Battery’s Kelly making most of his opportunity

***The Battery's Dane Kelly (9) tries to battle through LA Blues Erlys Garcia (2) during their match Friday. (Brad Nettles/ 7/1/11

As Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser walked across a field in Jamaica this past winter, he almost didn’t recognize Dane Kelly.

It had been nearly six months since Anhaeuser had last seen Kelly. The Jamaican native had been a 20-year-old rookie with the Battery during the 2011 season and carried himself like a teenager at times.

Almost overnight, it seems Kelly had become a man.

“You could tell he had matured,” Anhaeuser said. “Just the way he walked and carried himself. It was like he was a different person.”

As a rookie, the 5-9, 145-pound Kelly didn’t spend much time in the weight room and like most teenagers didn’t care about the food he ate. He paid the price in the field.

“I would just train and play in the games and that was it,” Kelly said. “I never stepped into the gym the whole season.”

Blessed with sprinter’s speed, Kelly had relied on that speed and elusiveness to get around defenders. It wasn’t so easy in the USL Pro Division. It was a match against Wilmington and defender Gareth Evans (6-1, 190 pounds) that convinced Kelly to change his ways. He realized that he needed to get bigger and stronger to compete against the veteran defenders in the league.

“(Evans) just pushed me around,” Kelly said. “He was smart and never gave me a chance to use my pace. I knew I had to get stronger for this guy.”

When he returned to Jamaica he hit the weight room and watched what he ate, avoiding fast food as much as possible. Kelly grew two inches and added 10 pounds of muscle to his lanky frame. Last weekend against Wilmington and Evans, he recorded the game-winning goal in a 3-1 Battery victory.

“It’s nice to get that goal,” Kelly said. “I’m a better player because I can hold the ball longer. I don’t get knocked off the ball as easily as last year.”

In 2011, Kelly was a mainstay in the Battery lineup, playing nearly 1,700 minutes and making 17 starts. He finished with six goals. His 54 shots on goal were among the league leaders.

“Dane had a very productive rookie season,” Anhaeuser said. “He probably should have had a few more goals. There were times when I thought he rushed his shot. Instead of taking that extra second or that extra step, he would rush things and not get the ball on frame.”

With the addition of veteran forward Sallieu Bundu and fellow Jamaican Navoin Boyd to the lineup this year, Kelly has made just four starts. He has been used primarily off the bench, coming into the game in the final 30 minutes utilizing his speed against a fatiguing defense. He has five goals on just 21 shots with seven regular season games to play.

“Sallieu is more of a target guy,” said Battery midfielder Nicki Paterson. “Sallieu is big and physical. He wears down a defense. Then you bring in Dane and it’s a great change of pace. Dane is taking advantage of every opportunity he’s getting. He’s more patient with his finishing.”

The Battery takes on first place Orlando tonight. Orlando beat the Battery, 2-1, in June.

“This is a big match for us, Orlando is a team we’re going to see again in the playoffs,” Kelly said. “We can’t let them think they can beat us at our place.”