A second half strike from Zeiko Lewis meant that the Charleston Battery shared the points with the New York Red Bulls II to open the 2021 season.
The Black and Yellow began with 10 of their returning 14 players from the previous Campaign, while Maryland Graduate Ben Di Rosa was the only debutant to start in what looked like a 4-3-3 with Mauro Cichero, Stavros Zarokostas, and eventual goalscorer Lewis upfront, but it quickly changed to a double pivot in midfield with Angelo Kelly and Robbie Crawford holding, while Logan Gdula rounded out an interchangeable front four.
The visitors started the match the brighter of the two sides, creating two chances in the opening ten minutes. Firstly, a corner from the left side looked to create a dangerous opportunity, but it was cleared away for a throw-in. Three minutes later, the Battery found themselves in a good position through some solid build-up play before a cross from the left side by full back AJ Paterson found Zeiko Lewis, who forced the New York ‘keeper Luca Lewis into his first save of the evening.
But then, against the run of play, Jarad van Schaik was forced into a mistake at the back by the Red Bulls’ high press, passing out of the 18-yard box, but straight to winger Jake LaCaba who had time to take a touch and fire past Joe Kuzminsky, whose first touch of the ball was to fish it out of the net.
The goal could have been avoided, and given the Battery’s past struggles with the Red Bulls, one could possibly be forgiven for thinking the worst despite the positive start. However, the team refused to let the setback deter them and was quickly on the attack again.
With roughly 17 minutes gone, Stavros Zarokostas went down under a challenge on the left of the box. His teammates were adamant that the challenge was a foul, hoping to quickly erase the wound of the earlier mistake, but the referee waved off their appeals.
But then, just seconds later, a ball from Paterson that again looked for Zeiko Lewis made its way past a defender, and the striker found himself one on one with the ‘keeper, but found it difficult to control the bouncing ball and put his shot high over the bar.
Combination play was once again the name of the game on 33′ when Robbie Crawford found Logan Gdula in the box, but his touch took him a little bit wide, giving the goalkeeper time to close down the angle, and the effort went wide of goal.
This meant that both teams went into the break with positives. The Red Bulls had found themselves in front, and despite the Battery’s chances, were doing well to keep it that way. On the other side, the Battery had conceded that early goal, but hadn’t let their heads drop and were creating enough to seem dangerous.
Debutant Ben Di Rosa found himself in space to create the first chance of the second half when on 48′, he was found by Zeiko Lewis, and Di Rosa charged his way toward the box, though perhaps his eyes lit up a little too much as he rushed his shot and it went high over the bar.
The Battery’s first change of the evening came in the way of Burke Fahling coming on to replace Robbie Crawford, who to that point had a solid game, but Fahling looked to impress as the second man to make his debut in Black and Yellow on the evening.
Goalscorer LaCaba then had the chance to double his side’s lead before his shot went wide of Joe Kuzminsky’s post, and the goalkeeper got us started quickly again, eventually leading to a great bit of work by Zeiko Lewis to keep a loose ball in play and find Angelo Kelly, who forced an excellent kick save out of the goalkeeper.
But just as hope of an equalizer started to wain, AJ Paterson muscled a defender off the ball high up the pitch before passing off to Stavros Zarokostas, whose cross into the box may have taken a deflection, but found the foot of Zeiko Lewis, who in one fluid motion took a touch, turned, and shot beyond his namesake in goal.
So after spending the entirety of the match on the front foot and just not finding the finishing touch, the score was level, and it was more than deserved.
With seven minutes left of normal time, the Battery had an excellent chance to put themselves in front. The substitute Fahling found Angelo Kelly at the back post with a corner but the midfielder’s header from all of 7 yards out was expertly saved by the goalkeeper down to his right.
Despite the Battery finding that all-important equalizer, the game still wasn’t settled deep in stoppage time when a Red Bulls corner seemed to hang forever in the air before it was met by a head at the back post. Joe Kuzminsky was forced into a save, but caught the ball into his chest in what was the last action of the match.
And so, it was a frustrating night in terms of chances created for the Battery, but they can be happy with the point they took on what is usually an unhappy trip north for the Black and Yellow.
The Battery open up their home campaign next Friday, May 14th, as they welcome rivals Charlotte Independence to a 50% capacity Patriots’ Point. Kick Off is set for 7PM and the match will be available to stream on ESPN+.
TOP IMAGE: ZEIKO LEWIS ON THE BALL AT PATRIOTS’ POINT SOCCER COMPLEX IN 2020. ROSS ALMERS PHOTOGRAPHY PHOTO