Ahead of the Charleston Battery‘s 2020 campaign, an offseason of change both on and off the field has nearly come to a close. But with that change, there are bound to be many differences in what is to be expected from those in Black and Yellow in the coming year. With that said, the question must be asked. What needs to happen for the Battery to call the 2020 USL Championship season a success?
Shortly following elimination from the USL Playoffs, a ticket the Battery punched for a 12th consecutive season after a hard-fought tail end to the 2019 regular season, the Battery officially announced that the club had been bought out by HCFC, LLC, a group led by Rob Salvatore, while also announcing that the club will play its 2020 season at Patriot’s Point, sharing a home ground with the College of Charleston. This follows the sale of the club’s home stadium on Daniel Island by its previous owner, and was the most pressing concern from fans as the calendar turned toward 2020.
Salvatore and co. had shadowed the club during 2019 in the lead up to the sale, and after assessing the club’s immediate needs, quickly began the hard work of getting the club ready to play in the season that now fast approaches.
To begin the new era, the club announced a rebranding, with a new badge and new kits that was unveiled to fans in December at a fan forum that included the team’s season ticket holders and official fan club, The Regiment, with the express purpose of giving the club a more modern feel, in keeping with many of its other USL Championship opponents.
The unveiling, and the forum itself, went down a treat with fans. The forum was HCFC’s first chance to talk candidly about their plans for the club for the season and beyond, and Salvatore, flanked by collogues who made up HCFC, who are now a part of the higher ups at the Battery, and league commissioner and former Battery player Jake Edwards, spoke about the importance of community to the club, and how important the community is, was and will be in making their time as owners a success, something the previous ownership gave no promises of during their time.
So whilst moving from MUSC Health Stadium will take some time to get used to, fans will feel at ease with the knowledge that their voices are being heard in the new era, and are excited for what’s to come.
On the field, the Battery said goodbye to some key players in the offseason. Most notably their captain, Taylor Mueller, who will ply his trade for Tacoma Defiance in the Western Conference. Joe Kuzminsky is on loan to Israeli side Maccabi Haifa, while Tah Brian Anunga departed for Nashville SC, who play their inaugural season in MLS this year. Others have also departed, though the Black and Yellow saw the return of no less than 13 players, including vice captain Jarad van Schaik, who will most likely take the armband for 2020, goalkeeper Phil Breno, defenders Leland Archer and AJ Paterson, midfielder Dante Marini, and leading goalscorer for 2019 Zeiko Lewis.
The club also ran its tried-and-tested preseason trials, welcoming midfielder Robbie Crawford as their first new signing of the season, as well as defenders Logan Gdoula, Deshawon Nembhard, and Rennico Clarke, midfielders Jesus Ibarra and Mauro Cichero, and goalkeeper Darian McCauley.
The returnees are much more than to be expected at USL level, and from that standpoint gives the club a bit of stability in the face of such high profile departures, while Gdoula, Clarke, and Chicero are former MLS draft picks with experience playing at higher levels of the game. Crawford and Clarke played with Zeiko Lewis at FH in Iceland, so fans will be hoping that the sense of familiarity helps the new boys settle in as quickly as possible.
The Black and Yellow’s preseason schedule was middling to say the least. There were two games against MLS sides Inter Miami and Minnesota United came early on in the proceedings, but draws with Greenville Triumph and Tormenta FC may leave fans worried, though it must be said that preseason is not about results, and more about getting players fit and on the same page.
The benchmark, as has been for the past 12 seasons and beyond for the Battery, is of course the Playoffs. However, it’s a long road to get there. The Black and Yellow have a lot of experience in the dressing room, but new players will have to make their voices heard, and that experience will be vital going forward.
The questions remain going into this campaign, though the answer for fans may lie in how patient they are willing to be.
Many believe the turmoil of the last few seasons from behind the scenes to be the reason for their recent struggles on the pitch, and while the space between the final whistle of 2019 and the first against Atlanta United II of 2020 has been chock full of change, the vision of this new era seems a lot more cohesive than its predecessor.
So while there may be growing pains, there is plenty to be excited about as a fan of the Battery.
TOP IMAGE: BATTERY CELEBRATE A GOAL AGAINST CHARLOTTE IN 2019. ROSS ALMERS PHOTOGRAPHY PHOTO