FC Cincinnati begins its second season on Saturday when they take on the Charleston Battery at MUSC Health Stadium. This match pairs the Queen City’s newcomers against one of the longest standing outfits in American soccer. The Charleston Battery can now boast 25 years as a professional franchise, an impressive accomplishment.
It also pairs FC Cincinnati with a team that they could not beat last season in three attempts. Charleston defeated FC Cincinnati 1-0 on opening day in 2016. Romario Williams scored a late winner to settle that contest in stoppage time. The two teams drew 1-1 at Nippert in July with Charleston grabbing a late equalizer. The same Battery team also knocked FC Cincinnati out of the USL playoffs in the first round, defeating the Orange and Blue 2-1, and ending their inaugural season.
Which Charleston Battery player could ruin FC Cincinnati’s opening day on Saturday?
“Charleston Battery striker Romario Williams. Williams has lost 10 pounds since last year and his fitness level appears to be in mid-season form. He scored a goal against the Seattle Sounders in the Battery’s preseason tournament – the Carolina Challenge Cup – and was certainly the club’s most dangerous offensive player a year ago.
Watch out for Ataulla Guerra as well. He’s going to be central midfielder, tucked in right behind Williams and the two have had great chemistry during the preseason. Midfielder Maikel Chang is probably the Battery’s most gifted and creative playmaker and normally plays on the outside, crossing balls into the box. Midfielder Justin Portillo is always dangerous on the free kicks and corner kicks.”
Why do you think the Battery have been a bogey team for FC Cincinnati?
“That’s hard to explain. I don’t know that there’s any logical explanation for it. The Battery just seems to match-up well against Cincinnati for whatever reason. It’s a mystery of sports sometimes why some teams match up better against other teams. Is it style of play? Is it talent level? The Battery has just seemed to have Cincy’s number. Of course, all that can changed with the amount of personnel turnover from season to season.”
Who is the best offseason addition that the Battery have made (one we will likely see on Saturday)? Why?
“Defender Skylar Thomas. He was a First Round pick in the 2015 MLS Super Draft (Toronto FC) and played in 47 games with Toronto FC II over the past two seasons. He’s a big, rangy defender that will play left back with O’Brian Woodbine out for three games with a league suspension. He can play in the middle if needed as well. With his speed and strength, he can match-up with any forward in the league.
You could see Mikey Ambrose, who was loaned by Atlanta today, on the field Saturday. He played five games last year with Orlando City SC. They have a couple of other new guys, including Kotaro Higashi and Andrew Carleton, but they are not with the club right now.”
Has Charleston’s affiliate agreement with Atlanta United benefitted the club in your opinion? Do you think it gives the Battery an advantage/disadvantage vs. independent clubs like FC Cincinnati?
“I think right now, it’s too early to tell. I can say with confidence that the affiliation with Atlanta is better than the previous ones with Vancouver and Houston. Romario Williams and Jeffrey Otoo will be with the club all summer. Other players likes Andrew Carleton, Mikey Ambrose, Alex Tambakis and Chris Goslin will probably shuttle between the two clubs throughout the season. I think anytime you have young, hungry, talented players it’s going to make your club better.
I think the jury is still out on the advantages/disadvantages question. I still think the MLS is trying to figure out if having a reserve team in the USL or having straight affiliations is better. I think it’s more cost efficient to have affiliations, but do your players develop? That’s what every MLS team is trying figure out. I do think if you’ve got a strong affiliation then it works to your advantage against independent clubs. If not, then I think it works against you because you put guys on the field that either are not ready to play at this level or are not good enough.
Orange and Blue Press Prediction
Charleston uncharacteristically lost five matches at home in 2016. MUSC Health Stadium may not be the fortress it has been in years past for the Battery. But make no mistake, this is a difficult first week matchup for FC Cincinnati.
Charleston is a defense first team with dangerous counter attacking options. Last year the Battery’s physical midfield disrupted FC Cincinnati when they tried to impose a possession based style on the game. Look for similar tactics tomorrow.
FC Cincinnati is certainly capable of winning this match. They have showed positive progress in preseason, but Alan Koch is still working to figure out his best team. Team captain Austin Berry was injured in the Sacramento match and has been sidelined with an elbow sprain. He returned to training this week, but is still a long shot to start. Paul Nicholson or new signing Mélé Temguia are the backup options. FC Cincinnati doesn’t look cohesive enough yet to get three points away to Charleston with so many new pieces in the puzzle. Look for a scored draw in the season opener. Charleston Battery 2 – FC Cincinnati 2.
You can watch the match on Star 64 (WSTR) locally in Cincinnati or stream on the USL Youtube Channel. Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s first match of 2017.