Zach Bland photo.
The Charleston Battery open the 2017 USL Playoffs against the defending champions, New York Red Bulls II. The Battery secured second place in the Eastern Conference with a 1-0 win over Charlotte Independence at the Sportsplex at Matthews in the last week of the regular season. The second place finish is Charleston’s highest in the USL Cup era and assures home field advantage through the Conference Semifinals.
The Battery will begin their seventh consecutive trip to the playoffs against one of only two teams in the East that they haven’t beaten this season. Charleston and New York drew, 1-1, in their previous match at MUSC Health Stadium and the Red Bulls took a 2-1 result at MSU Soccer Park back in May.
Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser has a slew of veterans to rely on in the playoffs including Taylor Mueller and O’Brian Woodbine who have both won championships with the Battery. Fourteen players on Anhaeuser’s roster have USL Playoff experience. The team has regained its early season form in the crucial point in the year and will look to carry momentum from late season victories into the playoffs.
The Battery have taken the third highest number of points (35) from their home matches in the Eastern Conference, just behind Louisville (36) and Tampa (37). Charleston carry a 14 game home unbeaten streak into the playoffs. They’re also unbeaten in their last five playoff matches at MUSC Health Stadium.
New York Red Bulls II will begin their USL title defense against the Charleston Battery. New York finished the regular season in seventh place after failing to beat Rochester on the final day of the season. The Red Bulls dropped a 2-1 result at Capelli Sport Stadium in Rochester, leaving them in the second to last playoff spot in the East.
New York have scored more goals than every other team in the Eastern Conference Playoffs apart from first place Louisville City FC. Stefano Bonomo, Florian Valot, Junior Flemmings, and Vincent Bezecourt make up the bulk of the Red Bull’s potent attack. Bezecourt leads the Eastern Conference with 11, one ahead of Charleston’s Maikel Chang.
Despite New York’s attacking ability, they were one of only two playoff teams in the East to finish the year with a negative goal differential (-3). The Red Bulls have given up 60 goals this season, 12 more than the next highest playoff team, Bethlehem Steel FC. New York’s defensive struggles are magnified on the road. They’ve only won three matches away from home this season and have conceded 39 goals, however, they managed to hold the Battery to just one goal in each of the two meetings between the teams this season.
The high tallies in the goals scored and goals against statistical categories come down to New York’s style of play. If they continue as they’ve played throughout the regular season, they will press the ball high in their attacking third and open up when they win it back on Saturday night. Their high pressing, expansive style of play pays dividends in the attack, but opens them up to counter attacks and leaves them vulnerable down the center of the field.