Tah Brian Anunga

Charleston Battery midfielder Tah Brian Anunga kicks the ball during the club's match with Major League Soccer's FC Cincinnati Saturday night during the Carolina Challenge Cup at MUSC Health Stadium. 

It’s been 581 days since Charleston Battery midfielder Danta Marini played in a competitive soccer match.

When Marini stepped back onto the field Saturday night at MUSC Health Stadium for the Battery’s opening match against Major League Soccer’s FC Cincinnati, the former Northeastern University star took a moment to take in his surroundings.

“When I got back out there, I wanted to take it all in again because it had been so long since I’ve been able to play,” Marini said. “Once I got back out there and got a touch, it didn’t feel like it had that long since I last played with my teammates. I felt comfortable out there again. It has been such a long journey. To get back to playing again in front of the fans is like nothing else. I’m so excited to be back out there.”

Fanendo Adi and Darren Mattocks scored to lead FC Cincinnati past the Charleston Battery 2-1 on Saturday night in the opening round match of the Carolina Challenge Cup.

The Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew played to a 1-1 draw in the night’s first match.

Marini tore the ACL in his knee in July 2017 and spent the better part of a year trying to get on the field again for the Battery. The club signed Marini last July, almost a year after his injury, but his knee never quite felt right. Another surgery in October to clean out the scar tissue was exactly what Marini needed to get back on the field.

“I was still dealing with some stiffness in my knee when I came back last year,” Marini said. “I didn’t feel like myself. I was missing those first couple of steps that I have. That quick burst of speed and I was never able to get to that top level that I was at before. When they cleaned things out in October, I felt a lot better. I felt like my old self again.”

Marini played a role in the Battery’s lone goal when Charleston was awarded a penalty shot in the 52nd minute. Marini got into the 18-yard box and took a shot that glanced off the arm of a Cincinnati defender. Charleston striker Ian Svantesson calming made the penalty shot that tied the game at 1.

“It was a little bittersweet because I wanted to score,” Marini said. “It was good that Ian got the penalty. You want to hit your shots on target, and anything can happen. I was able to catch his arm and we got the PK.”

Cincinnati, an expansion team in the MLS this season, scored just two minutes into the match when Adi finished off a Mattocks rebound for a 1-0 lead.

“I think their pace kind of caught us off guard,” said Charleston coach Mike Anhaeuser. “That was a tough start for us, but they had a lineup with a lot of pace. They got down the wing and caught us a little bit. After that, I thought we did well. Possession-wise, we had our moments, but I thought we moved the ball well and put ourselves in good situations, but we couldn’t get that end product. Overall, I was pleased to get that first group in there for 45 minutes.”

Mattocks got the game-winner in the 57th minute after Cincinnati was award a penalty shot.

The matched featured the return for FC Cincinnati defender Forrest Lasso. Lasso played three seasons for the Battery (2015-17) before signing with Cincinnati in 2018. This is the first season in the MLS for the former Wofford standout.

“It was awesome being out there and seeing some old faces,” said Lasso, who had seven goals in 57 matches with the Battery. “This is like a second home to me. I had a pretty extensive ticket list for tonight’s match. I was able to catch up with some of my old teammates, and it was like I’d never left. We got the result, and that’s what we were looking for. Obviously, there are a lot of things that we need to work before the regular season starts.”

Chicago Fire 1, Columbus Crew 1

Chicago and Columbus played to a 1-1 draw in the tournament’s opening match.

Chicago’s Djordjy Mihailovic scored in the 16th minute to give the Fire a 1-0 lead, while Gyasi Zardes’ header in the 26th minute off a pass from Waylon Fancis tied the game.

Coming up

The Carolina Challenge Cup continues on Wednesday as the Charleston Battery will take on the Columbus Crew beginning at 5 p.m. The Chicago Fire will face FC Cincinnati at approximately 7:30 p.m.

Reach Andrew Miller at 843-937-5599. Follow him on Twitter @APMILLER_PandC