It’s exciting for the Riverhounds to be playing the Charleston Battery once again. In 2020, our last remaining Old Guard Shield foe was placed in a different group for the sort-of-like-a-bubble precautions against Covid, and thus the Riverhounds did not content at all for the shield with their one remaining Old Guard nemesis.
I’ll be honest: I’m still unsure of my feelings on the Shield. When it had all five participants – Charleston, Harrisburg, Richmond, Rochester, and the Riverhounds, it was most certainly an awesome thing. Except, that was pretty short lived. The Rhinos went on hiatus at the end of 2017; the City Islanders/Penn FC ceased operations at the end of 2019. The Kickers self-relegated to the third tier of American soccer, USL League 1, in 2019. It’s still something to be proud of, but mostly it’s just a nice thing that it exists as a historical relic; and that the two teams that compete for it are still alive. Winning it is secondary, at best. I’m honestly far more impressed with all of you supporters that were pulling for the Hounds back when they were playing on throwball lines at some far-flung local high school in front of four hundred fans; ditto the Battery. I had yet to move to Pittsburgh and discover the wonder that is Steel Army when this whole thing kicked off.
The teams being old is nice. But the fan bases, and the trials and travails of supporting these unstable and sometimes unloved teams is truly something to celebrate.
Tactics and Personnel
Charleston played a close match against top-of-the-table Tampa Bay last week, which they dropped 1-0. They came out in a 4-4-2 formation, which Rowdies commentator Ryan Davis noted could also transition into a 3-4-3 in attack as the ball-side defender slips into the midfield and a midfielder presses higher into the final third alongside the strikers. Against Tampa, on the road, Charleston did what you would expect: kick it long a lot and being hyper-aware of transitioning back to defense, staying in a so-called mid or low block – meaning they really did not commit too many players forward.
At home we might expect them to be a bit less cautious. However, at no time this year have they really been a ‘possession based’ team. In eight games, they’ve have more than 50 percent possession four times, but only by the slimmest amount: 50, 51, 52, and 54 percent. Their record in those matches is 0-2-2 (WDL). In the games they’ve played on the counterattack and ceding possession to their opponent, they had the ball 37, 37, 41, and 42 percent; their record is 3-0-1. Two of their three wins are Loudoun, and they aren’t very good, so Charleston may actually be a worse team than their record indicates. Their style of play certainly points in that direction.
Charleston is decidedly average this year so far, with a 3-2-3 record overall on 9 Goals For and 11 Goals Against. Their Goals Against Average of 1.37 per game is 18th out of 31 teams in USL, and their Goals per 90 rate of 1.13 is 19th in the league. So, maybe ‘decidedly below-average’ would be better.
The guy to watch on this team is probably Stavros Zarakostas. The former Rhode Island Ram had 5 goals in just 670 minutes of play in 2020. So far this year, he has just 2 goals, but he is definitely dangerous.
In midfield, the team relies on Scotsman Robbie Crawford to control tempo and be the defensive lynchpin. He has the team’s highest Goals Added rate of +0.36. G+, for the uninitiated, is an advanced metric that measures the expected contribution of every pass, shot, reception, tackle, and action on both offense and defense. His particularly impressive contributions are his +0.43 Dribbling G+ and +0.31 Interrupting (Tackles and such) G+.
Team co-captain Leland Archer is a Trinidadian and also a ‘local boy makes good’ story – he played NCAA ball for College of Charleston before coming over to the local pro team in 2018. His advanced numbers are decidedly not-good; his -1.15 Goals Added is the worst among any center back in USL-C. But that number is heavily influenced by a terrible G+ Foul rate of -0.71; he’s been whistled a lot, and maybe that’s because the zebras hate him, or maybe he really is a defender that cannot keep his hands to himself.
Zeiko Lewis is a player I’ve always liked – a speedy winger drafted in the first round out of Boston College by NY Red Bulls. He never played at the MLS level but has settled into USL nicely, scoring 17 goals in 4,478 minutes across four seasons. He spent 2019 in Iceland with Fimleikafélag Hafnarfjarðar. Yes, I cut and pasted that name into this document.
Finally, goalkeeper Joe Kuzminsky is very good, both by the eye test and in his advanced metrics. His -1.79 Goals-Expected Goals (G-xG) is 10th in USL-C. For comparison, the Riverhounds Danny Vitiello is 9th.
Last Week’s Starting Lineup for Charleston
Date: Wednesday, July 7
Time: 4 p.m.
Location: Patriots Point Soccer Complex, Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Live Statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live Updates: Pittsburghsoccernow.com; Twitter at @RiverhoundsSC and #CHSvPIT