Friday, June 5, 2015
As the summer approached last year, Coastal Carolina forward Ricky Garbanzo faced a choice. Follow what had been his regular path in preparation for the fall, or forge a new path ahead of his senior season.
“Usually I’d go to Costa Rica and play summer ball over there,” Garbanzo said by phone this week, “but I listened to my head coach, Shaun Docking, and he told me to maybe play a PDL season for my last summer.”
With that decision made, the advice of former Chanticleers teammate Justin Portillo saw Garbanzo head north for a season with K-W United FC. Under the guidance of Stuart Neely, who subsequently returned to Toronto FC this offseason, Garbanzo had a strong summer as he helped the club reach the postseason for the first time.
“I enjoyed it, I had a good experience. We came in second in our conference, and we went to the playoffs,” Garbanzo said.
After a goal and two assists in 12 appearances for United, Garbanzo returned to Coastal Carolina and had a stellar senior season for the Chanticleers. With a team-high eight goals, and six assists, Garbanzo led the side to a Big South championship and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
His presence on the field also drew the attention of the USL’s Charleston Battery. An annual opponent every spring, Garbanzo’s two-way play as a forward was appreciated by Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. When MLS didn’t come calling, the native of Rock Hill, S.C. followed fellow Coastal and United alumni Portillo to the historic club.
“I knew that I would start my career in the USL, so I decided to stay close to home,” Garbanzo said.
With the Battery, Garbanzo has quickly become a key member of the squad. With seven starts and appearances in all 11 of the side’s contests this season, Anhaeuser has been impressed with Garbanzo’s adaptation to the professional level.
“I think Ricky has really handled it very well,” Anhaeuser said. “I didn’t know what to expect from the offensive side, because when I have seen him, I knew the work he did off the ball and the little things that he does which are very important to a team.
“He has a nose for the goal, the nose to get into space, and now he’s translating that.He’s really stepping up very quickly. It’s not surprising with the tools and with the way he plays. It’s pretty easy for him to go out and have success.”
Garbanzo and Portillo have both performed well as the Battery have started the new season with a 6-1-4 record, putting them solidly in second place in the USL’s Eastern Conference. Both players have made solid impressions on the Battery’s veterans, including six-year man Zach Prince.
“Justin’s a guy who you can see his quality right from the beginning,” Prince said. “He’s really clean on the ball, he likes to keep it, and his work-rate is also really high.
“Ricky’s more of a guy that, after playing with him for a month or two, you see his qualities come out - how hard he works, the defensive side, how much work he puts in, and how sneaky he is in the attacking third to score a few goals as well.”
Garbanzo has appreciated Prince’s leadership for the side, and is enjoying professional life. His two goals this season have been supplemented by playing an important role for the side in pressuring opposing defenses into mistakes, which has given the Battery the opportunity to regularly turn defense into attack and capitalize on each other’s strengths.
“It’s just knowing our strengths and weaknesses,” Garbanzo said. “We know that Dane Kelly can hold up the ball and go at players, and he’s fast. We know Justin Portillo can pass the ball well, so we rely on each other to excel with the abilities we have, and we use them.”
Garbanzo’s strengths have certainly been a boon for the Battery in his rookie season, as Charleston looks to earn a third championship since 2010.
“Our biggest key to maintaining our success is just staying focused in practice and continuing on from each game,” Garbanzo said. “Listening to coach, and trying to be the best we can in the league. We know we can finish in first, we’re only three points behind [Rochester], but we know we need to take it one day at a time in practice and concentrate on our main goals for each game.”