Charleston, SC. The Charleston Battery is gearing up for the final weekend of regular season play on the heels of the Richmond Kickers for first place in the Atlantic Division with the chance of winning the Division and earning the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The Atlantic Division Champion will earn the highest seed in the east and the right to home field advantage throughout the A-League playoffs, a situation that bodes well for both the Battery and Kickers, two teams with only one loss at home all season. The Battery start their quest for the Division Championship with the regular season home finale looking to derail arch-rival and nemesis Raleigh Express at Blackbaud Stadium on Friday night. A blockbuster game is expected as it is a must win for both teams: Charleston need a win to keep Division Championship hopes alive; Raleigh need a win to make the playoffs. The winner of the game Friday night will also capture the first annual "Southern Derby" Cup, a competition started between the Battery, Atlanta Silverbacks and Express fans. Charleston and Raleigh are tied at 2-1-0 in the Southern Derby Cup standings with 6 points (based on five games played between Atlanta, Charleston and Raleigh) with the winner of the game Friday lifting the trophy and bragging rights until next season. The "Southern Derby" was organized by die-hard members of the three southern A-League teams supporters club's, The Blue Army (Atlanta), The Regiment (Charleston) and the X-Men (Raleigh). The Southern Derby is a non-official competition that is not sanctioned by the A-League.
Raleigh Preview: The Express features a talented roster that is enjoying its best season in club history in the A-league under first year head coach John Dugan. Dugan has the Express on the verge of the Eastern Conference playoffs after posting an 11-12-4 record in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division, good for 54 points. The four games played in a five-game series with the Battery stands at 1-2-1 this season with one to go. Raleigh is led offensively by former Wake Forest standout Ihor Dotsenko with 15 goals. He is joined in the attack by two former Battery players, College of Charleston all American Chad Carithers and Ryan Walker. Walker joined the Battery on loan from the Wilmington Hammerheads at the end of the 1999 season and scored the overtime winning goal in the 2-1 victory over the Hershey Wildcats a year ago which sent the Battery to the playoffs. The Express midfield is marshaled by Umbro Select All A-League pick Carson White, former Maryland standout Randy Merkel and Southern Conference UNC-G performer Matt Farris. The Raleigh defense that will have to contain the powerful Battery attack is led by former Battery defender Eddie Rodrigues, who occupies the role as sweeper in the Express 3-5-2 system. First year A-League keeper Chris Lewis has earned the starting job with Raleigh in 2000 after spending two weeks with the Battery at the end of the 1999 season on loan from the Wilmington Hammerheads (USL D3).
Battery Team News: The Battery will present 2000 season fan choice Player awards prior to kickoff on Friday night at Blackbaud Stadium. Up for grabs are four awards: Rookie of the Year, Offensive and Defensive MVP and Most Valuable Player. Two of the Battery players that received these awards in 1999 where drafted by Major League Soccer in February of this year. 1999 Defender of the Year John Wilson was the first round draft pick of the Kansas City Wizards (first A-League player taken in the draft) and 1999 MVP Mike Burke was drafted by DC United. 1999 Offensive MVP Paul Conway is on target for another great year in 2000. He currently leads the Battery in scoring with 37 points (15 goals and 7 assists) good enough for second in the A-League. 1999 first team all A-League striker Mac Cozier has risen up the A-League leader chart with a strong August and now has 25 points (10 goals and 5 assists). Charleston native and Blackbaud Stadium fan favorite Temoc Suarez leads the A-League in assists with 10 and needs one more to shatter the all time Battery record for assists in a single season that was set in 1995 by Chris Veselka. 1999 Battery Rookie of the Year Gilbert Jean-Baptiste earned International honors this year after a sensational first year as a pro last season. Baptiste has played a number of times for Haiti in 2000 and has been a fixture in the Battery team that is the highest scoring in the Eastern Conference. Also ever present in the for Charleston lineup in 2000 are goalkeeper Dusty Hudock, captain Nicky Spooner and defenders Darren Warham and Alan Woods. Hudock has been outstanding again this season and leads the team in minutes played at 2, 361. Iron man English defender Nicky Spooner leads the field players in minutes played in 2000 with 2,227. Talented Bulgarian forward Velko Iotov is out with a hamstring injury that will sideline him for the weekend but it is hoped that he will be available for the first round playoff fixture on September 9. Jamaican midfielder Dean Sewell returns to action for the Battery this weekend after starting in a 6-0 thrashing of the Grand Cayman last Sunday for the Jamaican National Team in an International friendly. Sewell is currently third in scoring for the Battery in 2000 with 19 points (8 goals and 3 assists). He missed the 2-0 road win over Atlanta last Saturday while on his latest tour of International duty with the Jamaica "Reggae Boyz."
What: Charleston Battery V Raleigh Express
When: Friday September 1, 7:30pm.
Where: Blackbaud Stadium
Game Promotions. Tickets can be purchased in advance on the phone at 971-GOAL, at Lloyds Sports in Mt. Pleasant or online at www.etix.com. Tickets are also available on game day at the West Stand Box Office at 12 noon to game time. Gates open at 6:30pm with Kickoff scheduled for 7:30pm. Fans can enjoy the care Alliance Health Services halftime show that will feature the Walterboro Sky Diving demonstration team. The first 750 fans through the gate will receive a free tee-shirt compliments of game day sponsor Sprint PCS. One fan will have a chance to win $10,000 in the T-Bonz Kick for Cash contest.
Next Game: The Battery play at Central Division Cincinnati Riverhawks on Monday September 4. The game will be aired live on the Charleston Battery Skatells Radio Network at 910 am WTMZ and online at www.charlestonbattery.com.