The Charleston Battery has already established itself as one of the top defensive clubs in the USL just two matches into the regular season after back-to-back shutouts.
The Battery (1-0-1, 4 points) will take on the Wilmington Hammerheads (1-0-1, 4 points) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at MUSC Health Stadium.
Keeper Alex Tambakis, on loan from Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United FC, has 180 shutout minutes with nine saves to his credit. Odisnel Cooper, a fixture in the Battery’s starting lineup at goalie the last two seasons, has yet to take the field.
Of the seven positions with primarily defensive roles in Charleston’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the Battery returned six starters from a 2015 unit that compiled the second-best record in USL for goals allowed.
It is a deep group, too. The team earned a shutout in the opener against FC Cincinnati while right back Quinton Griffith and defensive midfielder Neveal Hackshaw served on international duty in World Cup qualifying matches for their respective countries. Left back Emmanuel Adjetey recovered from a foot injury and missed the opener as well. Middle defender Forrest Lasso was solid against Cincinnati while covering for Taylor Mueller, who earned USL Team of the Week honors while playing out of position on the right back. Fullback O’Brian Woodbine has started both matches at left back, displaying his best form since rejoining the club in 2015.
“I think we knew what we had defensively coming back this season,” said Charleston coach Mike Anhaeuser. “We’re going to be a very tough team to score against. Coming into the season, we felt like defense would be a strength for us, especially since we were able to add Alex in goal.”
The issue in the first two matches has come at the other end of the field. The Battery has managed just one goal and that came in stoppage time when Romario Williams scored with just seconds left on the clock as the Battery defeated FC Cincinnati, 1-0.
The departure of Dane Kelly, the club’s leading goal scorer from a year ago, has left a huge void up top.
“Dane was such a focus for us offensively that it has taken some time for guys to find their rhythm,” Anhaeuser said. “We have some guys that are capable of putting the ball in the back of the net. It’s early in the season, so it’s going to take some time for us to find some chemistry.”
While the Battery struggled to create scoring chances in the opener against Cincinnati, they recorded 21 shots against Orlando City B in last week’s scoreless draw.
“The fact that we created so many chances makes me optimistic moving forward,” Anhaeuser said.
Williams, the third overall pick by Montreal in Major League Soccer’s 2015 Superdraft, had only three Battery training sessions heading into the season opener against Cincinnati, but came off the bench to score the match winner. He will start Saturday against Wilmington.
“I’m not sure Romario is 90-minute fit, but he’ll play as long as he can,” Anhaeuser said. “He’s shown some very good technical skill when he’s been out there.”
Like the Battery, Wilmington has relied on its defense early in the season.
“There a little bit of an unknown, but they’ve done a very good job defensively,” Anhaeuser said. “They are going to be a tough team to break down and they do tend to sit back.”