Leland Archer is used to being on the soccer field.
At College of Charleston, the lanky, middle defender ate up minutes, logging more than 6,000 during his four-year career with the Cougars. He was an ironman, a fixture in the Cougars’ starting lineup and rarely took a seat on the bench next to his teammates and coaches.
So it was tough for Archer, a native of Port of Spain, Trinidad, to watch from the sidelines during his rookie season with the Charleston Battery. In 2018, the club had a veteran defensive core – led by former Battery captain Taylor Mueller – as the back four defenders averaged more than four years of professional experience.
As good as Archer was, there just wasn’t going to be many opportunities for the talented former Colonial Athletic Association defender of the year. Charleston coach Mike Anhaeuser assured Archer that if he remained patient and worked on his craft, his time would come.
That time is now.
Archer is expected to be in the starting lineup Saturday night when the Battery faces Atlanta United 2 at Ralph Lundy Field at Patriots Point. No fans will be allowed to attend the 8 p.m. game due to the coronavirus pandemic, but they can watch on ESPN+.
After playing sparingly in his rookie campaign and then missing a large chunk of the 2019 season with an injury, Archer, 24, is back where he’s most comfortable, anchoring a defense looking to make the postseason.
“Leland was like a lot of rookies when we signed him. He was the guy on his college team,” Anhaeuser said. “We knew he had the ability to play at the professional level. It was just going to take some time for him to make that move from college to the pros. Every player has to go through it.”
When Archer arrived at the Battery two years ago, the defensive back four featured – Mueller, Jarad van Shaick and O’Brian Woodbine – who combined, had more than two decades of professional experience under their collective belts. Archer played in 13 matches his first season, starting 12 times, but it was a far cry from what he was used to in college.
“My rookie year was frustrating, I wasn’t getting on the field as much as I’d hoped,” Archer said. “I was used to being one of the leaders on my team and getting a lot of minutes. I think that’s where my family played a big role in that transition. They supported me. The older guys helped me get through that phase of my transition from college to the Battery.”
Archer didn’t pout. He listened and learned, taking in as much information as he could from the veteran players.
“He was like a sponge soaking in all the information,” Mueller said.
Last summer, Archer was starting to establish himself in the Battery’s starting 11 – making 18 appearances – but an undisclosed injury against Pittsburgh cut his season short.
Archer returned in 2020 determined to become one of the team’s leaders. He has been a game captain during the season and helped organize the Battery’s back four defenders.
“Leland is having to take on more of a leadership role for us in the back,” Anhaeuser said. “You want all of your back four to be leaders because they are organizing in the back and the midfield. I think Leland’s very comfortable in that role. He’s made tremendous growth with his understanding of what it takes to be successful at this level.”
Flanked by two rookies – Deshaun Nembhard and Rennico Clark – Archer has become the elder statesmen, the guy the young players turn to for advice on and off the field.
Archer’s size and speed – 6-4 and nearly 200 pounds – should help him climb the ranks in pro soccer.
“Leland has size and athletic ability to play at a higher level,” Anhaeuser said. “He can run with almost every forward in our league and he’s becoming a dominant defender.”
The Battery’s roster has gone through almost a complete makeover, and most of the current players have less than three years of professional experience. Anhaeuser knew there would be growing pains early in the season as the players got used to his systems. The four-month hiatus due to the pandemic might have actually helped the team’s chemistry.
“The youth on our team has a very good vibe about it,” Anhaeuser said. “The younger guys are eager, always pushing forward and we’ve got a good mixture of veteran guys. We’re getting better. I think we’ve started to find our rhythm as a team and I knew that would take time with so many new faces.”
SOURCE: The Post and Courier