Charleston Battery down Charlotte, 3-1, secure home playoff game

ProvidedCharleston's Zach Prince (24) and Taylor Mueller defend against Charlotte on Saturday night.

It’s been 16 months since a team from the United Soccer League has defeated the Charleston Battery at home.

With a home playoff game on the line Saturday night against the Charlotte Independence, there was just no way Charleston was going to lose.

Justin Portillo, Dane Kelly and Ricky Garbanzo each scored as Charleston cruised to a 3-1 victory over Charlotte before a crowd of 4,543 at MUSC Health Stadium Saturday night in the regular-season finale for both clubs.

With the victory, Battery will take on the Richmond Kickers next Saturday beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the opening round of the USL playoffs. The Battery are 1-0-2 against the Kickers, which includes a 2-0 win last month on the road. The two teams tied, 1-1, in the Kickers’ only appearance at MUSC Health Stadium in June.

After struggling to score July and August, the Battery have eight goals in their last four matches, including five in the final two home games.

“We’re definitely starting to come into form,” said Charleston Battery captain Jarad van Schaik. “We can still play better. There’s always room for improvement. I thought we were a little sloppy at times tonight, but I’m not going to complain about the result. We get to play at home in the playoffs and that’s huge for our club.”

The Battery’s unbeaten home streak has stretched to 24 matches over the last two seasons. The Battery were 8-0-6 at MUSC Health Stadium this season.

“Whoever comes in here next week is going to have to play well to beat us,” van Schaik said. “Our fans have been great all season and we’ve been a pretty tough team to beat here.”

It was an historic night for Kelly, who scored three minutes into the second half. It was Kelly’s 11th goal of the season and his 42nd over the past five years in the USL, making him the league’s all-time leader in that category. Richmond’s Matthew Delicate had the previous record with 41 goals.

“I’ve been working hard since my first year here and it feels good to get the record,” Kelly said. “I didn’t know anything about it until earlier this week when someone told me. It wasn’t on my mind going into the game. I just wanted the three points for the team.”

It was the third time in Kelly’s career that he has topped the double-digit goal mark for a season.

“Dane’s goal was just fantastic,” said Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. “He’s really started to come into form and at the right time of the season. That’s a fantastic accomplishment for Dane, especially because Matthew Delicate has been, and still is, a great player in this league. I’m very happy for Dane.”

Portillo put the Battery on the scoreboard just 17 minutes into the game when he ripped a free kick past Charlotte keeper John Berner for the score from about 25 yards out.

“Justin did a great job of scoring on the set piece and getting us off on the right foot,” Anhaeuser said. “I think that kind of opened up the game a little bit. They had to push forward and that allowed just to get behind them a couple of times.”

Garbanzo finished off the scoring after Navion Boyd forced a turnover and slid the ball over to the former Coastal Carolina star who easily finished to secure the victory.