While the Charleston Battery has been around for three decades, much has changed for the soccer franchise in recent years, including a new management group and playing venue, along with an innovative marketing strategy focused on producing video content to introduce to their local brand of sports entertainment to the masses.
Co-owner and executive chairman Rob Salvatore was on hand at the July 20 Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon at the Omar Shrine Temple to detail his journey and vision for the soccer club as a native New Jerseyan, who previously ran a venture-backed content-creation platform.
The 48-year-old club chairman tackled a host of topics, starting with his Patriots Point Soccer Complex home stadium, right across the street from the shrine temple at 85 Patriots Point Road in Mount Pleasant.
“I wanted to make the stadium really a representation of the city. I think of Charleston as a really hospitable place, a place that’s known for food and drink and good times,” he said before touching on the sports aspect of his business.
Salvatore candidly shared that he and his front office are still smarting from a lackluster 2022 season that saw the Black and Gold end the year with a 12th place finish in the USL Championship. But with newly-hired head coach Ben Pirmann in tow, the Battery have bounced back to a second-place standing (21-10-6) in the Eastern Conference as of July 24.
Many of those wins, according to Salvatore, have been of the last-minute variety, with his Battery squad leading the league in victories earned after the 90th minute.
He attributed the team’s new-found vigor and verve on Pirmann’s ability to connect with his athletes who have bought in on his message.
“He’s a great communicator, he’s emotionally intelligent. The dressing rooms are a really, really interesting dynamic. I’ve watched it break bad and you can’t really get it back. So, these guys love him, and I think he’s more than capable in terms of strategy and tactics.”
Another piece to Charleston’s turnaround thus far has been the play of 17-year-old wonderkid Fidel Barajas, who currently leads the league in assists.
“When the ball is on his foot, there’s a palpable sense that something’s going to happen,” said Salvatore of his midfielder, who recently represented the Mexican U-17 team that won the 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
And while the Battery aren’t affiliated with a Major League Soccer (MLS) team, they also roster 22-year-old forward Roberto “Beto” Avila, who’s on loan from the Houston Dynamo.
As for the recruiting side of securing a competitive on-field product, Salvatore credited Club President Lee Cohen and his front-office colleagues for maintaining relationships with several of the bigger clubs and constantly communicating with player agents, who are a “huge part of the connective tissue” relative to reinforcing the roster, per Salvatore.
“One of the things we have going for us is we play in an awesome city, in a pretty cool stadium on grass. We have a great coach and the best executive in the league, so guys want to come here — their agents trust them,” he added.
And while the Battery don’t have a development academy yet, Salvatore noted that the organization routinely hosts youth camps, open training and even 5-v-5 tournaments for young ballers who may one day find themselves donning the black-and-gold vertical stripes.
When asked about the general state of soccer in the States and if our teams will ever gain the respect of older European federations (i.e. Premiere League, Serie A, Bundesliga, etc.), Salvatore forecasted some positive momentum for the sport by analyzing the progress achieved in recent decades.
The quality of play has seen marked improvement over the past 15 years both at the MLS and second-division (i.e. USL) levels, observed the team leader, who is a permanent resident of the Charleston metro area.
In comparing European leagues to our domestic offerings, Salvatore favored the latter due to the more “compelling” nature of not only the MLS and USL, but also of Major League Baseball and the National Football League.
“I can tell you with almost certainty in Germany, Italy, Spain, France, England and Scotland, who’s going to win those leagues. If you gave me 20 names, I would tell you who’s going to win those leagues. I don’t think that’s interesting.”
By the same token, Salvatore conceded that it is hard to compete with the likes of a storied club team like Liverpool that was founded 131 years ago, in 1892.
But judging by the some of the recent investments made by American entrepreneurs in soccer clubs, the future looks bright for U.S. soccer in years to come, said the local impresario.
“I think because the country’s big, there’s more money here and there’s a bigger audience, you have owners with the financial wherewithal, the business acumen to create a league at the highest level ... and that is competitive.”