Cordoves molding into a star player for Battery

Charleston Battery forward Heviel Cordoves (16) scored two goals and added an assist in last week’s 3-2 victory over Charlotte. Michael Pronzato/Staff

Charleston Battery striker Heviel Cordoves has always had that thunderous left foot. He is the kind of goal-scorer that can change the momentum of a match with one powerful strike from his left leg.

His shots, even from as far as 25 yards, can overpower an unsuspecting keeper. Growing up in Cuba, Cordoves was taught to follow through on each and every shot and to try and kick the ball through the back of the net.

It was a lesson the Havana native learned well.

“That’s what I was taught from the first time I played,” Cordoves said through an interpreter. “Technique was very important even when I was younger. Following through with my body on every shot was very important and I think that’s why my shot is so hard now.”

In two seasons in the Lowcountry, Cordoves has scored highlight-reel goals that have left the opposition deflated and Battery coaches and players shaking their heads in disbelief.

“Heviel has a very heavy shot,” said Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser, whose team plays Harrisburg City 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Blackbaud Stadium. “He’s got the ability to score from distance — from as far out as 25 or even 30 yards. There are not many players with that kind of power behind their shots.”

Heading into his third season with the Battery, Cordoves began to realize that he needed to expand his game. He has been used primarily off the bench to provide the club with instant offense. To get on the field and stay in the starting line, he knew he needed to become a more versatile player. Despite scoring nine goals as a rookie in 2013, Cordoves started just four games. Last year, he played in a team-high 27 games, but averaged just under 32 minutes a game.

Part of the problem was Cordoves’ fitness level.

When he first arrived in the Lowcountry in 2013, he was 15 pounds overweight and hadn’t trained seriously for five months. It took him most of his rookie season just to get fit. Last summer, after playing a season of indoor soccer in the Midwest, Cordoves had shed the extra pounds and reported to preseason camp in the best shape of his career. Unfortunately for Cordoves, the Battery was flooded with forwards and he was relegated to coming off the bench again. He managed just four goals.

“That was frustrating, but I’m going to do whatever coach Anhaeuser asks of me,” Cordoves said.

This season, Cordoves was determined to have more of an impact.

At 6-2 and 185 pounds, Cordoves can be an intimidating sight for most defenders in the USL. But Cordoves struggled to learn the American game. In Cuba, Cordoves had hovered around the top of the formation and waited for his teammates to get him the ball. In America, he learned he needed to be stronger on the ball, hold it longer, and become more proactive.

“It took me a while to get used to the style of play here,” Cordoves said. “They wanted me to be more of a target up front and hold the ball. I didn’t play like that in Cuba, but now I’ve learned what to do and I’ve gotten better at that.”

Cordoves’ maturation was evident last weekend against the Charlotte Independence. He had a role in all three goals, finishing with two goals and an assist in the Battery’s 3-2 victory over the Independence. Cordoves scored twice by chipping the ball over the Charlotte keeper, showing off a newly acquired finesse. Cordoves also had a beautiful cross that led to an easy tap-in for forward Ricky Garbanzo.

“Two years ago, Heviel would have tried to power both of those shots past their keeper,” Anhaeuser said. “The fact that he chipped both of those balls in for goals shows you the kind of maturity he has gained in the last couple of seasons.”

Cordoves, who defected from Cuba in October 2012, has settled into life in the United States. Instead of playing indoor soccer this past offseason, he remained in the Lowcountry picking up odd jobs to make ends meet.

“I delivered pizzas, did some construction, whatever I could to earn some extra money,” he said.

When the Obama administration announced recently that the U.S. would relax certain travel restrictions and move to normalizing relations with Cuba, Cordoves, midfielder Miakel Chaing and keeper Odisnel Cooper, who all defected together, were giddy about the prospect of returning home one day and seeing their families. Cordoves said he talks with his family in Cuba about once a week.

“I think we all dream of the day when we can go back home and see our families,” Cordoves said. “I love America, but I miss my family. I haven’t seen them in almost three years. I think this is the step in the right direction for the countries.”