Over the years, the Charleston Battery have built a national reputation as a team that Major League Soccer teams didn’t want to play against during the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
The tournament history is littered with MLS victims, who have traveled to the Lowcountry, only to be eliminated from the national tournament. The Houston Dynamo, San Jose Earthquake, New York Red Bulls, FC Dallas, D.C. United and Columbus Crew have all fallen to the Battery during the U.S. Open Cup over the years.
But last summer, it was the Battery who fell victim to the upset. Orlando City’s U-23s defeated the Battery during the longest penalty kick shootout (12 rounds) in U.S. Open Cup history.
It was a bitter pill to swallow as the Battery head into Wednesday night’s U.S. Open Cup match against Miami United. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Blackbaud Stadium.
If Charleston can manage to defeat Miami United on Wednesday night, the Battery will host the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of North American Soccer League on May 27 at Blackbaud Stadium. A victory over Fort Lauderdale and a match-up against a Major League Soccer club is likely on the horizon.
“We didn’t really talk about what happened last year, but there are enough guys on this team that remember what happened against Orlando City,” said Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. “I think we learned that any team can be beating on any given night if you are not prepared to play.”
Miami competes in the semi-pro National Premier Soccer League. Miami claimed a dramatic 2-1 win on Manuel Abirached’s goal in the third minute of second half stoppage time over Southwest Florida Adrenaline, a USL Premier Development League club, in the opening round of the U.S. Open Cup.
The win was Miami United’s first in the U.S. Open Cup. The Miami Beach-based club began play in 2013, and ran through the 2014 NPSL Sunshine Division regular season with an undefeated record, followed by two playoff wins to take the Division Championship.
“They’ve got some talent,” Anhaeuser said. “They’ve got a couple of guys that have played at higher levels, so we are going to be tested.”
This is the 17th time since 1999 that the Battery has been a part of the U.S. Open Cup. The Battery reached the quarterfinals three times, the semifinals twice, and lost to 2-1 to D.C. United in the 2008 Cup Final.
Only two teams from outside MLS have reached the final during the MLS era, with the other team — the Rochester Rhinos — winning the title in 1999.
The Battery won its 2014 entry round 4-0 over the Panama City Beach Pirates last May before being eliminated by the Orlando City SC U23s in the third round.
While the Battery takes the U.S. Open Cup competition as seriously as any team in the tournament, Anhaeuser has to be careful not to overload his top players. The Battery face the Charlotte Independence on Saturday.
In previous years, U.S. Open Cup matches were an opportunity for Anhaeuser to give minutes to his backup players. Unlike previous seasons, the Battery have no concerns about international player slots. The U.S. Open Cup allows each team to include up to five foreign players on its tournament roster, and the Battery includes nine foreign-born players. But forwards Ricky Garbanzo (Costa Rica) and Dane Kelly (Jamaica) each have Green Cards, and Cuban defectors Heviel Cordoves and Maikel Chang both have paperwork that exempts them from the foreign-player category.
“You only get three subs in the Open Cup matches, so you have to be careful who you put out there,” Anhaeuser said. “You’ve got to have guys that are prepared to play 90 minutes and you also want to rest guys who need the rest. It’s a balancing act.”