North County Battalion are back home this weekend, hosting Temecula FC. Here are three storylines to keep your eyes on as kickoff approaches.
1. The Battalion Flair
Last week, on a pitch that seemed like it had the width of a two lane highway, NC Battalion winger Esteban Reyes was kept quiet for the first time all season. Last Sunday’s match in Riverside against Deportivo Coras ended with a 1-1 draw, and the absence of any real flair in the Battalion attack was worrisome.
“Esteban was kept quiet last week,” said Head Coach Ryan Guy. “But he still looked dangerous. I think he’s going to pick up right where he left off.”
You could chalk it up to the narrow pitch, or perhaps the gritty and organized defending from Coras. Either way, the Battalion will need more from not only Reyes, but the likes of Blake Milton, Eric Lopez, and Adam Meltz, players with speed, finesse, and attacking flair from the outside positions if they are to do the job against Temecula.
Milton was influential in the Battalion’s one goal in Riverside, and had some electric moments where he was able to show off his quickness, even with the lack of space. Lopez was injured by a stiff challenge from Coras’ defender Cody Shelton just before half-time, and is still questionable for this Sunday’s game. That injury opened the door for Adam Meltz, a man more commonly known as “Cheezy”.
The former Manchester United youth product did not have his best performance, and looked like he was on an island at times. It was his first action of the NPSL season, after picking up an MCL injury in late March, during a friendly against none other than Temecula FC. Meltz had a gorgeous assist to Sergio Ortiz in that pre-season affair, and is anxious to help his team get back in the win column.
2. The Arrival of Elijah
“Will there be any new players coming in?” This question has been asked quite a bit by Battalion fans over the last couple weeks, and it’s no swipe at the current squad. Other teams in the NPSL Southwest have been bringing in reinforcements as the season progresses. The Battalion now have their first mid-season signing in the books, and it’s a familiar face to fans of soccer in San Diego.
Elijah Galbraith-Knapp (you can call him Eli) is a former Torero, who played for the University of San Diego from 2010-2013. He most recently suited up indoors for the Baltimore Blast, who just captured the 2015/16 Major Arena Soccer League championship. Prior to the Blast, he played for the Tulsa Roughnecks of the United Soccer League, registering 17 appearances and 1 goal in the 2015 season.
“Eli’s a very mobile center midfielder,” said Ryan Guy. “He knows how to keep things simple but can exploit gaps in the opposition’s defense. He’s a well traveled, experienced professional. We’re glad to have him. He’ll most likely be playing this Sunday.”
Galbraith-Knapp has already brought energy and quality to Battalion training sessions. His blonde hair is easily recognizable, as is his cool, calm, and collected nature in the center of the park.
Guy and his staff have shuffled the midfield around through the first four NPSL matches. Nelson Pizarro has played as a true number 10 and in a holding, slightly more defensive role that also allowed him to “quarterback” the team’s attack. Kichi Perez was missing last week due to family issues, and his last match (at home against Albion Pro’s) saw him play a much more withdrawn role than normal. The wings have seen a variety of personnel show their worth. Apart from central stalwart Berrick Rastok and the ever crafty in attack Esteban Reyes, no one player has played the same midfield position in the opening four matches.
That’s where Eli comes into play.
“I’m really confident that he can be instrumental in solidifying the midfield,” Guy said. “I’m excited to see how he really links up with the other players in the center of the park.”
And as for the alma mater, the Battalion Head Coach seems pretty delighted.
“You’ve got to love those USD boys,” Guy said with a grin. One might be inclined to think that Guy himself played for the Toreros. He did, from 2003-2006.
3. Getting off the Schneid
Here’s some numbers that might make Battalion fans cringe.
As of kickoff on Sunday, it will have been 21 and one half days since the team’s last victory.
177 minutes of soccer have been played without a Battalion player scoring a goal. (That goal came from Esteban Reyes against Albion Pro’s on April 16th. Their goal last weekend in Riverside was an own goal courtesy of Coras’ Fernando Cabello.)
Here’s some numbers and stories that will make those same fans hopeful.
In their three NPSL matches, Temecula, who sit at the basement of the Southwest table, have logged more red cards than goals or points.
After being beaten 2-0 by Albion Pro’s in Pacific Beach on opening day, a nasty affair at Cal Lutheran University against Hasental followed. That game saw Temecula lose 1-0 and have two players sent off. Defender Steven Lamberta was shown two yellows and the exit door for unsporting behavior, while forward Jose Romero was given a straight red for elbowing a Hasental player in the face. Both players served their suspensions during their 1-1 draw with So Cal SC, and will both most likely see the field on Sunday against the Battalion.
“They’ve always been a tough team,” said Guy. “I’m not going to put too much stock into where they’re currently at in the table. They’ve got some talent up top, and are extremely organized at the back.”
While Temecula is at the bottom, they have only conceded four goals on the season. The Battalion find themselves in third place, having scored more goals, eight, than any other team in the NPSL Southwest Division. They’ve also conceded seven, the most in the league.
This is a game the Battalion expect to win. This is a game they need to win. Temecula are coming off a bye-week, and have had plenty of time to regroup after a difficult start to their campaign.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1 PM on Sunday afternoon, May 1st, at Del Norte High School. If you can’t make it to the match, you can catch all the action LIVE on the North County Battalion YouTube channel.