‘Relentless’ rookie Garbanzo makes immediate impact with Charleston Battery

Charleston’s Ricky Garbanzo runs after the loose ball against Wilmington in a match last month at Blackbaud Stadium. Paul Zoeller/Staff ¬

Every preseason the Charleston Battery plays a few exhibition matches against college teams from across the state in preparation for the rigorous USL regular-season schedule.

Each season the Battery typically faces Coastal Carolina, which has one of the premier college soccer programs in the state.

It was during one of those matches a couple of years ago that Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser first noticed a slightly built forward for the Chanticleers with a relentless work ethic.

Ricky Garbanzo didn’t overwhelm Anhaeuser with his speed or skill. It was Garbanzo’s energy level, his tenacity, his tireless work rate on the ball that caught Anhaeuser’s eye.

“He was a pest and our defenders hated playing against him,” Anhaeuser said. “He never gives up on a play, he never stops running. He might be 10 yards behind a play one second and the next thing you know he’s nipping at your heals. I think that’s what really got my attention. When your defenders don’t like playing against a guy, that’s probably someone you want on your team.”

Garbanzo, a native of Costa Rica, is one of the top rookies in the USL this season. The former Northwestern High School star has three goals through the first half of the USL season, but his impact on the Battery has been much greater than his offensive production.

“Coaches love to talk about guys giving 100 percent or 110 percent and it’s usually just coach talk because no one can give that much effort,” said Anhaeuser, whose team plays the Harrisburg Islanders on Saturday (7:30 p.m.) at Blackbaud Stadium. “I’m not so sure about Ricky. If someone can give 120 percent every minute they are on the field, it’s Ricky. His work rate is off the charts on both ends of the field. He never stops running, it’s like he’s in perpetual motion from the minute the whistle blows.”

Combine that with a high soccer IQ and you’ve got the makings of a quality professional player.

“Ricky has that feel for the game and knows exactly where to be and when to be there,” Anhaeuser said. “He’s not just a hard worker, he brings that soccer element to his game that really takes him to another level.”

Garbanzo said he didn’t expect his performances against the Battery in those exhibition matches to impress the Charleston coaches enough to offer him a contract.

“I’m just going out and playing as hard as I can every time I step on the field,” Garbanzo said. “I wanted to play professionally one day, but it wasn’t like I was thinking that if I played well against them that I’d be playing for the Battery one day. I was just playing the only way I knew how and that’s all out.”

After leading Northwestern to three state titles, Garbanzo signed with Coastal Carolina. He finished his career at Coastal as one of the Chanticleers’ top scorers. He led the team to a 73-18-3 record and three Big South regular-season and two tournament championships and four NCAA Tournament appearances. A fixture in the Chanticleers’ attack since his freshman season, Garbanzo finished his career with 18 game-winning goals to rank first in both Coastal Carolina and Big South history. He finished his career with 40 goals, which sits fifth on Coastal’s all-time list.

“I think it’s always great to have a local guy on the team, a player from South Carolina in the lineup,” Anhaeuser said. “We’ve got a couple of those guys, Zach Prince and Shawn Ferguson.”

Garbanzo has played either as a second forward or just behind the forwards throughout the season.

“In high school I was always up top, but when I got to college I realized that my size was going to be an issue, so they moved me just behind the forwards,”