Charleston, SC -- It will be the battle of Bulgaria when the Charleston Battery entertain the EL Paso Patriots on Friday night at Blackbaud Stadium. Or will it? The Battery feature two talented attacking Bulgarian players in Ivailo Ilarionov and Velko Iotov, but niggling injuries have sidelined both for most of the 2000 season. The El Paso Patriots have five Bulgarian players in their line up, including dangerous attacking midfielder Georgiev Bisser and former national team goalkeeper Dimitar Popov. Popov, an opposing keeper that stands at 6'4", was a teammate of Battery striker Velko Iotov in the 1994 Bulgarian national team that took fourth place in the World Cup Finals held in the USA. Iotov is expected to play on Friday night versus his former national team colleague, and is hoping to show the Blackbaud Stadium his class and pedigree after struggling with injury for the entire season. Iotov scored in his debut (a 2-0 season opening road victory over Atlanta) but has only played in three games since due to hamstring and ankle injuries. Before the ankle injury that has kept him out of the last two home games, Iotov was impressive for 60 minutes in his last outing for the battery at Virginia Beach against the Hampton Roads Mariners, setting up a second minute strike for leading goal scorer Paul Conway with a magical flick of his gifted left foot and finding seams in the Mariners defense all night with his excellent control and precision passing. Blackbaud Stadium, fan-favorite Ivailo Ilarionov is doubtful for the contest against some of his former countrymen due to a slight tear of his right hamstring suffered in the 3-1 home win over Hampton Roads on Saturday night. Known as "Ivo" by Battery fans, he is another talented left-footed player that is capable of changing games for Charleston as he did scoring the winner in the 1-0 overtime home opener win over the archrival Atlanta Silverbacks on April 22.
EAST VERSUS WEST: CLASH OF TWO DIFFERENT STYLES:
It is the first ever meeting between the two teams when the El Paso Patriots travel to Charleston to take on the Battery at Blackbaud Stadium on Friday night. Charleston will play El Paso later in the season on Sunday, July 30 in the heat of the Texas desert afternoon sun at Sahuro Stadium in a largely Hispanic soccer-crazed atmosphere. El Paso are leading the competitive A-League Pacific Division with a 7-4-1 record, while the Battery (6-3-2) are on the heels of the Richmond Kickers for the top spot in the tough Atlantic Division. Widely considered as the two most competitive divisions from top to bottom in the A-League, it will be a meeting of two contrasting teams in terms of style of play and should make for an intriguing match.
El Paso favor an Hispanic style of slow, patient short passing possession soccer, while the Battery will look to press the attack with a more direct and athletic style of play. The El Paso Patriots will have to overcome the humidity of Charleston and physical pressure that the Battery will put them under in order to be successful this weekend on their east coast road trip. The Battery will have to contain the El Paso possession in order to dictate the pace and flow of the game.
PATRIOTS PLAYERS TO WATCH:
The Patriots feature probably the most experienced goalkeeper in the A-League in the shape of former Bulgarian National Teamer Dimitar Popov. Popov signed with El Paso from top European club Spartak Varna and leads the Patriot defense along with fellow countryman, Dimitar Vasev who joined El Paso from Locomotiv Sofia.
Experienced A-League midfielder Aaron Lujan, formerly with the Colorado Foxes and Boston Bulldogs, and talented American youngster Kirk Wilson, patrol the Patriot midfield. Wilson was one of the top goal scorers in the A-League in 1998 with the Patriots and spent 1999 with the Dallas Burn of MLS. High scoring Bulgarian midfielder Georgiev Bisser could offer the most threat out of his attacking midfield role with the team. El Paso rely on the forward duo of target man Kevin Noleen and speedy Craig Yacks to help Bisser with the goal scoring responsibility. Yacks was signed by the Patriots in the off season from the Central Division Cincinnati Riverhawks where he was the leading goal scorer the past two seasons and spent brief spells with the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.
BATTERY TEAM NEWS:
As the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference, the Battery feature one of the most potent strike forces in the A-League. Target man Paul Conway leads the team with seven goals and one assist (second in the league in goals scored) and Charleston play maker Temoc Suarez leads the league with seven assists. 1999 First Team All A-League forward Mac Cozier will benefit from the increased role that Suarez is getting in coach Alan Dicks revamped line up recently and will also benefit from the expected return of Bulgarian striker Velko Iotov. Iotov will draw significant attention from the El Paso back line featuring no fewer than two Bulgarian players that are well aware of his ability and could leave space for Cozier to operate. 1998 Battery MVP Todd Miller has been a consistently solid performer for Charleston in midfield this season, as has captain Nicky Spooner. Both players will be counted on heavily to cover for the expected absence of ex San Jose Clash man Braeden Cloutier (knee injury) but will benefit from the return of Jamaican International Dean Sewell from International duty on Friday. The Battery defense has enjoyed spectacular goalkeeping from 1999 A-League All Star goalkeeper Dusty Hudock this season and the solid presence of 1999 Second Team All A-League defender Gilbert Jean-Baptiste who have both played every minute of the 2000 campaign so far.
The Battery is undefeated at home in A-League regular season play in 2000 with a 5-0-1 record.
The first 500 fans through the gates at Blackbaud Stadium on Friday night will receive a sports bag compliments of game day sponsor Alltel. The Care Alliance Health Services half time show features the Tapio School of Dance and Gymnastics and one fan will have an opportunity to win $10,000 in the TBonz Kick for Cash. Game time is at 7:30pm. Gates open at 6:30pm.
The ticket window opens at noon on gameday, tickets are also available for the game by phone at 971-4625 or at Lloyds Sports, Mt.Pleasant. Tickets can also be purchased on the World Wide Web at www.etix.com.