The Charleston Battery closed out the 2017 Carolina Challenge Cup with a loss, their first to an MLS side in the tournament, against Atlanta United on Saturday.
Yamil Asad gave Atlanta a fourth minute lead. Connecting with a pinpoint Mikey Ambrose cross with a diving header that bounced off the post and in.
The Battery came back into the game though, especially in the last 20 minutes of the first half, with Romario Williams capping off that good work with a goal on the stroke of half time to equalize.
But Atlanta were desperate to win the game ahead of their first league game of the season just seven days away, and brought on Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba late on to find a winner, and they did just that as the two subs combined in stoppage time to give Atlanta the win.
The tournament was settled with the evening’s first match, however, with the Columbus Crew beating the Seattle Sounders with a late goal of their own to finish on seven points, earning their second Carolina Challenge Cup title, after winning the very first CCC title in 2004.
Atlanta were on top early in the night’s second game, Jacob Petersen looked threatening in the first minute, when a ball was played through to the former Sporting KC striker. However, the ball was just beyond the foward’s smart run, with Odisnel Cooper there to collect as the ball was going out.
But Atlanta were quickly on the attack again. Some well worked play found the feet of Mikey Ambrose, whose cross was almost perfect, avoiding defenders before Yamil Asad would lay out with the diving header to put it on frame, which Cooper in goal was helpless to stop, giving the visitors the lead.
The Battery could’ve had a leveler only a minute later, as Attaula Guerra found himself some space, but his shot from distance was easily saved by Atlanta ‘keeper Kyle Reynish.
Four minutes later, Forrest Lasso would have some work to do after some dangerous buildup play from Atlanta found its way into the box, but the defender did well to clear.
The Battery threatened again after a quarter of an hour, when Obi Woodbine‘s quick throw in caught out the Atlanta defense as it rolled to Dante Marini, who used his pace to get to the byline and tease a ball toward Heviel Cordoves, before the ball was cleared before an onrushing Romario Williams snatched his shot on the rebound just wide.
Yamil Asad sent a promising Atlanta free kick over the bar on 20 minutes, failing to reassert their diminishing dominance on the match.
The Battery had a half chance in the second ball following a corner after the ball was cleared first time. A ball was sent in by Justin Portillo whilst the big men were still piled in the box for Charleston, but the flag went up for offside.
Petersen was on the end of another good ball on 37′, but Taylor Mueller did well to tackle the ball clear. The ensuing corner went out for another, which was cleared from danger.
Forrest Lasso sent a lumping ball forward on 41′, which was brought down by the striker Williams, who played Dante Marini in, who made a cut inside before having a crack at goal, but his shot lacked power and went safely into the ‘keepers arms.
Marini again was involved a couple minutes later, making a good run and creating space before passing to Justin Portillo, who found Heviel Cordoves with a pretty good cross, but the center forward had to take the ball down on his chest, which took too long, and the ball was cleared away before he could get a shot on the volley.
But then, on the stroke of half time, Romario Williams would receive the ball roughly twenty yards from goal. He used his strength to get away from his man, before turning and taking aim at goal. His shot beat Reynish in the Atlanta goal and nestled into the bottom corner before the half time whistle blew, levelling the scores as we went into half time.
The score was perhaps warranted, as Atlanta owned the better of the early goings before the Battery came back into it as the first half ended, and both teams knew what was required of them in the second half.
A chance for either team came in the first five minutes, each coming through nice one-twos, with Andrew Carleton combining with Jacob Petersen for Atlanta first, but the striker’s shot was wide. Maikel Chang was then on the end of a similar move for Charleston, but like his Atlanta counterpart, his effort was wide.
On 57 minutes, Obi Woodbine would turn on the jets down the left before crossing the ball in, which was dummied by Taylor Mueller, which fell to Williams, but his shot was high over the bar.
A loose touch by an Atlanta defender following the ensuing goalkeeper almost gifted Maikel Chang a 1v1 with Reynish, but the winger couldn’t control the ball and it rolled harmlessly back to the ‘keeper.
With 20 minutes left, Odisnel Cooper was forced into a save after a shot from distance had him sprawling, but he saved well and the crisis was averted.
On 73 minutes was a moment that has many fans talking, as Andrew Carleton breezed past Quinton Griffith on the turn with great close control, creating space and leaving a few others in his wake before taking a shot from distance, but his effort was over the bar.
Charleston’s trialists have impressed for large parts of the preseason so far, and a name that’s stood out for Battery fans in particular has been Kotaro Higashi, who, with three minutes to go, found full back Reed Norton. His cross from the left found forward Akeem Roach, who got his head to the ball, but couldn’t keep his effort on frame.
They would live to regret the wasted chance though, as Miguel Almiron, who came on as a sub for Atlanta after standing out in the first two matches of the tournament, found fellow sub Hector Villalba with a great cross at the death. Villalba stood his man up before turning and having a pop at goal. The effort nestled in the back of the net, thus giving Atlanta the 2-1 win with just about the last kick of the game.
It was a hard way to lose a game for the Battery, until now unbeaten against MLS opposition in the CCC’s history, but they can be proud of how they performed in the tournament as a whole. Most of MLS have been together a full month, with a week to go until their season begins. The Battery have only been together a fortnight, with their season not starting until the 25th of March.
Atlanta begin their season next Sunday, March 5th, at Bobby Dodd Stadium against New York Red Bulls. The Battery begin their season on the 25th of March, against FC Cincinatti. Their next preseason game, however, is a visit to North Carolina FC on the 4th of March.
TOP IMAGE: BATTERY SCORER ROMARIO WILLIAMS FIGHTS FOR A BALL IN A LEAGUE MATCH LAST SEASON. Photo Credit: Ross Almers Photography