Two of the top 17-year-old players in North America could be on opposing sides on Saturday night with the Charleston Battery's Fidel Bajaras potentially facing Louisville City FC's Joshua Wynder.
The first-placed Charleston Battery and second-placed Louisville City square off in a top of the table clash in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference on Saturday night at Patriots Point (7:30 p.m. ET | ESPN+) in another major early regular season contest in the league.
With the Battery undefeated this season as they host the defending Eastern Conference title holders, here are four storylines to know going into the game.
We’ll have to wait for the starting lineups to confirm, but this contest has the potential to bring together two of the top 17-year-old players currently in North America.
On one hand, you have Louisville City FC center back Joshua Wynder. Fresh off his first call-up to the United States Men’s National Team this week and preparing for the FIFA Men’s U-20 World Cup next month, he seems ready to make the jump to Europe at some point this summer.
On the other you have Charleston Battery winger Fidel Barajas, who has continued his upward trajectory with the Battery in his first full season in the professional ranks. Recently turned 17, Barajas is tied for the league-lead with three assists and in February helped lead Mexico to the Concacaf U-17 Championship title.
It could be these two players could end up competing against each other in one of world soccer’s great rivalries a few years from now. We might get a sneak-peek of what that might look like here.
Louisville City FC always tended to have the upper hand over the Charleston Battery since joining the USL Championship in 2015. Across the first four seasons the sides met, LouCity held a 5-2-4 record across the regular season and playoffs, including a pair of playoff wins, one of which came in extra time with LouCity the hosts.
Since the Battery claimed the 2018 regular season series between the clubs with a win and a draw, however, LouCity has gone undefeated in meetings between the sides. That run of three wins and one draw since the start of 2019 has included a pair of 4-1 wins, including in the last meeting between the clubs on August 6 last year when despite conceding first to Augustine Williams, the hosts reeled off four consecutive goals for a convincing win.
This Battery side is much different to that one as its current position on top of the Eastern Conference can attest to. If Charleston can claim its first win in the series since July, 2018 on Saturday night it would only affirm how different this season could be after last year’s struggles.
Louisville City FC conceding eight goals across two regular season games against El Paso Locomotive FC and Sacramento Republic FC was unprecedented in the club’s history. Since then, the side has racked up three consecutive shutouts across all competitions, including holding San Antonio FC to only two shots on target in the club’s 1-0 victory last Saturday at Lynn Family Stadium.
Maintaining that defensive hold is going to be crucial for the visitors against a Battery side that has scored in every game it has played so far, including earning a 1-1 draw in Sacramento itself when it headed to Heart Health Park in March. For LouCity Head Coach Danny Cruz, the side’s defensive structure has remained in focus this week.
“I think we’ve been really strong defensively over the course of the last three games, and we talked about it after the two that didn’t go so well that we needed to get back to that,” said LouCity Head Coach Danny Cruz. “My belief is that we have so much quality that we’re going to score goals, but we needed to make sure we got back to being sound on the defensive side of the ball. That was the messaging after those games, and I feel the players have done everything I’ve asked of them from that standpoint.”
The Charleston Battery's Augustine Williams scored last season against Louisville City FC and is now into the Top 15 in the league's all-time regular season goalscoring leaders. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
Augustine Williams moved into a tie for 15th place in the Championship’s all-time regular season goalscorers list last Wednesday night with his two-goal performance against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. He’s now notched 57 goals since making his debut for the Portland Timbers 2 in 2016, the same number as LouCity legend George Davis IV and Junior Flemmings in the league.
The Sierra Leone international was one of the standouts despite last year’s struggles for the Battery – it’s not often you see players on teams with as few wins as Charleston had in 2022 make the Championship’s All-League Team. Now he’s complemented by arrivals like Nick Markanich (3 goals, 1 assist) and Fidel Barajas (1 goal, 3 assists), giving Williams a chance to drive forward toward the league’s all-time Top 10 before his 26th birthday.