Stephen Armstrong sprints down the practice field just outside Blackbaud Stadium battling a teammate for a loose ball. At the last instant, he lowers his upper body and using all the power in his sinewy frame, shoulders the defender off the ball.
With the ball won, in typical Armstrong fashion he trips the defender for good measure and crosses it into the penalty box. He turns to his fallen teammate, and with a sly smile, offers a helping hand up and the two jog off.
It has been more than a month since Armstrong has played in a game for the Charleston Battery. The veteran midfielder, who has missed the last dozen matches with an injured ankle, is hoping that his time on the sidelines comes to an end today when the Battery takes on the Puerto Rico Islanders at 8 p.m. at Blackbaud Stadium.
«I think mentally this has been the toughest injury I’ve had to deal with,» said Armstrong, who has appeared in just three games this season. «Watching game after game has been tough, despite the fact that we’ve been doing well. I’m not sure why this injury has been mentally tougher than some in the past, but it has and I can’t wait to get back out on the field.»
Armstrong has battled through a recurring ankle injuring he suffered during the indoor season that has limited him to a total of 88 minutes of action. He was finally cleared to play this week and will most likely be used as a substitute against the Islanders.
«The ankle feels great. I had a couple of full training sessions this week, so I feel like I’m ready to go,» Armstrong said. «The biggest concern is getting my match sharpness and fitness back. I’ve been working hard during the rehab process, but you can do as much bike riding, running and gym exercises as you want. It doesn’t equal a game. All that fitness doesn’t help your timing with your teammates. That’s only going to come during a game.»
Head coach Mike Anhaeuser said he doesn’t want to rush Armstrong back into the lineup. He has 21 goals over the last three seasons with the Battery.
«We’ve still got a lot of the season left, so I don’t want to put him out there and have him get injured again,» Anhaeuser said. «I’m definitely going to try and get him in the game. Hopefully, we’ll be able to use him the final 20 minutes, but that’s the most we’ll see him. He’s the kind of player that can come in at the end of the game and make an impact. I know Stephen is anxious to get back out there, but we’re going to bring him along slowly.»
Two players that Anhaeuser won’t have to pick from tonight are midfielders Ian Fuller and Tsuyoshi Yoshitake, both of whom are out with hamstring injuries. Yoshitake is the team’s leading scorer with seven points on two goals and three assists. Fuller could be out as long as four weeks.
«We’re not sure how severe Ian’s injury is,» Anhaeuser said. «Hopefully it’s not too bad, but he’s going to miss some matches. Tsuyoshi is starting to train again, so hopefully he’s back next week.»
After going unbeaten in the first 14 matches of the season, the Battery dropped back-to-back 1-0 games to the Islanders this past weekend.
«It was a tough weekend, but Puerto Rico is a very, very good team,» said Battery defender Nelson Akwari. «I’m not disappointed in the way we played, I’m disappointed that we could have gotten better results. We had some chances to win both games or at least come out with a draw. Hopefully, the fact that we’re playing on our home field will push us over the top.»