Colin Falvey, defender and captain of the Charleston Battery, comes from blue-collar Irish stock. The son of a Cork construction worker with six older brothers, he discovered something in his teenage years that would become his ticket to see the world: He could control the back half of a soccer field. He also learned that he carried a bit of Irish folklore in his blood.
"I'm the seventh son of a seventh son, where apparently — this is what I've been told — you're supposed to have some, like, mystical powers or some bullshit," Falvey says. "I've looked it up, but obviously I haven't unlocked those."
With or without supernatural aid, Falvey has had an impressive run since joining the Battery in 2010. The team has won two championships, in 2010 and 2012, and Falvey was named Defender of the Year in 2013 by the USL Professional Division, the third-tier league in American pro soccer. His three-year contract with the Battery runs out at the end of this season, and Falvey says he has been courted by a few Major League Soccer teams so far.
"I've just turned 29. Clubs have been flirting with the idea of me going Major League. That's definitely an avenue that I'd be interested in," Falvey says.
But in the sometimes-transient world of minor-league sports, Falvey has put down roots in Charleston, and he says it would sadden him to leave the Holy City behind. He lives downtown, coaches U-15 soccer at Cainhoy Athletic Soccer Club, and drums up support for the women's national team during viewing parties at local pubs. He's also been known to grab a drink with his fan club, Falvey's Army, originally started by a group of Irish expats.
Falvey previously played for teams in Ireland, England, New Zealand, and Wilmington, N.C., but he says Charleston is the only town so far where fans recognize him on the street. It's an experience that he says even his friends on MLS teams rarely have, and he credits it more to the Battery's longevity and involvement in the community than to his own local rock-star status. "I've never seen a club that encourages the players to interact with the fans so much. I think it's really special here," Falvey says.
Early in his career, Falvey had to decide what direction he would take, whether he would aim for the elite European leagues or try his chances abroad. His choice reflected both his self-honesty and sense of adventure.
"If you're not playing in the top leagues at 22, 23, you're fighting a little bit of a losing battle," Falvey says. "I said, You know what? I've got naught to lose. I can always come back home. The lower leagues will always be there."
Falvey seized an opportunity to play for the New Zealand team Otago United, then crossed the globe to play for the Wilmington Hammerheads before returning to New Zealand's Youngheart Manawatu for a season and then taking a spot on the Battery roster. Today his playing style is physical and aggressive, and he says he's been shaped by a hodgepodge of national playing techniques.
"I think the Irish and English leagues are very, very physical, very, very direct. I think the whole intent is to get the ball forward a little bit quicker. New Zealand had a similar style to England and Ireland because of the U.K. background," Falvey says. "The U.S., though, is a little bit different. The technical side of the game surprised me a little bit. I didn't think it was going to be as good technically ... There's a lot of Latin American influence on the game here as well, so it's a little bit more patient here than at home."
In what might be Falvey's final season in Charleston, the Battery got off to a rocky start, losing or tying their first nine matches as they fielded a young squad of newcomers who had not yet gelled as a team. At one point Falvey feared the Battery wouldn't make the playoffs, but they rallied in the second half of the season, bringing their record up to 10-9-8.
"I've a sneaky feeling, it reminds me a little bit of 2012 when we won it," Falvey says. "We hit a bad patch middle of the season, got ourselves together, went on a good run toward the end of the season, went to the playoffs, and ended up winning the championship when a lot of people kind of wrote us off."
Falvey's left bicep bears the fitting Che Guevara slogan "Hasta la Victoria Siempre" — "Until Victory, Always" — and his success in Charleston is probably owed more to his indomitable spirit and ability to lead a team than any luck-of-the-Irish magic. But he says his six older brothers back in Cork still like to bring up the auspicious circumstances of his birth.
"They went into the family business, and obviously construction's a tough game. You're out in the weather, pouring concrete at six in the morning in snow or rain and you know you've got to do it," Falvey says. "My brothers are always quick to remind me, you've got your powers and you've got your luck."
The Battery will play their final home game of the regular season Fri. Sept. 5 against the Harrisburg City Islanders. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. at Blackbaud Stadium (1990 Daniel Island Drive).