The Charleston Battery kicked off their 2022 campaign with a 1-0 victory over FC Tulsa on Saturday. The Patriots Point faithful prevailed through the frigid temperatures and were rewarded with three points when Augustine Williams scored the match-deciding goal, electrifying the stadium. Conor Casey wins his first match in his coaching debut in the USL Championship after taking the job in the offseason.
The Battery picked up where they left off, tactically, in the preseason by pressing Tulsa early. Romario Piggott led the first near chance from the left side with a cross into the box to Augustine Williams. Williams connected for a header, but the shot was calmly saved by goalkeeper Sean Lewis. Tulsa nearly scored moments later, however the strong attempt from Dario Suarez was just over the crossbar.
Charleston opened the scoring following the signature counter-attacking style of play that Coach Casey had been instilling in his squad since the preseason. Aidan Apodaca led the movement after dispossessing Tulsa on the right side, then charged down the flank. He found Williams about 20 yards out and Augustine sent in a strike from the top of the box that slotted perfectly past Lewis and inside the right post. The goal was the first for Williams with the Battery.
Following the opening goal, both sides began to settle in, but with some physicality as four yellow cards were shown in a 16-minute span. Andrew Booth nearly added a second goal for Charleston in the 37th minute following a similar counter-attack led by Apodaca on the right side, however the shot was fractionally over the crossbar.
Charleston held the 1-0 advantage into the break, holding off Tulsa’s attempts for an equalizer.
Play resumed and the spirited nature of the game continued. Tulsa found themselves picking up three yellow cards in the opening 12 minutes of play. The most impactful one came at the 56-minute mark when captain Rodrigo da Costa was shown his second yellow for a foul on former teammate Matt Sheldon, dismissing da Costa for the rest of the contest and reducing Tulsa to 10 men. A total of 10 yellow cards were issued in the match.
Both sides brought in reinforcements, with the Battery’s making their presence felt. Mauro Cichero and EJ Johnson, the latter making his USL Championship debut, led the forward press after coming on in the 64th minute. Cichero provided dangerous looks on set pieces, although none of the chances converted. The Battery midfield and defense asserted their presence too, holding Tulsa without a shot in 30 minutes at one point. Goalkeeper Joe Kuzminsky, who had a reserved role for much of the match, was called into to make a pair of saves in Tulsa final pushes for an equalizer. The two saves marked Kuzminsky’s 249th and 250th career regular-season saves in the USL Championship.
The Battery saw out the 1-0 victory to secure their first three points of the season, in the first-ever meeting of Charleston and Tulsa.
The night included many debuts. Making their first career professional appearances were Brett St. Martin, EJ Johnson and Joe Schmidt. In addition to them, players making their Battery debuts were Augustine Williams, Aidan Apodaca, Dominic Oduro, Andrew Booth, Shak Adams, Matt Sheldon and Preston Kilwien.
Coach Casey was pleased with the team’s performance in the Home Opener and applauded the supporters’ tenacity to brace the frosty elements.
“It was great, awesome energy in the stadium on a cold night, to have this many fans show up was great for our players and for the club,” said Coach Casey. “That the team came out with a lot of very good energy and to walk away with three points and a shutout is a perfect start for a season.
“It was just exciting, the guys have put in a lot of work, and to be able to get the first win, a shutout, it’s just a great way to start the season.”
Although the result was a victory, Coach Casey admits the work is far from done.
“There’s certainly a lot of room for improvement and we’re still early on in the season, though I think there will be some good takeaways from the game,” said Coach Casey. “I think the mentality was right, that was the most important thing. I thought we could have been maybe a little bit more aggressive after going up a man and we weren’t really able to get as much pressure as we would have liked.”
Battery defender Matt Sheldon was proud of the team’s ability to persevere despite the harsh playing elements.
“We were pressuring them the entire first half and it was just so great to get that breakaway,” said Sheldon. “When Aiden got the play over to Augi, [Williams] had a great finish, just one-time into the goal, amazing. Anytime there are adverse conditions you have to focus a little bit more, but both teams have to go with it.”
Sheldon said the victory meant extra for him playing against his friends and former teammates.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for FC Tulsa, I really enjoyed my time there,” said Sheldon. “But, anytime you’re going up against your old team, you’re going to have a little bit more fire under your butt and I was really excited and pumped up to get out there and play against them and just compete.”
The Battery now hit the road to take on Detroit City FC in the Michigan club’s first home match since joining the USL Championship ahead of the 2022 season on March 19. Charleston will return home on Friday, April 1, to welcome Las Vegas Lights FC in a Holy City vs. Sin City showdown. Fans can purchase their tickets for the match now via SeatGeek.com.