CHARLESTON, SC — The Charleston Battery sits alone at the top of the USL First Division after knocking off the Portland Timbers (5-7-7, 22 points, fifth place) 2-0 in front of 3,542 fans at Blackbaud Stadium Saturday night.
First-half goals from Darren Spicer and Stephen Armstrong proved the difference as the Battery complete a five-game homestand on a high note.
“We’ve come out, we’ve got the three points, but now we’ve got to get ready to go on the road,” Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser said. “We got a shutout, the defense did well—we just have to make sure everyone stays healthy.”
The Battery (9-4-3, 30 points) had a full week to regroup after last week’s 3-1 home defeat by the Puerto Rico Islanders, with whom they shared the USL First Division summit going into tonight’s game.
The Timbers—who are suffering from a mid-season slump, having won just one of their last eight games—were at the back end of a two-game road trip and had just battled an exhausting 1-1 tie in Atlanta the previous night, which saw them pick up a slew of key injuries.
Armed with knowledge that their top-spot status was under threat, the Battery was looking at a chance to take advantage of a road-weary Portland team and reclaim first place.
The host’s did get things rolling early, enjoying a genuine go-ahead chance in the opening seconds when Chris Williams fired in a pass across goal that eluded forward Randi Patterson. The Battery’s leading scorer had another similar opportunity minutes later, but again couldn’t connect with the low, driven cross.
Portland responded when forward Lawrence Olum, who scored for the Timbers on Friday night, headed off-target in the seventh minute. Then in the 24th minute Chris Brown’s free kick was flicked wide by Cameron Knowles, and late in the half both Knowles and Shawn Higgins fired efforts just inches over the bar.
But like Portland the previous night, the Battery suffered a key injury early in the game when forward Lazo Alavanja fell awkwardly and had to be replaced by Spicer in the sixth minute.
However, in the 27th minute the forced substitution became a blessing for the hosts.
Following a clever short corner, Battery defender Marco Reda found himself behind the Portland defense, where he picked out Spicer. All the substitute had to do was turn and find the back of the net, which he did comfortably.
And five minutes later the Battery doubled the score after Patterson broke free off a transition and fed Armstrong on the left flank. Armstrong—who was celebrating his 26th birthday—took a few steps and fired a low culing shot, beating the Portland ‘keeper Brad Knighton as he dove right.
“That was just a great first-time strike from Stephen Armstrong,” Anhaeuser said. “You don’t see that very often but he has the quality to do that.”
Despite the goals, much of the first half was marked by some ill-tempered exchanges and sloppy play. But as both teams searched for goals after the break, the game began to settle.
Portland livened up after a handful of second-half substitutions. The fresh legs and a switch to a 4-2-4 formation created a couple of chances, and Taka Suzuki thought he had a penalty call when he was hauled down in the 75th minute.
But the Battery defended the lead well and opted to use the counter attack to move forward.
“We kept the ball [in the second half] and moved it around,” Anhaeuser said. “They were getting their chances by putting it forward, but we caught them two-v-two, three-v-two. We just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net on one of the counters.”
Osvaldo Alonso threatened early in the half with a brilliant side-footed volley from 30 yards out that Knighton saved, and Nelson Akwari, Mike Richardson and Patterson also came close to finishing off the game.
But the host’s resolute backline—coupled with poor shooting from the visiting Timbers—meant all three points for the Battery, who will now travel west for a three-game road trip.