Going into the new season presents a new chapter, and new challenges. While the offseason provided its ups and downs, one could make a case for the former being more present than the latter.
One change, and perhaps the biggest, is the sale of the club to B Sports Entertainment. After many years led by Tony Bakker, the founder of software company Blackbaud, a new day dawns for the Battery, one which has fans abuzz with excitement. The biggest change (for now, at least) may be the 90×32 ft replay screen. The buyout is one which the Battery hopes will continue to “accelerate the recent growth” of the side.
As far as the on-field things go, the Battery have lost some of their most influential players from 2015. One being Dane Kelly, (now with Sporting Kansas City B team Swope Park Rangers) who accounted for 14 goals last year, including Cup and Playoff games, and Jarad van Schaik, (who has joined NASL side Rayo OKC) who had established himself as a lynchpin in the midfield alongside Justin Portillo.
Despite this, many players stuck around for the 2016 season. The defense that held firm for the Battery in 2015 stays largely intact, with club Defender of the Year Shawn Ferguson and center back partner Taylor Meuller signed on for 2016, while both regular full backs Obrien Woodbine and Quinton Griffith both return. Behind them in goal, Odisnel Cooper stays on, while in midfield, Zach Prince begins his 8th season with the Battery, making him the longest serving player on the team, and the aforementioned Justin Portillo was one of the first to sign on for the new season. Assist leader Maikel Chang and Dante Marini give the side a bit of depth on the wing, and Heviel Cordoves looks to add to his decent return up front, while midfielder Ricky Garbanzo, will hope to continue the high-pressing, fast paced performances of his first season.
An affiliation with fledgling MLS side Atlanta United FC could prove to be fruitful, with them supplying Goalkeeper Alex Tambakis on loan for the 2016 season. This provides, at the very least cover for regular ‘keeper Cooper, and also much needed competition.
As well as Tambakis, Jamaican forward Romario Williams joins from the Montreal Impact on loan, looking to fill the void left by Dane Kelly, while also providing cover for Cordoves. Forward Ataulluah Guerra also gives options, and also a little bit of international experience, while the signing of multiple strikers might see the Battery change systems at one point or another during the season depending on player form. Midfielder Naviel Hackshaw, as with Guerra, comes from Trinadad and Tobago, and will surely be looking to establish himself alongside Justin Portillo in the center of the park.
Four members of the SC Battery Academy have joined the side, including Cole Gulledge, who can play in midfield or defense, midfielder Alex Anderson, Connor Sloan, who can play in the middle or up front, and striker Robbie Robertson. Keep in mind that registered academy players are allowed to play in the USL without losing College eligibility.
A productive preseason ended with a bang against the New York Cosmos, with Ricky Garbanzo scoring a brace, and Dante Marini also on the scoresheet.
The Battery start their season, and finish, at home. The first match of the season is against FC Cincinatti, and they finish against New York Red Bulls II. Other notable fixtures include a trip to Florida against Orlando City B, whose parent club we enjoyed a heated rivalry with during their USL days, with Southern Derby matches against Wilmington Hammerheads on April 9th at MUSC Health Stadium, and May 21st and August 20th in North Carolina. Matches against the Richmond Kickers, which stands to be the longest running series in American Soccer, are on July 2nd at MUSC Health Stadium, and August 17th and September 17th in Richmond. Three games against Charlotte Independence come on April 17th away from home, and August 3rd and 27th at MUSC Health Stadium. The aforementioned Orlando City B host the Battery on April 1st, and visit Charleston on June 11th and July 13th.
The Battery look to build on a 3rd place finish in the eastern conference in 2015, looking to add to a rich history that started in 1993, making them one of the most storied clubs in American Soccer. Will they add a fifth star to the badge come October? Only time will tell.