The Charleston Battery has dropped from the USL First Division to the USL Second Division this season.
If the Battery hopes to capture the club's first league championship since 2003, they'll have to answer the following five questions.
1. Who will replace goalkeeper Dusty Hudock?
Dusty Hudock has been the face of the Charleston Battery franchise for, well, ever. OK, maybe not ever, but for the past decade. That's an eternity for an athlete at any level.
Hudock holds franchise records for games (260), wins (130) and shutouts (91), while giving up an average of 1.08 goals a game. He was having another outstanding campaign last summer before a knee injury cut his season short.
"I think Dusty is one of those once-in-a-franchise kind of players," said Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. "I'm not sure you can replace a guy like Dusty just because of the experience and quality he brought to the field every day."
Former College of Charleston standout Keith Wiggans is back for his fifth season with the Battery. He is 13-13-7 with 12 shutouts and a goals against average of 1.06 over the past four seasons. However, Wiggans is coming off shoulder surgery.
"He just got cleared to play last week, so he's not match-fit just yet," Anhaeuser said.
Tim Melia is on loan from Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake. He spent the last two seasons with the Rochester Rhinos where he played 14 games.
"Not sure how long we'll have Tim around," Anhaeuser said.
2. Can the Battery get consistent results on the road?
In 2007 and 2008, the Battery was a combined 4-21-5 away from the friendly confines of Blackbaud Stadium. A year ago, they rebounded with a 6-3-6 mark on the road. The six road wins were the second most in the USL First Division.
Winning on the road means playing solid defense.
"We were very good defensively last year," Anhaeuser said. "Being a good road team has been a point of emphasis during the preseason."
The Battery opened the 2010 regular season with a 3-2 win last weekend over Charlotte, a perennial power in the USL2.
"We got a good result against a very good team on the road," Anhaeuser said. "Hopefully, that's something we can build on for the rest of the season."
3. How well will the Battery's back four be able to defend?
The Battery will start three new defenders in this backfield tonight against Pittsburgh.
Gone from the lineup are Nelson Akwari, Matt Bobo and Frankie Sanfilippo. Only John Wilson returns and he's moving from left back to center back. The Battery gave up just 21 goals in 2009.
"One of the reasons we made the playoffs last year was because of the play of our back four," Anhaeuser said. "They were a veteran group and they didn't make many mistakes."
Colin Falvey, who played for Wilmington, already is making an impact. O'Brian Woodbine and Nigel Marples played sporadically a year ago for the Battery.
"I feel good about the guys we've got back there," Anhaeuser said.
4. Can the Battery find a potent scoring threat to replace Randi Patterson?
Randi Patterson led the club with 19 goals over the last two seasons. The problem for the Battery was that they could never find anyone to complement Patterson and take some pressure off the former UNC Greensboro All-American.
That won't be a problem this year as Patterson signed with Crystal Palace Baltimore of the North American Soccer League.
The Battery's top seven scorers from a year ago are no longer with the club. Stephen Armstrong (2) and Tom Heinemann (2) are the only players back who scored a goal for the Battery a year ago.
"We've been able to score during the preseason, and what I like is that we've gotten production from a lot of different players," Anhaeuser said. "I'm not sure we'll have a 10-goal scorer this season. I think it'll be more like a scoring by committee kind of effort."
The Battery managed to score three goals in their win over Charlotte in the season opener.
5. How long will it take for the Battery to jell with all the new faces?
There is always going to be turnover on the roster at the minor league level.
Over the years, the Battery has done a good job of keeping their core players together. The move down to USL2 hurt that continuity. The Battery returns just seven players and one full-time starter (Wilson) from a year ago.
That's extreme even by minor league standards.
"We've had a long preseason and we've played a few more exhibition matches in the preseason," Anhaeuser said. "I think it has really helped us come together as a team."
Charleston Battery Schedule
Date // Opponent // Time
April 17 at Charlotte 3-2
April 24 Pittsburgh 7:30 p.m.
April 27 at Maryland 7:30 p.m.
May 1 Charlotte 7:30 p.m.
May 8 Harrisburg 7:30 p.m.
May 15 Pittsburgh 7:30 p.m.
May 21 at Pittsburgh 7 p.m.
May 22 at Harrisburg 7 p.m.
May 29 Maryland 7:30 p.m.
June 4 Harrisburg 7:30 p.m.
June 5 at Richmond 7 p.m.
June 11 Richmond 7:30 p.m.
July 3 at Richmond 1 p.m.
July 9 Richmond 7:30 p.m.
July 16 Maryland 7:30 p.m.
July 24 at Harrisburg 7 p.m.
July 25 at Maryland 6:30 p.m.
July 31 at Charlotte 7 p.m.
Aug. 7 at Pittsburgh 7 p.m.
Aug. 14 Charlotte 7:30 p.m.
USL 2nd Division
Harrisburg City Islanders
Real Maryland Monarchs
Website: www.charleston- battery.com