Photo courtesy Charleston Battery
Ahead of the 2016 USL Cup Final, Presented by Nike, we’re taking a look back at the five previous editions of the championship game. Check out the feature story, and remember to tune in this Sunday on ESPNU, the WatchESPN app, or SiriusXM FC 85 as the New York Red Bulls II host the Swope Park Rangers at 8 p.m. ET.
The 2012 USL Cup Final, which saw the Charleston Battery claim their fourth championship in club history against regional rival Wilmington Hammerheads FC, wasn’t a classic, but there was a good explanation as to why that might have been the case. Given the manner in which both sides reached the final, in retrospect, a letdown was always a possibility.
For No. 5-seed Wilmington, the semifinal brought one of the biggest upsets in USL Cup Playoffs history. The Hammerheads went into the Florida Citrus Bowl as underdogs to regular-season champion Orlando City SC, but three goals in the opening half-hour laid the foundation for a shock 4-3 victory for the visitors, as the Lions’ hopes to repeat as champions came up short.
For No. 3-seed Charleston, there was also drama as it visits the No. 2-seed Rochester Rhinos at Sahlen’s Stadium. The Rhinos took a second-half lead through Kendall McFayden, but just as the championship game appeared to be headed to upstate New York, Tony Donatelli scored a stoppage-time equalizer for the Battery. A scoreless half-hour of overtime ensued, sending the game to a penalty shootout, where Rochester had a shot to win. Troy Roberts sent his shot wide, however, and in the seventh round, the Battery’s J.C. Mack converted to send Charleston through.
As a result, the Cup Final itself, played in front of a near-capacity crowd of 4,963 fans at Blackbaud Stadium, proved to be a cagey affair. The Battery had the better of possession and chances, but weren’t able to find the breakthrough until the 74th minute. A slipped through-ball by Jose Cuevas sent Micheal Azira into the left side of the penalty area, and his first-time shot to the right corner found the back of the net to prove the difference between the two teams.
“It was an unbelievable ball from Jose,” Azira said. “As soon as I saw him pivot, I started my run and the ball was right there at my feet. I struck it as hard as I could.”
Cuevas, who had been named USL Rookie of the Year earlier in the Week, added USL Cup Final MVP honors for his role in the win. The honor capped a standout season that had seen him fighting for a place on the Battery’s roster in preseason. After having been one of the club’s last cuts the previous year, Cuevas had returned to California to play in the PDL, and work toward another shot at the pro ranks.
“This makes everything I went through last year worth it,” Cuevas said. “To get this chance with this club, to win a championship, and to be the most valuable player. It’s more than I could have dreamed of.”