As the final seconds ticked off the clock Friday night at Blackbaud Stadium, Charleston Battery captain Jarad van Schaik glanced over at the West Bromwich Albion bench in search of his counterpart — Baggies captain Darren Fletcher.
The Battery captain only wanted one thing from Fletcher — his game jersey.
It’s a tradition in soccer, especially after exhibition matches, for players from each team to exchange jerseys following the match.
But Fletcher, who played 60 minutes, had already left for the West Bromwich bench and headed to the locker room and van Schaik had to settle for Baggies defender Gareth McAuley’s jersey instead.
It was a nice consolation prize.
Saido Berahino and Brown Ideye each scored as the English Premier League’s West Bromwich Albion defeated the Battery, 2-1, Friday night before a crowd of 5,020 at Blackbaud Stadium.
It was just the second home loss for the Battery in the last 27 matches (15-2-10) over the last 14 months. The Battery will get right back into action as they face USL rival Wilmington at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Blackbaud Stadium.
The jersey exchange aside, van Schaik was pleased with the Battery’s performance against a team from the elite EPL.
“I was really hoping to get Fletcher’s jersey. I think that’s only fair captain-to-captain, but McAuley’s will do just fine,” a grinning van Schaik said after the game. “It was a lot of fun to play against them. I thought we held our own against them for the most part. They’ve got a lot of quality and a lot of good players, but I was proud of our guys. It kind of stinks that we couldn’t get a result, but it was a great experience. Not one I’ll forget for a long time.”
The Baggies play in arguably the top soccer league in the world and their quality was on display throughout the match. The Baggies controlled large chunks of the possession, especially in the first half with most of their starters on the field.
“It’s just the way they play the ball, it’s very crisp,” van Schaik said. “The ball doesn’t leave the ground unless they want it to. They’re tough to play against because they always seem to be one step ahead of you tactically. It was a real learning experience.”
Charleston defender Shawn Ferguson is one of the biggest and strongest center defenders in the USL at 6-4 and 200 pounds. Ferguson, a former College of Charleston star, was matched up during the first half against Baggies striker Victor Anichebe, who at 6-3 and 205 pounds would look more comfortable playing middle linebacker in the NFL.
“(Anichebe) is a beast,” Ferguson said. “I had heard rumors about him before the match, but I wasn’t expecting him to be that big and that strong. Seeing that guy in person you could tell he was the next level. He said he doesn’t work out or do any pushups, but I don’t believe that. He’s huge.”
After controlling the run of play for most of the first half, West Bromwich finally broke through on Berahino’s goal in the 42nd minute.
The Battery came out of the locker room with eight new players on the field, and their fresh legs paid off almost immediately.
Navion Boyd scored off a deflected ball in the 57th minute to tie the game at 1-1.
“A great finish by Navion and I thought in the second half we came out with a lot of energy and played well,” said Charleston coach Mike Anhaeuser. “We had a couple of chances in the first half, but couldn’t capitalize and that was a little disappointing that we couldn’t finish when we got those chances. Overall, it was a great night for our guys and the fans. The players, the fans got a chance to see soccer at a very high level.”
It was the second match in three days for West Bromwich, who lost to Major League Soccer’s Orlando City, 3-1, on Wednesday. The Baggies will finish their three-game United States tour Sunday against Richmond. The Baggies will open their EPL regular-season schedule on Aug. 10 against Manchester City.
“This is about fitness and getting our guys the minutes they need,” said West Bromwich manager Tony Pulis. “We’re not very concerned about the result. I thought the Battery played very well. It was a great experience for our players. Everything was run in a first-class manner.”