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USL 2017 Preview: Charleston Battery

A crash course on Atlanta United’s USL affiliate

Year Founded: 1993

Affiliation: Atlanta United

2016 record, place in Conference standings: 6th place finish, finished in the playoff places without a guaranteed home game

2016 playoffs: Conference semi-finalists, losing out to Louisville City

Key additions: Skylar Thomas, Kotaro Higashi, Nico Rittmeyer, Tah Brian Anunga

Key departures: Shawn Ferguson, Zach Prince

Projected/ideal starting XI (formation): 4-2-3-1. Odisnel Cooper, Quinton Griffith, Forrest Lasso, Taylor Mueller, Obrien Woodbine / Justin Portillo, Naveal Hackshaw / Maikel Chang, Attaula Guerra, Dante Marini / Romario Williams

The Battery started off strong in 2016, going unbeaten in their first three and finding a way to put the ball in the net when it counted, as well as a penchant for hanging in when under pressure. However, depth was a problem for the Battery, even with assistance from their MLS affiliate Atlanta United, and toward the middle-to-end of last season, game time and injuries just caught up with them. They ended FC Cincinnati’s stellar first year in the Conference Quarter Finals, but lost out to Louisville in the next round.

This season provides a full preseason in the form of the Carolina Challenge Cup, which the Battery held firm in, with 2 draws and a loss against Seattle, Columbus and Atlanta as they themselves got ready for the new MLS campaign. They’ve kept a good core of the squad from last year around, whilst also adding some exciting new additions to help with what they lacked, especially in the aforementioned depth department, last season. The Battery have lost only two pre-season games, and have six of their first ten games at home, meaning a good early start could set them well on their way to a memorable 25th anniversary season.

Why you should watch the Battery in 2017: Well, for MLS (And especially Atlanta United fans) the answer to that question is pretty obvious. The Battery have officially gotten Jeffery Otoo and Romario Williams on loan from Atlanta for the new season. Williams was an integral part of Charleston’s attack last year, scoring 9 goals in Mike Anheuser’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system, where he played off of a slick midfield led by Justin Portillo and Maikel Chang. Otoo impressed with the Battery last year, but returns to Charleston having grown both in stature and as a player as he looks to have been promised more minutes this year in the absence of Zach Prince, who retired at the end of last season. For the historians of the American Soccer world, the Battery celebrate their silver anniversary this year, having been founded in 1993, pre-dating USL and even MLS, and with 4 championships under their belt at this level of the American pyramid, they look to celebrate a fifth to cap off such a memorable occasion.

3 players to watch: Midfield metronome Justin Portillo is probably the Battery’s most talked about player. He takes most of the set pieces, corners, free kicks, and penalties, and hardly ever wastes a pass, making the difficult things look easy. One wonders why the big boys in MLS and beyond haven’t come calling, but Charleston are very happy to keep him for as long as possible.

The same could be said for Maikel Chang, who’s the team’s resident flair player. Chang has pace, which he can use both ways, trickery, and an eye for goal in his arsenal, and is known to chip in with the assist here and there. His ability to drift past players is something that’s just about irreplaceable in the Battery’s system, and he’s another that looks sure to be destined for bigger and better things.

Romario Williams is another who’s been known to turn heads, yet struggles with consistency. He was one of the Battery’s leading scorers last campaign, but had a few dry spells scattered throughout the season. He’s looked impressive as the Battery have ended pre-season, notably scoring a hat trick in their final tune up before the new year, and if he can find that consistent form that alluded him, the league’s defenders will have their hands full.

The 2017 season will be a success if... The Battery’s new pieces can bed in well. As previously stated, the Battery struggled with depth last year, even at their best. This is something that they’ve gone a little ways to correct in the off-season, signing Skylar Thomas, a former first round draft pick from TFC II, as well as Tah Brian Anunga, who’ll most likely slot in at DM beside Portillo when called upon. Nico Rittmeyer and Kotaro Higashi earned spots through open trials, and look to be able to lessen the work load of Chang and challenge for the spot vacated by Zach Prince on the opposite wing.

Read More: Battery specific blog The Black and Yellow Post has been following the Battery’s preseason and will keep you up to date with the Battery’s 2017 USL Campaign, while Soccer ‘N’ Sweet Tea have been recapping the Battery’s pre-season friendlies.