This was the situation for young striker Nick Markanich. He was drafted by MLS outfit FC Cincinnati after a goal-littered college career at Northern Illinois, but he struggled for consistent playing time in the country’s top flight through his rookie year of 2022.
“You want to be where you’re going to play and where you’re wanted,” said the 23-year-old who, on paper, made a step down the American professional ladder to join the Charleston Battery. But the reality, for this soft-spoken young man, is something more complex.
“I don’t see it as a step back at all, I see it as a place where I get to do what I want to do,” he said. “To get some minutes under my belt and just enjoy what I’m doing…”
That enjoyment is very much mutual.
A Perfect FitMarkanich, tall and lean and fitting into the USL Championship side like a hand in a glove, has scored four goals so far in his seven league appearances. And he’s got two more in two rounds of Open Cup play. One came against NISA’s Savannah Clovers before an extra-time winner against USL League One side Charlotte Independence in the Third Round.
His contributions have helped turn the Battery, who sit one point off top spot in the Championship standings, into genuine two-front contenders.
“Nick is a top player,” said Coach Ben Pirmann, who took over at the start of this season following a hard 2022 in which the club finished near-bottom of the league under then boss Conor Casey. “He [Markanich] plays a variety of roles in our attack, and is able to create and finish. Even more importantly, he’s very good at initiating the pressure on our opponents when they’re in possession.”
Coach Pirmann, who helped put his hometown side Detroit City FC on the map between 2013 and 2018, saw the value of the multi-faceted Markanich right from the start. As long as he’s near the goal, the Illinois-born attacker is pretty much a swiss army knife.
“I’m happy to go wherever the coach puts me,” said Markanich. “As a winger or in any of the top four positions – a number nine, a withdrawn striker, attacking midfielder – wherever I’m needed.”
Another piece to the happy puzzle is personality. It’s not uncommon for a player, especially one coming from the MLS ranks, to arrive with at least a little chip on his shoulder. Not so with the humble Markanich, whose twin brother Anthony plays for the Colorado Rapids (who are still alive in the 2023 Open Cup and a possible later-stage opponent for the Battery).
Positive Attitude & Impact
“Everyone’s great here,” said the player who, immediately upon arrival, put his head down and got about the business of making the Battery better. “He [Markanich] brings a smile and a positive mindset daily, supports his teammates, but also has a fierce drive to win,” said Pirmann.
There’s much to learn about a new league and a new team – and Markanich is already soaking up all there is to know about the rich history of the Charleston Battery. That goes all the way back to the club’s founding in 1993, eight years before the forward was born.
“I didn’t know a lot of stuff about the Battery, like how they went to an Open Cup Final,” he said, of that time in 2008 with a young Ozzie Alonso prowling in midfield, that the Battery finished Open Cup runners-up. “I’m learning as I go and it just feels great to be a part of something like this.”
Markanich’s stretch in MLS with Cincinnati was limited in terms of league minutes, stuck – as he was – in the unfortunate role of understudy to the outstanding Brandon Vázquez. He made only seven appearances for the first team, earning two starts in last year’s Open Cup. “We beat the [Pittsburgh] Riverhounds,” he remembered. “And then we went up and lost to the New England Revolution [a 5-1 defeat on Gillette Stadium’s 20th anniversary in which league MVP Carles Gil scored three].
This year, the 110-year old tournament is once again providing a platform for the youngster to shine. He's no longer a bit-part fill-in player, but a rising star being tended to with care. His two goals in two rounds were crucial in setting up a Round of 32 Open Cup date with Inter Miami CF of MLS.
Major League Opponent Awaits
For the club it’s a chance to reach the Round of 16 and keep the tradition of the Battery alive in the Open Cup. And while Markanich has the chance to go up against a team from MLS – the league where started his pro career – don’t think for a minute he’s got an ax to grind. He’s not that type. But he does want to win. And you can make bank on that.
“We couldn’t be more excited to play against an MLS team,” said Markanich of the next test in the Open Cup, where his old team, FC Cincinnati, are still alive and a possible opponent in future rounds. “There’s a huge excitement to go down to Miami and play against a team from the top league. For a lot of guys in our team, it will be their first time doing that.”
Markanich, on the other hand, will just continue on resetting his career in a place where he’s wanted and his roots can take firm hold.
“Everybody’s been great to me since I arrived – the fans, my teammates and the coaches,” said the player, with a genuine hint of gratitude in his voice. “I made the right choice coming here. And in the Open Cup we just want to keep going as far as we can and keep carrying the name of the Battery forward.”
Fontela is editor-in-chief of usopencup.com. Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.