It was a war of attrition for most of the evening, but two goals in the last 20 minutes were what separated the Charleston Battery and the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night.
It was Odisnel Cooper in goal again, with his normal backline of Quinton Griffith, Forrest Lasso, Taylor Mueller and Obi Woodbine in front of him. Justin Portillo and Tah Brian Anunga were in the middle, with Maikel Chang and Dante Marini on the flanks. Attaula Guerra made his first start since injuring his groin against Jacksonville Armada in the US Open Cup, giving Romario Williams his usual strike partner back again.
It was a battle between the first and third placed team in the Eastern conference respectfully, and there was much anticipation from fans going into the match. The first meeting between these two sides ended in a tense 3-2 win for the Battery, and both sides expected a similar contest tonight.
The Battery had a corner cleared as early as the first minute, though despite the home side pushing in the opening minutes, much of the first half was a back and forth in which there was a lot of effort, but not many chances.
Quinton Griffith cut inside from the right wing and had a shot toward the far corner in the 17th minute, only to watch it go well over the bar without troubling the ‘keeper Perkins.
Then, in the 25th, a corner cleared by the Battery defense led to a counter led by Maikel Chang, who powered his way up to to the edge of the box before playing toward the striker Williams, only for the ‘keeper to intercept before any immediate danger was caused.
Five minutes later with a half an hour gone, Attaula Guerra would play the ball into the box for Williams, but the first touch let him down, and his shot from the left foot would be deflected by a defender harmlessly into the goalkeeper’s arms.
Tah Brian Anunga would lead a counter on 39’ that he took all the way to the byline on the right before having a shot that would be saved by the ‘keeper, only to rebound into the path of Attaula Guerra, who seemed certain to mark his return to the starting XI with a goal, but he couldn’t control the ball and the effort lacked power and was saved somewhat easily by the sprawling goalkeeper again.
Tampa’s first real sight at goal came on the stroke of half time, when a free kick in a dangerous position went high over the bar without posing much trouble to Odisnel Cooper in goal, and we would eventually go in at Half Time scoreless.
While it wasn’t what you would call a sleepy first half, given that there was much in the way of aggression between the two sides, there was much to be had in the way of being clinical in the second 45. Both teams seemed content to let the other come at them, and neither had really gained a foothold in the game as a result. Both sides knew they would have to improve if that were to change.
Kotaro Higashi would replace Attaula Guerra at half-time, and there was one or two signs that he had re-aggravated the groin injury with that late first half chance. One would hope the sub was just precautionary, though Higaashi had his own set of tools to bring to the game, and he would hope to make an impact off the bench.
Though it was Tampa that were the first to threaten. Midfielder Darwin Jones would power his way into the box and around two defenders before forcing Odisnel Cooper into a good save toward his left. While the save may have looked routine, it was made difficult by the Battery shotstopper leaning the other way and having to contort himself to come back to the left as the attacker looked to have given him the eyes, and was made even better by the fact that the arm to the left was powerful enough to force the ball out of a place of immediate danger, preventing a chance rebound from any Rowdies players following in.
With 55 minutes gone, the Battery had a free kick wafted in at the back post that would lead to a corner, though they were unable to force a chance out of the set piece.
It seemed as if the game was headed for a draw, and wasn’t until 20 minutes from time that we would see the Battery attack really come to life. Winger Maikel Chang would intercept an errant pass on the right, and Romario Williams would spring into action, calling for a pass already on the back shoulder of his marker, and staying onside with a well timed run and an equally well-placed through ball that put him one-on-one with the goalkeeper, who he rounded before rolling the ball into the empty net for his 14th goal of the season to give the Battery the lead.
It was as if a large weight was lifted off of the fans and players alike as Williams’ teammates would all surround him, continuing a great few days personally for the striker, having received a call into Jamaica’s 23 man CONCACAF Gold Cup Squad this week as a reward for his recent stellar form., which starts next week. The Battery will be unhappy to lose a player of his caliber, yet obviously glad that he was able to get a go-ahead goal in such a big match as a going away present.
Williams would be replaced a short time later by Heviel Cordoves, who would most likely be the next man in in his absence, but who hadn’t yet been able to find the back of the net so far in the campaign.
But he wouldn’t have to wait much longer. Maikel Chang was involved again, winning the ball back after Joe Cole was too hesitant with the ball at his feet before placing another perfectly weighted ball into the feet of Cordoves, who took the ball graciously and finished first time with the inside of his boot to double the Battery’s advantage at 2-0.
The monkey was finally off his back, having scored with his first touch of the evening. The goal was eerily similar to Williams’ opener, the difference being that Cordoves got past his man on the inside rather than the outside with which Williams found space. The defenders could only blame themselves for the errors though, and the Battery were very gracious to pick up the spoils.
But the visitors had fight in them yet. The Rowdies would engineer themselves a corner that was played in toward the front post before being headed away by the Battery defense, only to be sent back in and flicked on by Joe Cole at the in what looked to be an attempted pass that took Cooper in goal out of the equation and nearly found itself nestled into the opposite corner, only to bounce harmlessly wide. The Battery still found themselves two goals ahead, but with three minutes of normal time, plus stoppage time to go, had that gone in, it would’ve set up a tense finish for the Black and Yellow.
And in said stoppage time came the final chance of the evening. A free kick on the left approximately 25 yards from goal had Justin Portillo and Obi Woodbine interested, and it was the latter who took it. The effort was put on frame, forcing the goalkeeper into a save to his right after being hit low and hard toward the bottom corner, though it perhaps was too close to the ‘keeper to really trouble him as he got across well down to the ball.
And shortly after, the final whistle blew. The Battery dug deep, but would eventually prevail through the late showing. Two assists from Maikel Chang would tell the story, but perhaps Cordoves would be happiest, having finally opened his account for the campaign, and Williams will be pleased that although he’s leaving for at least the next two games, that he was able to be a difference maker in his final game before taking his leave for international duty.
The schedule doesn’t let up for the Black and Yellow, as they next face Louisville City FC. It’ll be a matchup between the top two in the East, with the Battery in first with 34 points, and Louisville just behind them on 28. Kickoff is at 7PM, and you can watch it on MyTV Charleston or online at the club’s website.
TOP IMAGE: MAIKEL CHANG CLAIMED THE ASSIST ON BOTH GOALS ON SATURDAY NIGHT. ALL PHOTOS CREDIT ROSS ALMERS PHOTOGRAPHY AND ZACH BLAND