For the last nine seasons, Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser has preached the gospel of defense to his players.
Defense, after all, wins championships. The Battery captured USL titles in 2010 and 2012 with a defense-first mantra.
But during the preseason, Anhaeuser noticed that he had a talented group of forwards and midfielders and realized that he might have to tweak his philosophy just a bit this season.
In the first three games of the season, all wins for the Battery, Charleston has notched an Eastern Conference-high eight goals. Only the Seattle Sounders II (13) and Sacramento Republic FC (11) have scored more goals in the USL this season, and they’ve played more games than the Battery.
“I think you play to the strengths of your team and we realized pretty quickly that this bunch of forwards and midfielders was going to be a pretty strong group,” Anhaeuser said. “Dane Kelly and Heviel Cordoves have really provided an offensive punch to start the season. And we’ve got some very talented wing guys that can put pressure on a team’s defense. I’ve had to kind of loosen the reigns a little bit and let those guys push forward and get into the box. It’s a little bit of a change from what we’ve done in the past, but so far it’s working.”
Six of the Battery’s eight goals have come from forward — three by Cordoves, two by Kelly and one by standout rookie Ricky Garbanzo, a former Coastal Carolina University star.
The Battery, off to their best start in more than five years, will take on the New York Red Bulls II at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Blackbaud Stadium.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Anhaeuser has abandoned his defensive principles. Two weeks ago, the Battery recorded its first shutout of the season — a 2-0 victory over Harrisburg City.
“We showed that we can still be a good defensive team,” Anhaeuser said. “Even if we’re scoring two or three goals a game, we’ve still got be sound defensively. To be a team that’s going to compete for a championship, you’ve got to be really good defensively and we’re a work in progress.”
Like a lot of MLS reserve teams that feature young players throughout their lineup, the New York Red Bulls II have been an inconsistent club early in the season.
“They are very aggressive offensively and they like to put pressure on your defense,” Anhaeuser said. “They have some very gifted technical players that are very young. I don’t see them sitting back. This is going to be an offensive game.”
The Battery will be without captain Jarad van Schaik and midfielder Navion Boyd. Both are out with injuries. Sebastien Thurier is expected to replace van Schaik, while Quinton Griffith will take Boyd’s spot in the lineup.
“Quinton played on the wing for us two seasons ago, so he’s very comfortable in that position,” Anhaeuser said.