A year ago, Charleston Battery coach Mike Anheauser begged midfielder Michael Azira to shoot the ball more.
It took nearly the entire season, but Azira finally listened.
Azira scored his only goal of the 2012 campaign in the biggest game of the season for the Charleston Battery. But it was, arguably, the most important goal last season for the Battery.
Azira’s lone goal came in Charleston’s 1-0 victory over Wilmington in last year’s USL Pro championship game. The teams will face each other for the first time this season when the Battery (4-1-0) hosts the Hammerheads (1-4-0) today at Blackbaud Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
“You could tell that Michael had that little bit of quality you need to score, and we tried to get him to shoot the ball more last season,” Anhaeuser said. “Michael’s a very unselfish player. He defends properly, but we encouraged him to push forward and get involved more offensively.”
Through the Battery’s first five games this season, Azira leads the team with three goals.
“I think the goal last year gave me some confidence going into this season to look to shoot the ball more,” he said.
Anhaeuser would like to see Azira shoot even more. In five games, the Ugandan native has taken just five shots.
“That’s a 60 percent shooting percentage,” Anhaeuser said. “We’d love for Michael to shoot more with that kind of shooting percentage.”
Azira has played mostly in the center midfield, but has been used as an outside defender. While he has put up some impressive offensive numbers this season, it was his defense that got him on the field a year ago.
“Michael brings tremendous energy to the field,” Anhaeuser said. “He’s able to get forward into the attack, but he can get back and defend properly. He’s one the best defensive midfielders we’ve got. That’s what makes him so valuable for us in the midfield. He’s truly a two-way player.”
Jose Cuevas, the 2012 USL Pro rookie of the year, is expected to play tonight.
Cuevas, who had eight goals and six assists a year ago, hasn’t played since the season opener due to a leg injury.
Cuevas has been back to full training this week.
“Jose will be available,” Anheauser said. “I don’t think we’ll start him, but he’ll be available to play.”
Meanwhile, midfielder Ben Fisk, had knee surgery and is expected to miss 2-4 weeks.
The Battery will take on the winner of the Portland Timbers (PDL)-Sacramento Gold (NPSL) game in the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Portland faces Sacramento at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland on May 14.
If Sacramento wins, the Battery will host the second-round match at Blackbaud Stadium on May 21 (7:30 p.m.) if Portland advances the Battery will travel to Portland for the game.