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Carolina Challenge Cup Paved MLS Preseason’s Path

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 02/12/17, 11:53AM EST


Since 2004’s debut, Battery have welcomed top-class talent to Charleston

It’s hard to miss the MLS Preseason nowadays thanks to events like the Desert Diamond Cup hosted by the PDL’s FC Tucson, the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Suncoast Invitational, and the Portland Timbers’ Preseason Invitational at Providence Park.

But back in 2004, none of the preseason tournaments was close to being on the landscape when the Charleston Battery unveiled the inaugural edition of the Carolina Challenge Cup.

“We’d always brought Major League Soccer teams in for a single exhibition game before the season started. We’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve been with the club,” recalled Battery President Andrew Bell. “I think when we won the A-League championship in 2003, Wilmington had also won the USL D-3 championship that previous year, and we thought there might be an opportunity to start a tournament in the Carolinas with us, Wilmington and a couple of MLS teams.”

That opportunity turned into the MLS Preseason event that arguably set the course for all of those that followed. D.C. United, and offseason signing Freddy Adu, were the star attractions in the tournament’s opening year, and the then-youthful starlet scored the first goal as D.C. defeated the Battery 2-1 in the first game at what is now MUSC Health Stadium.

The addition of the club’s soccer-specific stadium in 1999 provided the impetus for the event, with the club looking to add more events to the USL games that were the staple throughout the summer. Opened a few weeks before the opening of the CCC’s inaugural winner Columbus Crew SC’s MAPFRE Stadium, and the first of its kind in the United States, MUSC Health Stadium has been the backdrop to many memorable contests and championship games in its history.

“It was great for the club, and it was great for the players, to be here as a player was fantastic,” said former Battery player and current Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser. “You had your own place to play, it was the best in the league – I still think it is – and I still think it’s just as good as any of the MLS stadiums. It was a tremendous accomplishment for the club, it only helped us grow, being able to bring in players and also to grow the club.”

Photo courtesy Kim Morgan Gregory / Charleston Battery

Photo courtesy Kim Morgan Gregory / Charleston Battery

Some familiar faces from that inaugural edition will also be back this year to take on Anhaeuser’s Battery side. D.C. United Head Coach Ben Olsen was still a player for the club back then, while Seattle Sounders FC defender Chad Marshall – who scored twice for the Crew in 2004’s tournament – is still going strong, for the defending MLS Cup champions.

For Bell, though, the growth of MLS had added to the prestige of the event. Two years ago the Battery welcomed both David Villa and NYCFC and Kaka and Orlando City SC to the tournament, while this year the likes of Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro for Seattle, Wil Trapp, Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain for Columbus and Miguel Almiron, Greg Garza and Hector Villalba for Atlanta promise to bring serious star-power to the Low Country.

“It’s been great not just for the club from an economic standpoint but also for the community and being able to bring in some of the names that we’ve brought in, massive names in the world of soccer that have come here and competed in the tournament,” said Bell. “We were at the Combine in Los Angeles a few weeks ago and I saw Ben Olsen, who is of course the Coach of D.C. United, but I can remember when he was playing in the tournament, and there’s a lot of little threads like that have run through the event over the years and will continue to evolve as the event continues to grow.”

When the whistle blows next Saturday to signal the start of the CCC’s latest edition, the original, and arguably still best, MLS preseason tournament will add another chapter into a great history.

“When we were able to bring in three MLS teams to Charleston with the Battery, it made it an event that was just tremendous for the organization, and for the community,” said Anhaeuser. “It was great for the club, but it was also so important for the city and the community to bring in soccer, and show the community how it’s not just the Battery, how much the sport is growing. Bringing in those MLS teams in the preseason, it’s only grown from there.”

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