Battered: City Islanders Drop First Game of 2013
(Photo courtesy USLSoccer.com)
"You can’t always get what you want," famously declared the Rolling Stones, a song that certainly applies to the City Islanders’ disappointing loss to the Charleston Battery last night. At 3-0, the City Islanders were off to their best start in franchise history and another beautiful night greeted a small but lively crowd at the Skyline Sports Complex. Harrisburg had played some great soccer, and despite some injuries, confidence was high for a talented and deep squad. Enter the defending USL-PRO champion Charleston Battery, a tough, seasoned group that was content to defend and counter-attack in numbers. When the final whistle sounded, Harrisburg tasted defeat for the first time in 2013, dropping a hard-fought 2-1 decision.
The Battery seized control of the match in the game’s first ten minutes when Michael Azira uncorked a phenomenal volley to beat Nick Noble at the far post. It was a stunning strike that put the City Islanders on notice that Charleston would be no pushover. Harrisburg fell even further behind when a handball was whistled against Coady Andrews, a tough break since the ball bounced up and hit his hand unintentionally. Former City Islander Nicki Patterson buried the ensuing penalty, although some uncertainty surrounded the play because Patterson’s shot had actually slipped through a hole in the net. It was the third time Harrisburg had conceded a goal to a former teammate—in addition to Patterson, Jose Angulo (Pittsburgh) and Bilal Duckett (Rochester) have scored against the City Islanders in 2013—and for the first time all season, the City Islanders found themselves behind by more than one goal.
The deficit would be halved just moments later when Cristhian Hernandez buried a beautiful left-footed shot from eighteen yards out to make it 2-1 at the half. Despite carrying the bulk of possession, Harrisburg struggled to generate quality chances, and when they did, a combination of poor finishing and solid keeping by Odisnel Cooper prevented them from equalizing. Charleston frequently threatened on counter-attacks and proved a far more physical, technically savvy squad than those the City Islanders have faced in 2013. Harrisburg missed several key players, with Yann Ekra, Tom Brandt, Jason Pelletier, and Damani Richards injured. In addition, coach Bill Becher gave some players a break after playing on Saturday, so Sainey Touray, Don Anding, and Jimmy McLaughlin all appeared as substitutes, giving Jamiel Hardware, Morgan Langley, and Andrew Ribeiro starts. With so many different players, the City Islanders lacked the cohesion they demonstrated in the first three games this season, and sloppiness plagued the team throughout. Hardware strikes the ball well and occasionally sprayed good passes around the pitch, but Ribeiro struggled with his distribution and needs to complete a higher percentage of his passes. He tackled and positioned himself well defensively, but there were too many unforced errors. Langley had a forgettable night, he took a stupid yellow card for unnecessarily running into the keeper and otherwise failed to influence the game. Hernandez and Tom Mellor both played well offensively, while Noble made several sensational saves to keep the score close.
Despite the loss some positives emerged from the result. For one, the City Islanders refused to quit and demonstrated some of the grit that Becher’s squads have been known for. The team rallied behind each other, protesting the referee’s decisions as a unit and exhibiting a remarkable solidarity for a team with several loan players and numerous youngsters. Some of these newbies received an eye-opening introduction to the physicality of the USL-PRO, and this experience might help the team retain its focus going forward. And despite falling, the City Islanders never seemed rattled and continued to play their game, a smooth possession-oriented offense that stretches defenses with pace, overlapping runs, and interchangeable attackers. Perhaps last night’s match will prove a good learning experience, because as the Stones reminded us, "If you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need."
• The first two rounds of the U.S. Open Cup have been scheduled. The City Islanders have a bye into the second round, which will be stage on May 21. Locally, Reading United will host Lehigh Valley United Sonic in a first round match on May 14 at Don Thomas Stadium in Reading. United is making their fifth straight appearance in the Open Cup, a record for amateur teams in the modern era. Lehigh Valley United won the NPSL last season as F.C. Sonic and the match will be the first time the two intrastate sides have met. Reading is 1-6 all-time in the Open Cup, while LVU Sonic lost in their sole appearance last season.