Battery looks to improve on defense

LA Galaxy's Charlie Rugg and Charleston Battery's Colin Falvey fight for the ball at Blackbaud Stadium on Saturday, June 14, 2014. The Charleston Battery were victorious 3-0 against the LA Galaxy II. Michael Pronzato/Staff

The Charleston Battery has built a reputation over the past several seasons as one of the top defensive clubs in the USL Pro Division.

Earlier this summer, the Battery was among the league's stingiest defenses, giving up just 12 goals through their first 14 matches. Charleston keeper Odisnel Cooper recorded five shutouts in the Battery's first dozen games.

But lately, especially on the road, the Battery has had issues keeping the ball out of their own net.

The Battery takes on Arizona United SC at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Blackbaud Stadium.

In the last three road games, the Charleston Battery defense has given up 11 goals - or half the total number of goals (22) that they've given up for the entire season to date.

Now granted, teams play differently on the road than at home.

When teams come to Blackbaud Stadium, they tend to sit back behind the ball and defend and counter-attack when the opportunity presents itself. On the road, teams tend to attack more offensively, putting consistent pressure on the Battery's defense. The last three road games, the Battery has lost 3-1 to Charlotte (June 21), 4-1 to Harrisburg (July 5) and 4-0 to Richmond (July 19). It has been a different story at home where the Battery played to a scoreless draw against Charlotte (July 12) and tied Richmond, 1-1, on Tuesday night.

"At home it seems like we've been doing everything right defensively," said Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. "Our intensity, our focus, our pressure and mental toughness have been fantastic at home. On the road, we just haven't been able to create that same kind of pressure, focus and intensity. We just seem to let our collective foot off the gas and not defend as well and you just can't do that on the road."

Another issue has been the Battery's reaction after giving up a goal, Anhaeuser said. Instead of digging in and becoming more stingy defensively, the Battery has tended to have mental lapses that have led to other goals.

"After we give up a goal we seem to put our heads down," Anhaeuser said. "Against Harrisburg, we gave up a goal, then we gave up another a couple of minutes later. Same thing happened against Richmond. Instead of having the lapse, we need to forget about the goal we just gave up and make sure we don't give up another."

An ankle injury to Cooper that kept him out of the lineup for nearly three matches didn't help either. Cooper, who was hurt against Harrisburg, is expected to be back in the lineup for Saturday's game against Arizona. Back-up Eric Shannon recorded a shutout against Charlotte.

"Having Odisnel back there should help," Anhaeuser said. "When he's healthy he's a very good goalie."

Charleston's inability to score - the Battery is last in the league with 17 goals - and keep possession of the ball also has proven to be costly, especially on the road.

"We need to attack, we need to have some possession and we need to convert our chances when we get them," Anhaeuser said. "When you're scoring goals it does take pressure off your defense and gives you confidence."

There's plenty on the line against Arizona, which travels to Wilmington on Friday night with a two-point lead on Charleston in the USL PRO playoff race. Charleston is currently in 12th place in the league, but sits just five points off the pace for the final spot in the postseason. Both teams have signed reinforcements for the summer stretch run, with Charleston re-signing all-star striker Jose Cuevas, and Arizona getting former Major League Soccer forwards Long Tan and Sam Garza.