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Charleston Battery ready for 'commencement' of new era at Patriots Point

Rob Salvatore

Charleston Battery owner Rob Salvatore and the soccer club are ready for their 2021 home opener on May 14. Jeff Hartsell/Staff 

Rob Salvatore's brother has a question.

"He keeps asking, 'Is it going to be loud?'" said Salvatore, whose Charleston Battery soccer club plays its 2021 season home opener on May 14 at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant.

That's just one of the many questions to be answered as Charleston's professional soccer club, which was founded in 1993 and is one of the oldest continuously operating pro soccer franchises in the U.S., begins what amounts to a new era.

Salvatore, a native of New York and founder of a community-driven creative platform called Tongal, bought the Battery franchise in October of 2019. The club played an abbreviated schedule during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, with no spectators allowed for some home games and capacity limited to a few hundred for others at its new home on Patriots Point. 

So in many ways, Friday's 7 p.m. home opener against Charlotte Independence — before a sellout crowd of 2,000 at the newly refurbished Patriots Point Stadium — is a coming-out party for the Battery, and a first glimpse of the thriving future Salvatore plans for the club.

"It's really exciting, and it feels good," Salvatore said. "It feels like a commencement in a way, a beginning of something. People think of graduation when you say commencement, and we are graduating from all the preparation. Now it's time to do what we've prepared for."

Tickets for the home opener sold out almost two weeks ago, and are going fast for the next two home games, against New York Red Bulls II on May 23 and LA Galaxy II on June 4. Attendance is capped at 50 percent capacity by COVID-19 restrictions for now, but that could change as the 32-game United Soccer League season winds on through the summer and fall.

Salvatore and his staff have spent much of the offseason making improvements to Patriots Point Stadium, a facility the team shares with College of Charleston. 

One of the new amenities is Battery Pavilion, a large area at one end of the stadium that includes tables, a stage for entertainment and a 24x60-foot turf field for a kids' zone play area.

"That is where we think the best of Charleston can come and be part of the experience of what this town is known for," Salvatore said. "It's got a little bit of everything."

Another expanded feature are drink rails, areas right next to the field where fans can stand close to their action while enjoying food and beverage, with bars set up on both sides of the field.

"All of that is right on top of action, and I think that's where our league can win," Salvatore said. "You can get real close to the action, and those are the areas where a lot of our ticket holders and sponsors gravitate to.

"Even our general admission seats are on top of the action, so it's a really unique sports experience where you can get up close and personal."

The Battery is in the second year of a four-year deal with College of Charleston to share Patriots Point Stadium, and Salvatore sees it as the club's permanent home after moving from Daniel Island last year.

"I believe it will be," he said. "We don't have any intentions of going anywhere else. We've put a lot of time, effort and capital into this. We've done that because we think it's a great place."

Salvatore said there are plans to expand Patriots Point Stadium from its current capacity of about 4,000 seats to 5,000, as required to play in Division II of the USL. Much of the planning involves College of Charleston's goals for its baseball and softball facilities at Patriots Point, as well.

As for veteran coach Mike Anhaeuser and the Battery players, they are more than ready to find out how loud it can get at Patriots Point Stadium. It's been a long time since they played in front of a large home crowd.

"It was tough last year," said Anhaeuser, whose team opened the season with a 1-1 draw at New York Red Bulls II last week. "Our guys were tremendous last year. They responded and really tried to treat the games the same. The 100 or 200 fans we were allowed to get in last year made a difference, so if we can get that up to 2,000 or so, it's a huge difference for us."

The players are pumped, said second-year forward Logan Gdula.

"Obviously, last year we wanted it to be the coming-out party," he said. "The new brand, the new stadium, everything about it. The quarantine put a damper on that, but now we have another chance to show ourselves in the new brand and the new style. It will be really good for everyone to see what we're all about."

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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