CHARLESTON, SC (Aug. 26, 2016) — The Charlotte Independence (11-6-6) are back on the road this weekend, traveling to South Carolina for a Saturday night tilt with the Charleston Battery (10-5-8). It will be the third and final match between the two clubs this season, unless they should meet in the playoffs. Charlotte currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference table, just one point above seventh-place Charleston. The top eight teams qualify for the postseason and the top four will host first-round playoff matches.
Saturday night’s match is sure to be intense as the result will have a major affect on both teams’ postseason status. “Charleston’s going to be ready, they’re going to be organized,” said Independence Head Coach Mike Jeffries. “They’re a team that’s always been a tight team and a difficult game and I have no doubt this one will be the same. I think the guys are really tuned into it, really excited about that stretch run for the end of season.”
These teams first met in Charlotte on April 16, when the Independence came away with a 3-2 victory. Enzo Martinez and Brian Brown gave the Independence a 2-0 halftime lead, while substitute Jorge Herrera added a third goal after the break. Late goals from the Battery’s Romario Williams and Justin Portillo made for a dramatic conclusion, but Charlotte held on for the win.
The second contest took place just three weeks ago at MUSC Health Stadium. A defensive breakdown by the Independence in the eighth minute allowed Charleston to steal an early 1-0 lead. Maikel Chang found the ball at his feet and passed to Romario Williams, who took a shot that beat Independence goalkeeper John Berner near post. Charlotte came out with high pressure in the second half and found a breakthrough in the 65th minute. A cross coming in from the right side was deflected by a Charleston defender to the feet of Caleb Calvert. The forward took a quick strike and buried the ball into the back of the net. The 1-1 score stood final despite late attacks from both clubs.
“When we played Charleston a few weeks ago we didn’t start very well,” said Jeffries. “Our mentality wasn’t great at the beginning of the game and so we’ve got to be better from the first whistle. That being said, the second half we played as well as we’ve played all year in terms of moving the ball, creating and dominating the game. That’s in the back of our minds that we can play at that level and that’s the level we want to be at again as we go into it (this weekend).”
The Independence return to Charleston riding a six-match unbeaten streak in which they’ve outscored opponents 12-3. Seven different players recorded goals in that stretch, including three each from Brown and Martinez. They lead the offense with 19 and 18 points, respectively, while Calvert has 14 and Herrera 12. The defense has been equally impressive, recording four shutouts in the last six games. Berner has improved throughout the season and currently boasts a 1.01 goals against average and 70.2 save percentage.
“Defending is something that was always talk about as a team, as a unit,” said Jeffries. “In the last few weeks we’ve done a very good job of limiting teams’ opportunities on goal. Part of it has been that we’ve been pretty good in possession and have been able to keep the ball for longer stretches, and some of it is our ability to be able to press the ball when other teams possess it or the ability to be able to put pressure on when we do turn one over. But when it comes to defending we’ve had the whole group together and everybody of a pretty good mindset in terms of limiting other teams’ chances on goal.”
Charleston is 1-2-3 in its last six with seven goals scored and eight allowed. A disappointing 3-1 loss at home to FC Montreal on Aug. 13 was followed by a 1-1 road draw with Wilmington on Aug. 20. Williams (19 points), Portillo (12 points) and Chang (11 points) continue to pace the offense. Heviel Cordoves also has scored two goals in his last four games.
“Charleston is a very good team,” said Jeffries. “Where their strength is is they’re so athletic and they get forward so quickly on counter attacks. They’re also very dangerous on set pieces. So for us in those areas, it’s been organized in limiting their ability to counter attack, making sure we know where they are as we’re playing and don’t allow them to get runs at us. Dealing with some of their individual attacking players that are very clever and creative one-v-one, we have to make sure we manage those. Then being smart defensively, not giving away set pieces and managing set pieces when we do.”
Kickoff between Charlotte and Charleston is scheduled for 7:30pm ET at MUSC Health Stadium. The match will be available live at youtube.com/USL