By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
With eight of their next nine games on the road, the Charleston Battery couldn't afford to give away any more points at Blackbaud Stadium.
Osvaldo Alonso scored two goals and Dusty Hudock and Keith Wiggans combined for a shutout as Charleston defeated Vancouver, 2-0, before a crowd of 3,465 on Sunday night.
The win improved the Battery to 10-6-4 (34 points), moving Charleston into a first-place tie with the Whitecaps (10-5-4, 34 points) in the USL First Division.
With six weeks left in the regular season, Charleston has just two more league games at Blackbaud, a venue where the Battery has enjoyed a 9-2-2 mark this season. The Battery isn't home again until Aug. 29 against Puerto Rico.
"It doesn't matter when you play your home games, you always want to get three points out of them," said Charleston coach Mike Anhaeuser. "In April, in August, or September, it doesn't matter, you want to win and that's why this game was so important for us. We needed to get three points tonight with all the road games we've got coming up."
The Battery won with a smothering defense that allowed just three shots on goal against the leg-weary Whitecaps, who were playing their third road game in the last week.
"As a whole I thought we kept our shape all match," said Battery captain Nelson Akwari. "We didn't give them many scoring chances. They had a couple of dangerous crosses, but overall, I thought we were solid defensively."
For the second time this season against the Whitecaps, an early goal proved to be crucial in the outcome of the game.
In Vancouver's 2-0 win over the Battery in May, an early Whitecaps goal set the tone for the match.
On Sunday, it was Alsono's goal in the 10th minute that forced the Whitecaps to chase the Battery around the field for the final 80 minutes.
"The heat index was about 100 degrees at kickoff and Vancouver looked like a tired team," Anhaeuser said. "You have to work so much harder when you're behind and we wanted to tire (Vancouver) out as much as we could."
The Battery grabbed a 1-0 lead on Alonso's third goal of the season in the 10th minute.
Alonso picked up a loose ball near Charleston's 18-yard box and flipped it forward to Randi Patterson. Patterson made a strong run down the middle of the field and found Stephen Armstrong just outside the Whitecaps' 18-yard box. Armstrong made a beautiful one-touch pass to Alonso, who ran wide to the left side of the net and slipped the ball between the legs of Vancouver keeper Jay Nolly for the score.
"What a great goal, but I was a little worried that the ball wasn't going to go in," Anhaeuser said. "We had a nice build-up, a couple of nice passes and then a great finish by Osvaldo. That was a tough angle to take the shot form, but it was a great finish. That really put us on our toes for the rest of the half."
Charleston made it 2-0 on Alonso's penalty kick in the 61st minute. After a strong build-up by the Battery, the ball was played into Patterson inside the six-yard box. Vancouver defender Wesley Charles shouldered the former UNC Greensboro All-American to the ground. Referee Niko Bratsis immediately called for a Battery penalty kick.
Alonso slipped the ball behind Nolly for the score on the penalty kick.
-- The Charleston Battery observed a moment of silence before the game for West Ashley High School keeper Robbie Owens, who died in an automobile accident last week.
-- Charleston keeper Dusty Hudock was forced to leave the game in the 18th minute after a collision with Vancouver defender Omar Jarun during a corner kick.
-- Former College of Charleston star Keith Wiggans replaced Hudock in net for the rest of the match.
-- Defenders John Wilson and Kevin Nylen returned to the lineup after missing Friday night's game with Atlanta. Nylen was suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards, while Wilson has been slowed recently by an ankle injury.
-- Lazo Alavanja missed his third straight game with a sprained ankle.