaum.
The Crew was awarded a penalty kick in the 58th minute when Emilio Rentoria was taken down by Battery defender Charlie Romero inside the 18-yard box. Midfielder Milo Mirosevic easily scored on the penalty kick.
The Crew nearly extended their advantage when Tom Heinemann, a former Battery striker, nearly scored in the 79th minute. Midfielder Kirk Urso served to Mirosevic down the middle of the field. Mirosevic flicked it past to the Battery defensive wall and to a wide-open Heinemann. He took two dribbles, but Charleston keeper Kevin Klasila came off his line and smothered the ball before Heinemann could get a shot off.
DC United 1, Chicago 0
Newly acquired striker Hamdi Salihi scored in the 66th minute to lead D.C. United.
D.C. United's Ethan White played a ball in over the top of the Chicago defense to Salihi. Salihi smashed the ball past Fire keeper Jay Nolly for the score.