The Charleston Battery is going to find out pretty quickly where it is in the USL Division 2 pecking order.
The Battery will make its USL2 debut against perennial power Charlotte today at 7 p.m. at Charlotte Christian Stadium. The Battery will take on the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on April 24 in its home opener.
Since joining USL2, the Eagles have captured league titles in 2000 and 2005. The Eagles have played for the USL2 title seven times, including last year when they dropped a 3-1 decision to the Richmond Kickers.
"We're going to find out a lot about ourselves and the league right off the bat, but I think that's a good thing," said Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. "Charlotte has been one of the best teams in the Second Division for a long, long time. Over the years, Charlotte has always put a solid team together. They play hard for 90 minutes, and they are difficult to play against because they work so hard for each other. It should be a great test for us. We're going up there to get a result. If we get a draw, that's fine, but we're going up there looking to get a good result."
Despite playing in different divisions over the years, the two clubs are more than a little familiar with each other. Over the past 18 years, the teams have met 24 times, with the Battery holding a 16-5-3 mark in the series. Charleston defeated Charlotte, 2-1, on Osvaldo Alonso's penalty kick in the 90th minute in their last matchup in the third round of the 2008 U.S. Open Cup.
"We've had some real battles with them over the years," Anhaeuser said.
"Osvaldo got that penalty kick in stoppage time the last time we played them, so they've always played us tough, and I don't see that changing this year." The Battery completed its preseason schedule by beating the College of Charleston in its final tuneup Saturday night. Forward Tom Heinemann and midfielder Rudolph Mayard each scored in the victory.
"One of the things we've been able to do on a consistent basis all preseason is score goals," Anhaeuser said. "We've got a solid team , a very balanced team, which I like. When we play properly, we've been very good defensively and we've still been able managed to score, so that's a good sign. It's been a good preseason."
With goalkeeper Keith Wiggans still recovering from shoulder surgery, Anhaeuser rounded out his roster this week when keeper Tim Melia was loaned to the club from Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake. Melia, who played for the Battery during the recent Carolina Challenge Cup, spent the last two years with the Rochester Rhinos.
"Tim played very well for us in the Carolina Challenge Cup," Anhaeuser said. "Keith has been cleared to practice and should be able to play in a week or so. Tim will be here for at least a month."
Besides Wiggans, the Battery will be a little shorthanded when it takes on the Eagles. Defender John Wilson hurt his shoulder against College of Charleston and is listed as doubtful for tonight's match.
"He's doing much better, but I don't think he'll be available," Anhaeuser said. "Charlotte plays on turf instead of grass, and that's a lot harder surface, so there's more of a chance he could reinjure the shoulder again. We think it's best to keep him out another week, so he'll be ready to go in our home opener."
Striker Amaury Nunes, who played for Charlotte last season, pulled his hamstring earlier in the month, and midfielder Jon Gruenewald has been slowed with a sore groin.
"I don't anticipate Amaury or Jon being available against Charlotte," Anhaeuser said. "We think that Amaury will be ready to go against Pittsburgh, but Jon probably won't be ready until the beginning of May."
Charleston Battery at Charlotte Eagles
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
Where: Charlotte Christian Stadium, Charlotte
Radio: WJKB 950-AM.