USL PRO Feature
Saturday, September 8, 2012
In the same way that he took advantage of an opening to create the Charleston Battery’s game-winning goal in the 2012 USL PRO Championship Game, Jose Cuevas took advantage of the opening the Battery gave him at the beginning of this season.
Told by Coach Mike Anhaeuser to head home and play for the PDL’s Fresno Fuego in 2011, the standout Battery forward took that year of seasoning and put it to good use, claiming the USL PRO Rookie of the Year award on Friday afternoon, and then the USL PRO Championship Game MVP as his deft through-ball allowed Mike Azira to fire home the only goal of the game in the Battery’s 1-0 win against the Wilmington Hammerheads at Blackbaud Stadium.
“Coach was like, ‘you need to be more aggressive, take guys on’,” Cuevas said. “I’ve been doing that the whole season, and today I kind of struggled with my hamstring injury, I was kind of iffy about it, but when I got the ball, I didn’t think twice, I was like, ‘I’m going to goal’. I saw Mikey make a perfect run, I decided not to be selfish because Mikey played me the ball the first time, and he worked his way through and slotted an amazing finish.”
His hamstring eventually forced Cuevas off the field late in the game, earning a standing ovation from the Battery fans that made up the 4,963 fans in attendance as he limped off, but his influence had already been felt despite the injury. After his fine piece of teamwork with fellow rookie Azira, who timed his run perfectly, the Battery needed to do nothing by hold on to claim victory.
“I didn’t know it was going to be the goal, but as soon as I saw Jose with the ball, I said, ‘I just need to keep myself onside’,” Azira said. “I made that run, and he played me a really good ball, and I made it. It’s unbelievable. The game-winning goal of a championship game.”
For Anhaeuser, whose decision last season proved a boon in the long-run for Cuevas, the way the youngster performed this season, and in the championship game, showed how his game had matured in his season with the Fuego.
“It shows his growth as a player, which is something as a professional is tremendous,” Anhaeuser said. “It’s an opportunity that he had to step into the PDL, and did well, and then come in here, he really gained a lot of confidence last year, and he stepped in right from the first game when we got the Carolina Challenge Cup and showed his quality.”
Not that it wasn’t frustrating for Cuevas to miss the cut last season.
“I had to be really patient,” he said. “My family, thank god they supported me, my girlfriend supported me so much. I’ve struggled though everything trying to get here, I was disappointed I couldn’t come in last year, but I respected Mike Anhaeuser’s decision and I needed to mature soccer-wise. He brought me in early [this season], and thanks God, I feel like he made the right choice.”
It certainly appeared the Battery had a potential star on their hands when Cuevas scored in the Battery’s opening game of the Challenge Cup, converting from the penalty spot to earn his side a 2-2 draw with the Columbus Crew. He continued to perform strongly into the USL PRO season, earning Player of the Week honors for the opening week of the season, and finished with seven goals and four assists to claim his Rookie of the Year award.
After capping his season in perfect style, Cuevas could certainly be back with the Battery next season. After the progression he’s shown in the past two seasons, though, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see him playing at a higher level sooner rather than later.
“To me honest, man, [there are] hardly no words, it’s mostly emotions,” Cuevas said of the championship. “Coming from last year working in the fields, and now champion of USL, it’s a big, big accomplishment, and from here on I just want to keep going up if God lets me.”