Romario Williams was the talk of the town Saturday night as his hat trick and assist led the Charleston Battery to an emphatic 5-0 win over the Rochester Rhinos.
Three goals in 12 minutes for the center forward had the Battery comfortably in front inside the first half an hour, before Williams and Attaula Guerra would expertly combine to send the Battery into half time 4-0 up. Odisnel Cooper would have to make some good saves on the other side of the interval before Maikel Chang‘s first goal of the season would serve as the icing on the cake with just under ten minutes to go, giving the Black and Yellow their first win over the Rhinos in three years in great fashion.
There were four changes to Mike Anhaeuser‘s lineup tonight. Kotaro Higashi and Tah Brian Anunga would make their full debuts for the Battery, while Obi Woodbine returned from suspension and Odisnel Cooper was in goal ahead of Alex Tambakis as he and Mikey Ambrose would suit up for Atlanta United against Montreal in MLS.
The Battery came out with a plan to press high up the pitch, as getting the first goal would be vital if the Battery were going to get anything from the game, given the Rhinos’ tendency to rely on their usually stout defense if they found themselves in front. The tactic worked just as they planned it, and they gave the returning Obi Woodbine a chance to launch a ball into the box off a throw in toward Forrest Lasso, whose snap header went just wide in the third minute.
Just before 10′, Romario Williams almost intercepted a soft header back to the goalkeeper, who would just reach for the ball seconds before the ball’s bounce could leave the striker in on goal.
The home fans were up in arms seconds later, as Attaulla Guerra would connect with Williams on the through ball, leaving the striker one on one with the goalkeeper, and he tried to ’round him before the forward would go down under apparent contact. The referee wasn’t impressed however, and gave a goal kick.
But Williams would by no means be disgruntled, as five minutes later, he would get the ball on the edge of the box and use his strength to muscle his way past three defenders before poking the ball into the back of the net.
It was Williams’ second goal of the year after his strike against Charlotte on the way to a 2-0 win in the season’s first Southern Derby, and given the previous result, the hope was that tonight would be the same.
And to that end, he wasn’t done. It was Superhero night at MUSC Health Stadium, and on 25 minutes, Williams would channel The Flash as he would win a footrace with a defender that left him one on one with the goalkeeper, and Williams would calmly slot the ball into the bottom corner to double the Battery’s advantage.
Two minutes later, it was three. Obi Woodbine would cap his return from suspension with an assist as his throw in high up the pitch would look for Williams in the box. The throw would make a defender bite and the unsuccessful clearance would only leave the striker wide open. He would take a touch and slot ball home into the opposite corner, giving Williams the hat trick, and the Battery a 3-0 lead.
And yet, somehow, they still weren’t done. This time, Williams would play provider, controlling the ball on the right wing before cutting in and playing Attaula Guerra. The two would play a couple of give and go’s before Guerra found himself on the edge of the box with his back to goal. He wasn’t to be denied though, using his strength to stand his man up before creating space to turn and shoot toward the opposite corner, with the ball dinking off the inside of the post and finding its way into the net.
The goal was the Battery’s fourth on the night, and Guerra’s second in three games. He seems to be thriving in a more advanced role, playing just off the Striker, with Williams and Guerra building a pretty successful partnership, combining this season for a total of six goals so far, which is a welcome statistic, given that the team were reliant on the midfield pair of Justin Portillo and Maikel Chang for the creative spark for much of the previous campaign.
However, the Battery couldn’t rest on their laurels just yet, as right before half time, an over-hit cross was headed back toward Cooper in the Battery goal, but the ball took a dangerous bounce and left the shot-stopper in a bit of bother with a Rochester forward racing in, though he would meet the ball half-way and turn his back, retrieving it safely.
And so, the Battery went in at half-time well on top, in stark contrast to last week, when they didn’t take the chances they created, which came back to haunt them in the end.
