The Charleston Battery have advanced to the second round of the USL Playoffs after they dug deep to reverse a 1-0 deficit in Cincinatti, coming from behind to win 2-1 thanks to goals from Chris Tsonis and Zach Prince.
The match was in front of an astounding 30,000-plus crowd at Nippert Stadium, breaking the USL Playoff attendance record by some 10,000, and continuing FC Cincinatti’s stellar attendance figures.
The Battery could’ve capitalized on a mistake as early as the fifth minute, when Mitch Hildebrandt in goal for the home side dilly dallied with the ball at his feet and had it tackled away. Just as Romario Williams was shaping up to shoot however, the ‘keeper dived back onto the ball and the danger was averted.
On nine minutes, Andrew Wiedeman had a shot from distance, but the effort went well wide of Alex Tambakis in the Battery goal.
But ten minutes later, midfielder Eric Stevenson had acres of space about 25 yards from goal, looked up and decided to have his own pop at goal. This time, the shot was much better, as it arrowed into the top corner, giving the hosts a 1-0 lead.
The fact that no one came out to close down the effort is something the Battery defense will be frustrated with, but take nothing away, the goal was brilliant, and Cincy were in front, leaving the Battery under the cosh a little, especially with such a big crowd on their back.
But perhaps the biggest credit given to the Battery was that the heads didn’t drop. The long ball up to strikers Romario Williams and Chris Tsonis was effective, and the visitors stuck to the game plan.
Their next chance was on the half an hour mark as good build up play found Zach Prince with a bit of space, but his shot went straight to Hildebrandt.
On 35′, Shaun Okoli, who was the Golden Boot winner in the USL regular season, was played in behind, but seemed indecisive as an apparent shot hit the side netting.
Five minutes later, it was something the Battery fans know well that gave them a lifeline. A long throw by Obi Woodbine sailed into the box and found the head of Chris Tsonis, who simply out-jumped Hildebrandt and nodded the ball into an empty net. The home side were looking for a foul on the ‘keeper, but on replay, it showed that Hildebrandt had positioned himself in a side-on position to get more power on a punch, but Tsonis got his head to the ball first, and the score was level.
Woodbine’s throw-in has been an effective weapon throughout the season, and his rocket-launcher like throw in came in handy again, getting the Battery right back into the thick of things.
But yet, Alex Tambakis would have to come up big as we entered stoppage time in the first half, when a ball lofted up into the box found Weideman, who took a touch, but couldn’t get an effort at goal off as Tambakis came and smothered the ball.
Cincinatti had a quick succession of corners, but nothing came of them, before a corner on the hour mark led to a counter from Romario Williams. He was without options and had to go it alone, racing toward goal against three Cincinatti defenders before shooting just before he got into the penalty area, and the effort was blazed over.
But then, on 64’ Zach Prince got to the edge of the box, and looked to shoot before being crowded out, and got the ball to Dante Marini just before the ball was cleared, who then played Romario Williams in stride, who forced a fantastic save from Mitch Hildebrandt to deny the Battery’s leading scorer the go ahead goal.as the ball went out for a corner.
The danger wasn’t over though, as Maikel Chang took the set piece that found Prince at the front post, who aimed a header toward goal, and the ball bounced off the defender on the line, went along the goal line and settled in the left side of the net to give the Battery the lead.
The Battery had been slowly gaining momentum up to that point, but the home side’s failure to deal with set pieces had come back to haunt them not once, but twice. The Battery had come back from a goal down, and only needed to hold on to get into the next round.
Pat McMahon took the initiative though four minutes later after he was on the end of some good buildup play, but his shot went high over the bar.
On 70′, Shaun Okoli took down a deflected pass and turned his man before getting a shot off, but the effort was saved by Tambakis.
Then, a minute later, the subs began for the Battery, with Naviel Hackshaw coming on for Chris Tsonis. Tsonis, with the first half goal to equalize for the Black and Yellow, took his tally up to four for the year, all of which were equalizers.
Cincinnati had some dangerous build up again on 72′ before Corben Bone found Andrew Weideman, who took a crack on the volley, but his shot was saved by Tambakis.
Heviel Cordoves replaced Romario Williams on 77′. Williams quietly went about his business in this game, providing pace and getting involved in link up play, but he’ll be frustrated that his only real chance, the breakaway midway through the second half, was blazed wide.
And then Stevenson, who already had a worldie today, took a crack from distance with 8 minutes to go, but the shot would go wide.
The home side would pile on the pressure late, earning a few free kicks, including one which was played toward the back post, which was saved by Tambakis in the 84th.
A short corner with a minute in normal time to go could’ve killed the game off for the visitors, but Attaulla Guerra’s shot after a cheeky one two and turn into the box went straight at the ‘keeper.
Hearts were in mouths for both sides as the board went up for four minutes stoppage time, and again when Cincinnati got a corner in the dying seconds, but nothing really came of the late possession that the home side had, and as the ball was cleared by the Battery defense following the corner, the referee blew for full time.
And so, it was the Battery, going up to Cincinnati and pulling off the upset, coming from behind to win. After Louisville beat Richmond after extra time, it will be Louisville next away from home for the Battery.
GAME WINNER ZACH PRINCE FIGHTS FOR A BALL WITH A GOALKEEPER EARLIER IN THE SEASON. PHOTO CREDIT ROSS ALMERS PHOTOGRAPHY