New League, New Faces

Despite the Charleston Battery’s move to USL Second Division, John Wilson (left) and Stephen Armstrong decided to stay here.

In the end, Stephen Armstrong and John Wilson just couldn't see themselves in anything but a Charleston Battery uniform this summer.

When the Charleston Battery decided to drop down from the USL First Division to the USL Second Division last November, there was widespread speculation that several key players would leave the club.

Certainly the club had more than its share of defectors -- striker Randi Patterson, midfielder Tsuyoshi Yoshitake and defenders Nelson Akwari and Franki Sanfilippo -- were among the players that signed with other teams in other leagues.

"I wasn't really sure what was going to happen," said Charleston

Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. "I knew that three or four guys were going to leave for other teams, but we had about seven guys that left, and honestly, that was more than I expected."

Armstrong and Wilson had their share of offers and could have left.

"There was some interest from some other teams, but I wanted to come back here," Armstrong said. "This is my fifth season here and this place has really become my home, so I was glad I could come back. As each week goes by, I definitely know I made the right decision."

Wilson, who entertained thoughts of retirement, spent most of the winter in Denver training with Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids.

"Colorado was looking for a left back, so I went out there to train with those guys," Wilson said. "It wasn't a great fit for me and after I came back I wasn't 100 percent sure I wanted to play again. You always want to play at the highest level you can. There were some first division teams that called, but when it came down to it, I just didn't want to move again. I'm not 21 anymore. I just can't pick up and leave.

"Obviously, I was a little disappointed that the club decided to drop down to the second division, but that has passed. I'm playing a game I love in a city I love, and at this stage of my career you can't ask for much more than that."

With the retirement of keeper Dusty Hudock, Armstrong, 33, and Wilson, 32, have become the undisputed leaders in the Battery's locker room. Combined, they have 12 seasons of experience with the club. Wilson and midfielder Kevin Jackson are the only players left over from the Battery's 2003 A-League championship team.

"You bring back older guys like Stephen and John because they're good players and you believe that they can still be productive," Anhaeuser said. "But you also sign them because of the intangibles they bring. John and Stephen are tremendous leaders in the locker room. You can see after each practice they're in the locker room teaching some of our younger guys how to be professionals on and off the field.

"That's important, especially on a team as young as ours. As a coach, it's nice to have two guys like Stephen and John because then you don't have to worry about the little things. "

Wilson's role on the team will also be different than in previous years. He has traditionally played left back, but has been moved to center back, a transition that is still in progress.

"I played in the middle in MLS and with the Battery a couple of times," Wilson said. "It's not like it's a completely foreign position for me. There's a lot less running and you're not up and down as much, which is something that I've always liked to do. There's a lot more organizing involved when you're in the middle, but it's something that I'm getting used to."

Armstrong has been plagued by injuries over the past two seasons. He managed to play in just 16 games as he battled a variety of leg injuries in 2009. For the first time in years, Armstrong skipped the indoor season in the winter.

"The indoor season takes so much out of your body," Armstrong said. "I feel tons better this year compared to last year or even two years ago. My body and my mind are fresh. It's night-and-day compared to last year when it seemed like I was injured the whole season. I was able to get back to England and spend some quality time with my family for the first time in a while. I'm much more energized."

Reach Andrew Miller at apmiller@postandcourier.com and check out the Charleston Battery 'Battery Shots' blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/battery