Just after the second half began, Williams could’ve easily had a fourth. He latched onto a well placed long ball, and as the goalkeeper came out to try to claim, the hat trick hero’s attempt to lift the ball over his head was successful, but would fall into the side netting for a goal kick.
Down at the other end after 48′, Odisnel Cooper was forced into his first real save of the evening as Forrest Lasso was beaten to a ball which left Cooper one on one, but the goalkeeper would save at the near post and then proceed to clear his own rebound into the stands. You could say it’s much easier to take chances such as leaving your goal unattended when you’re up four goals, but when you do, you have to be commanding, and he was in this instance as the ball went out for a throw in.
Maikel Chang was still on the hunt for his first goal of the campaign, and would nearly find it a couple minutes later. Some great build up play led to a dangerous position on the edge of the box. Chang found himself as the extra man, and tried to curl an effort past the goalkeeper into the opposite corner, but the effort was saved.
On 53′, Cooper was forced into another good save, steering a shot wide of his left post before the ensuing corner was cleared.
Justin Portillo would put a shot wide left after finding himself on the edge of the box, though unable to find his way through the backline.
The 61st minute saw the end of the night for Obi Woodbine, who after three games out, deserved a rest after a good night’s work. He was replaced by Skylar Thomas, another debutant, picked up from Toronto FC II in the offseason.
Maikel Chang would again be involved on 68′, when his ball toward Kotaro Higashi was taken down well, but the bounce of the ball after a good first touch left too much for the midfielder to do as it would roll to the ‘keeper.
With 15 minutes to go, Chang would maneuver through three defenders, but unlike Williams before him, he couldn’t convert the chance as the ball bounced up on him just before he took a shot and it went high.
Romario Williams would exit the game shortly after, his hat trick and assist in the first half more than enough to warrant the standing ovation he got from the Battery faithful. His hat trick taking his goal tally for the season up to four, already nearly half the ten in all competitions last year. Coming on as his replacement was Heviel Cordoves, who would make a mark on proceedings himself as the game went on.
A great cross by Quinton Griffith found Higashi in the box, but the winger, easily the shortest man on the pitch, couldn’t quite direct his header on frame as it went wide.
Justin Portillo would try and redirect another tasty looking ball on target after 78′, but the effort went high and nearly hit the scoreboard behind the goal.
But the Battery still weren’t finished, and Maikel Chang was not to be denied. With nine minutes of normal time left, a pass by the substitute, Thomas was flicked on at the near post by Cordoves, and the ball found Chang on the right side of the box, just behind the penalty area. The playmaker took a touch to settle himself before calmly dispatching the ball into the net, reminiscent of his earlier shot, but with better results, to make it 5-0.
The goal was Chang’s first of the regular season, having scored only one goal in the pre-season in the first scrimmage against the College of Charleston, and so surely would’ve lifted a bit of weight off his shoulders for a player who’s normally involved in goals, whether scoring or providing, on a weekly basis. His game was much improved tonight, however, and now he had a goal to show for it.
With five minutes left, Ricky Garbanzo would replace Attaula Guerra, who earned his own high praise after a solid performance.
And that’s how the game ended, with the Battery running out emphatic 5-0 winners, earning their first win against Rochester since 2014. Romario Williams took home the match ball after a standout performance, with his hat trick and assist for the fourth a big reason for the win.
The Battery next travel to Florida to play the Tampa Bay Rowdies on April 22nd. Tampa have started well since arriving in the league following a mass migration from the NASL, and will be formidable opponents for the Black and Yellow. Kick off is at 7PM, and you’ll be able to watch the match on MyTV Charleston, or stream it on the club’s website
TOP IMAGE: ROMARIO WILLIAMS CELEBRATES ONE OF HIS THREE GOALS ON THE EVENING. HE WOULD TACK ON AN ASSIST LATER TO CAP OFF AN INCREDIBLE PERFORMANCE, NOT JUST INDIVIDUALLY, BUT FROM THE TEAM AS A WHOLE.
PHOTOS CREDIT ROSS ALMERS PHOTOGRAPHY