The Charleston Battery’s preseason regimen always includes games against college soccer teams around the state.
It was during one of those friendly matches against the College of Charleston that Battery head coach Mike Anhaeuser first noticed Cougars defender Shawn Ferguson.
A tall, lanky defender, Ferguson impressed the Battery coaching staff with his size, speed and tenacity when facing off against professional players.
“Shawn just didn’t back down when he played against us,” Anhaeuser said. “Even as a younger player, you could tell he took pride in playing well defensively. He had good athletic ability, but it was the pride he took in defending that really caught my eye. Players that young usually don’t care about playing defense, but Shawn did.”
Ferguson was unaware that every time he took the field against the Battery he was being evaluated by the opposing coaching staff.
“I had no clue that (Anhaeuser) was looking at me as someone he’d eventually want to sign,” said Ferguson, who was named the USL Player of the Week on Tuesday. “The idea of playing soccer professionally never crossed my mind when I come to the College of Charleston. Our goal every spring was to beat the Battery. It was only a friendly match, but the guys really got up for those matches.”
The Battery play Charlotte on Saturday night at MUSC Health Stadium in the regular-season finale. A victory would give the Battery, which have already secured a postseason spot, a third-place finish in the USL’s Eastern Conference and ensure a home game in the opening round of the playoffs.
It has been the solid defensive play of the Battery’s back four defenders, especially the steady performance of Ferguson all season, that has the club playing some of its best soccer. The Battery have given up just 27 goals in 27 games — the second-lowest goals against average in the USL.
“Shawn has done a fabulous job all season and he’s a big reason why we’ve been as good as we are defensively,” Anhaeuser said. “He’s big, he’s physical, he’s very good in the air and he’s probably the fastest 6-foot-4 center back that I’ve seen.”
This is Ferguson’s third season with the Battery. When the Rock Hill native signed with the Battery in 2013, he was flanked by veterans Colin Falvey and John Wilson in the back line.
“Those guys were amazing and they really helped me learn what it takes to be a professional at this level,” Ferguson said. “I couldn’t have learned from two better guys.”
For two years, Ferguson soaked up the knowledge from Falvey and Wilson like a sponge. So when Falvey decided to sign with a team in the North American Soccer League and Wilson retired, it was Ferguson who was forced to step up into that leadership role for the Battery.
“Those guys would hold everyone on the field accountable and that’s one of the big lessons that I learned from,” Ferguson said. “I knew that without those guys on the field, I’d have to be more vocal this year and I’ve tried to do that.”
Ferguson showed his ability to defend against an elite forward last Saturday when the Battery faced Louisville City FC and star striker Matt Fondy. Fondy leads the league in scoring with 50 points and a league-record 22 goals. In August, Fondy scored two goals against the Battery in a 3-1 victory. He was held without a single shot in the Battery’s 2-0 shutout win Saturday night.
“There was some extra motivation when we played against Louisville the second time,” Ferguson said. “The second goal (Fondy) got the first time we played them was a bad goal. I lost focus and I learned you can’t do that against a player with his technical skill.”
Ferguson has tested by other elite players this season. In the club’s preseason tournament, he went head-to-head with international star Kaka and later took on West Bromwich’s Victor Anicheb in a friendly match in July.
“Playing against those guys will only make me a better player, so I’m thankful I got that opportunity,” Ferguson said. “You can see why both of those guys have played at the highest level in the world.”