Charleston Battery captain John Wilson had to compose himself for a moment and gather his thoughts.
The former Clemson All-American spoke softly, wanting to keep what he had to say a secret for a little while longer.
Just minutes after leading the Charleston Battery to 2-1 victory over Richmond in the USL Second Division title game Saturday night, Wilson announced his retirement. It was a fitting end to the season for the Battery and an ideal conclusion to a professional career that stretched more than a decade.
"It's been a great run, not only this season, but for my career," Wilson said. "To end my career like this is a dream come true. For my last game to be played here at Blackbaud Stadium, where my career began, in front of my hometown fans and to win a championship in my last game is awesome. Every player wants to go out like this."
It was Wilson's gritty defensive effort, especially over the final hour with a man down against the Kickers, that personified the player's and the team's unselfish character over the season.
"Everyone stepped up," Wilson said. "When Colin (Falvey) got the red card with an hour to go, we didn't panic. We didn't get down. We just dug in
and played harder. I'm so proud of the boys. It was a great effort from everyone."
It was Wilson's third championship and his second with the Charleston Battery. He helped lead the Battery to the 2003 A-League title. But for 34-year-old midfielder Stephen Armstrong, a veteran of 13 professional seasons, it was his first chance to hoist a championship cup.
"Before the game, I told the guys that this doesn't happen every season and they should appreciate where they are right now," Armstrong said. "A lot of guys play their whole careers and never get a chance to win anything. I've been at this a long time, and this is my first championship. It was worth the wait, it feels incredible."
With travel expenses spiraling out of control, the Battery began the year by announcing that the club would be dropping from USL-1 to USL-2. Players and fans were disappointed, but winning the title on Saturday made the drop down a division a distant memory.
"It doesn't matter what level you play at, winning a championship is winning a championship," said Battery defender Mike Zaher. "I've got to admit, I was a little disappointed when I got here and learned we'd dropped down a league. But winning a championship in front of our fans makes it all worth it. What a great feeling."
Charleston opened the season by winning six of its first seven games and jumping out to a huge lead in the standings.
"We built that momentum early on with those wins at home," said coach Mike Anhaeuser. "We get out of the gate early and set the tone for the rest of the season."
A mild slump late in the season didn't allow the Battery to clinch the regular season crown and home field advantage in the title game until the final weekend of the season.
"We made things interesting there in the end," Anhaeuser said. "But when we needed the three points, we picked 'em up."
It was a team built around its attack. The Battery scored a league-high 35 goals and featured the USL-2 scoring leader and MVP in striker Lamar Neagle. Tom Heinemann was tied for the league lead in assists and Rudolph Mayard added six goals.
"We wanted to attack," Anhaeuser asid. "We wanted to push the ball forward. We knew we had some talent up front, and we wanted to utilize those guys as much as possible. Lamar and Tom had fantastic seasons for us."
Charleston's defense was solid throughout and came up with a huge effort against the Kickers in the final.
"You're not going to win a championship without defending properly," Anhaeuser said. "You can never lose a game when the other team doesn't score."
It was Anhaeuser's third championship with the Battery. He won as a player in 1996, as an assistant coach in 2003 and Saturday night as a head coach.
"All of three of them are special," Anhaeuser said. "I don't know that I can put one over any of the others."