Charleston Battery beat Birmingham 2-1 in Semifinal, advance to Conference Final
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Oct. 28, 2023) – The Charleston Battery earned a 2-1 victory over Birmingham Legion FC in the Eastern Conference Semifinal at Patriots Point on Saturday. An early goal from Emilio Ycaza brought the stadium to life, but it was Derek Dodson’s winning goal off a deflected Nick Markanich shot that saw the Battery advance.
Charleston are set to host Louisville City FC in the Eastern Conference Final on Sat., Nov. 4, at Patriots Point, kicking off at 7:30 p.m. ET. Tickets for the match are on sale now via SeatGeek.com, the Battery’s exclusive digital ticketing provider.
It was the first meeting in the playoffs for Charleston and Birmingham and both sides came out of the gate swinging. Six shots were registered through the first 16:11 mark, three for each team.
Emilio Ycaza broke open the game in the 17th minute with a flying header off a Fidel Barajas corner kick. The corner was brilliantly placed to the far post and slotted home by Ycaza,
The goal was Ycaza’s second in as many games. Barajas’ assist brings his total to 11 in the USL Championship regular season and playoffs, the most in the league.
Both sides continued to press hard following Ycaza’s tally. Leland Archer came to the rescue in the 26th minute to deny Birmingham a promising opportunity deep inside the box, clearing the ball out of danger. The Battery almost doubled their lead in the 31st minute when Nick Markanich struck one target that was cleared off the line by Birmingham.
Legion FC managed to equalize in the 41st minute via Prosper Kasim, tying the game at 1-1. The level score would hold into the break as both teams recorded nine shots in the opening 45 minutes.
The match resumed with all to play for at 1-1. Charleston nearly retook the lead three minutes into the half when Augi Williams sent in a header toward goal, but the shot rocked off the crossbar.
Legion FC came close to a second goal in the 61st minute, if not for the defensive acts of Williams and Derek Dodson to block a pair of close shots from inside the box.
Charleston, determined to advance to the final four for the first time in 10 years, found the decisive moment in the 68th minute. Nick Markanich fired a shot after Tristan Trager’s ball into the box was poorly cleared by Birmingham. Markanich’s strike appeared to thread the needle, but a glancing touch off Birmingham’s Enzo Martinez and then the leg of Dodson redirected the ball into the net. The goal was officially credited to Dodson, his third of 2023.
From there on, the Battery tightened their grip on the game to see out the victory. Birmingham were held without a shot attempted after the Battery’s go-ahead goal, showcasing Charleston’s defensive strength to limit the visitors’ options.
The Battery secured the 2-1 victory over Legion FC and punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Final. The win was also the third of the year over Birmingham and the second in two weeks.
Charleston’s advancing to the Eastern Conference Final marks their first appearance in the final four of the USL Playoffs since 2013. It also helps further highlight the club’s turnaround seen this year, as the Battery went from third-to-last in the conference in 2022 to the Conference Final in 2023.
The Battery will host No. 5 Louisville City FC in the Conference Final. The Kentucky club has reached that stage in the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons.
Head Coach Ben Pirmann and midfielder Emilio Ycaza addressed the media after the win, with key quotes to follow.
Coach Pirmann on the team’s overall performance tonight…
We were dominant for the majority of the game. It was not back and forth, we pushed on them. We were very dominant. It was very frustrating going to halftime 1-1 when we could have been up by two goals. But, you just keep pushing, keep pushing and then whoever scores it doesn’t matter. It’s just a product of our process. We knew it was coming, but we’ve been in these games where it doesn’t come and it’s squeaky bum time and then we seal it out at the end.
The big difference is that, between [Birmingham’s] Pasher, Agudelo, Kasim, these types of players, you take your foot off the gas for one second, they will hurt us. We were really good tonight. We were so dominant, we created so many chances. But, that’s a good team, they’re well-coached. They’ve got a good goalkeeper, good defense. Great performance, so proud of this club, so proud of all these players. They earned it tonight.
Coach Pirmann on the importance of being on the front foot…
I can’t remember exactly when we scored, but we’ve been on teams from the get-go. Sometimes, if you don’t score in the first 25-30 minutes, there’s maybe a little doubt or the other team catches the second breath. Because we’ve been able to score, we’ve been able to push teams back and that’s what we want to do. We want to be in their face and be on top of them. I’m just so happy for these boys.
Coach Pirmann on the team’s mindset approaching the Eastern Conference Final…
We focus on the things we can influence. We’re fortunate that there were some upsets and we can hold now two more games. It’s always good, being at home, but any team you play right now is going to be very difficult. If it is Louisville, they’ve been to nine straight title games, so you ain’t getting to nine straight title games unless you’re a top club with a great coach, great players, so we’ll be ready for that. We want to enjoy this one. And, like I said, we’re just so proud.
Ycaza on the team’s mindset going into the second half…
I think the second goal, we came out after the half and we said ‘look, we had four clear chances in the first half, we need to be more clinical.’ What we spoke about before the game is that any chance we get, we need to bury it. To come out in the second half and to really put the pressure on and hold the game in their half and finally get that goal, it was just mastered by Nick.
You could tell, [Birmingham] kept subbing off center backs, they kept subbing off everyone and just putting in more attacking pieces, so it becomes a more of a defensive game [for us]. Keeping it, drawing fouls, it becomes a little bit more tactical, more mental.
Ycaza on advancing to host the Eastern Conference Final…
Super, super, super happy about it. We get to host. We just need this whole city of Charleston to back us and come out next Saturday again. [The home-field advantage is] massive. For one, it keeps the whole training week the same. We don’t have to travel anywhere. Every team has to take two fights to get into the city, so it’s tough mentally. And, we know the pitch. We know every centimeter of this grass, so it’s easy for us to play on it.
Ycaza on how the energy in the stadium impacted the match…
Everything. From the starting 11 to the 18, the guys that didn’t come on the bench, you can feel even the guys up in the stands, the family, the friends, the fans… the fans, they put us over the edge again. The crowd is what’s pushing us forward. That’s the biggest advantage we have at home.
The Battery will host Louisville City FC in the USL Championship Eastern Conference Final at Patriots Point on Sat., Nov. 4, at 7:30 p.m. ET. Playoff tickets are available now via SeatGeek.com, the Battery’s exclusive digital ticketing provider.
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