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Charleston Battery 2016 USL season preview

With the preseason in the books, Dirty South Soccer previews the Battery's 2016 campaign

Dan Conover

Charleston Battery 2016 USL Season preview

Year founded: 1993
Affiliation: Atlanta United
2015 record, conference standing: 12-6-10, 3rd in Eastern Conference
2015 playoff: Conference Semifinals
Head Coach/GM: Mike Anhaeuser (12th season)

Key additions: Neveal Hackshaw, Ataullah Guerra, Alex Tambakis, Romario Williams
Key departures: Jared van Schaik, Dane Kelly
Latest starting XI: Alex Tambakis, O'Brian "Obi" Woodbine, Taylor Mueller, Shawn Ferguson, Emmanuel "Steady" Adjetey, Zach Prince, Justin Portillo, Ataullah Guerra, Maikel Chang, Ricky Garbanzo, Heviel Cordoves

The Charleston Battery are coming off a 2015 campaign where the club finished 3rd in the Eastern Conference, falling to Louisville City in the conference semifinal. A disappointing ending to a season that started with championship ambitions, with the Battery spending a large portion of the season atop the Eastern Conference table.

Charleston found the majority of it's success in 2015 at home, where they had an undefeated 11-0-6 record. Where the Battery struggled however, was on the road, where they won just 4 out of 14 matches, drawing 4 and losing 6, including the semifinal loss to Louisville.

The biggest question facing Charleston in 2016, is how to replace Dane Kelly. Kelly, the Battery's top goal scorer in 2015 (14 goals), chose not to return to Charleston this season, opting instead to sign with Sporting KC affiliate Swope Park Rangers. Kelly's departure has sparked a fierce battle among the remaining forwards, for the former Battery star's place in the rotation.

The Battery offense has done a fine job filling the void left by Kelly in preseason play. In their final friendly Charleston dominated the 2015 NASL champion New York Cosmos 3-0, a performance that displayed brilliant creativity and chemistry between the Battery forwards and midfield.

Charleston's biggest strength lies on defense. The Battery have what may be the strongest back 4 in the league, led by captain Shawn Ferguson, and a group of keepers described by coaches as the best in the club's history.

Why you should watch the Battery in 2016:

Charleston is the United States' oldest continuously operating club, and is rich in winning tradition. The Battery look to build on that tradition in 2016. With a solid, brick wall of a defense, and an abundance of chemistry between the midfield and forward positions. All the pieces have fallen into place for Charleston to be a force to reckon with in the East.

Players to watch

Alex Tambakis:
The first ever signing for Atlanta United, MLS's latest expansion franchise. Tambakis is a product of Greece's most prestigious club and youth development program, Panathinaikos. The 23-year-old keeper has received the bulk of minutes in the preseason, beating out 2015 USL keeper of the year finalist Odisnel Cooper, including a strong clean sheet performance in the Battery's friendly against New York Cosmos.

Romario Williams: The former UCF star, and 3rd overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, will be heading to Charleston for the 2016 season, on loan from Montreal Impact. It will be interesting to see where Williams will fit into the Battery's forward rotation, which has been in the midst of a fierce position battle.

Ricky Garbanzo: A local product of Coastal Carolina University, Garbanzo Signed with the Battery in 2015 after being snubbed, going undrafted in the 2015 SuperDraft. Garbanzo spent his rookie season behind former Battery star Dane Kelly in the forwards rotation, where he became a key sub, going on to win the club's 2015 newcomer of the year award. Garbanzo has been fantastic in the preseason, scoring 2 goals in the preseason finale against Cosmos. The 23-year-old forward has definitely made his case to become the go to guy up front.

Shawn Ferguson: The anchor of the Battery's Defense, center-back Shawn Ferguson returns for his 4th season in Charleston. Of all the Battery players, the Rock Hill native and College of Charleston graduate, would seem the odds on favorite to make the move to the next level. Don't be surprised if Ferguson catches the interest of MLS suitors by season's end, particularly Atlanta United.

The 2016 season will be a success if...

Two things happen. First, the Battery have to find a way to take the success they've found at home, on the road. Second, They must find a way to effectively replace the goal scoring ability of Dane Kelly. If the Battery's performance against the Cosmos in their final preseason match is an indication of things to come then Kelly may not be too sorely missed. Whether or not Charleston can get things done on the road however, remains to be seen.