Tah Brian Anunga's 85th minute winner was the difference as the Charleston Battery prevailed over the Tampa Bay Rowdies Saturday.
Joe Cole would open the scoring just after half an hour before Forrest Lasso's glancing header leveled again only five minutes later before Maikel Chang hit a screamer into the bottom corner on the stroke of half time as the Battery went in at the break up 2-1.
Georgi Hristov pulled the Rowdies level on the hour mark as Odisnel Cooper couldn't hang onto the ball, which gave the striker an easy finish despite the best efforts of Obi Woodbine on the line. The home side would up the ante with a good spell before the Battery would settle again, and made late pressure tell as Tah Brian Anunga controlled a ball that had pinged in and around the box and placed a shot into the bottom corner, giving the Black and Yellow a hard fought win.
Odisnel Cooper was first called into action on seven minutes, producing some acrobatics to keep a deflected Darwin Jones shot from creeping in under the bar, and then doing even better to collect the corner he conceded with the save.
Defender Taylor Mueller would be forced into action after 11 minutes as the home side continued their decent start to the match. The defender would have to redirect a cross behind, which Cooper would again collect.
Romario Williams would then ask questions of the Rowdies 'keeper down at the other end after 13', as he came off a career night last week against Rochester. A shot from the left after he won the ball in a dangerous position would fly just over the top of the bar.
A minute later, Kotaro Higashi, who made his second start in as many games, would find space for the cross on the left, but his wafted ball in would go behind for a goal kick.
On 16' it would be eventual goalscorer Hristov who would power toward goal and fire an effort on target, but Cooper would get behind it to make the save.
Not too long after, a Rowdies free kick would be cleared by the Battery, but only for a throw-in, which would cause chaos in the Battery box and eventually lead to a dangerous effort from Hristov again, who took two touches to settle and somehow got a shot on target which the beaten Odisnel Cooper was very lucky to see hit his crossbar and eventually be cleared.
On 22', a Rowdies free kick left them in a bit of bother as Maikel Chang would lead a counter attack from the clearance, but the winger had little support and the chance would fizzle out.
Four minutes later, the Battery would earn themselves a dangerous free kick which Justin Portillo would put into the wall as it went behind for a corner. The ball into the box was cleared, but would fall to full back Obi Woodbine who had a shot from distance. On the replay, it looked to be going wide, though the goalkeeper was taking no chances and would poke it behind for a corner that would lead to nothing.
After 28', it was Williams for the Battery with a great chance for the visitors as he would connect with a great Quinton Griffith cross, but as the Tampa defense were calling for the offside flag to go up, Williams' header would go hopelessly over the bar.
And the visitors would rue the missed opportunity. A Rowdies corner would be cleared and arrowed back in before taking a deflection off of Joe Cole that took Odisnel Cooper a little bit by surprise as the redirection would make the ball bobble before meeting Cooper, and it would be that bobble that would be the difference as the goalkeeper would be unable to hold on to the ball, giving Cole, who kept his position, the easy tap in to give the home side the lead.
There was a little hint of a possible offside because of the Cole redirection, though the flag would stay down, and the goal would stand.
But it would only last five minutes, as from just about the next attack, the Battery would draw level.
The Black and Yellow would surge forward and earn themselves a free kick on the left edge of the box. Portillo again would find himself at the controls in a very dangerous area, and put in a delicious looking in-swinger toward Forrest Lasso, and the tall defender would get himself up and just get a glance on the ball to redirect it toward goal. The ball would bounce and find its way past the 'leeper, and the Battery found themselves all square again.
And it would continue to get better for the visitors. Maikel Chang would receive the ball on the right and pick his head up, winding up his signature left foot for a laser beam of an effort that found its way past the goalkeeper and into the back of the net as it gave him no chance, but gave the Battery the 2-1 lead with just about the last kick of the half.
The goal was Chang's second in two games, after being kept off the scoresheet in the previous three league games, and a great way to end the half for the visitors.
Chang would create the first real chance of the second half as well, somehow wiggling his way past three defenders before laying off for Williams, who had a little shimmy of his own to get away from a defender and get an effort on goal, but the shot would lack power as the goalkeeper would save easily.
Williams would then hold the ball up and turn on the afterburners to get away from a marker in midfield as he looked to be through on goal, but a defender would come across on the overlap to sweep up pressure.
Just after the hour mark on 62', the Rowdies would earn a free kick that was played toward the back post. The ball would look easy to collect for Cooper, but his punch out with players around him would be lacking in length, falling instead to Georgi Hristov on the doorstep, who would put the ball away to level once again.
And so, the score was 2-2, but the way the game had gone, you wouldn't bet against another as both teams were creating their chances.
And the Battery could've gone in front again only two minutes later. Attaula Guerra, who continued his decent run of form tonight, would find himself through on goal, but the effort would go harmlessly into the 'keeper's arms.
Guerra would then find himself with the ball at his feet on the wing on 67', holding the ball up before playing the ball around his defender and into the path of Romario Williams, but the 'keeper would close down an already tight angle and make the save.
Williams would then be replaced by Heviel Cordoves with just over 20 minutes left. Despite being kept off the scoresheet, Williams had a decent night. His hold up play was decent and he created a few opportunities for himself, though he'll be unhappy that he didn't put that header on target in the first half, and having gone into the book early on, the substitution was probably the right move.
Kotaro Higashi would be the second man substituted on 73', as Dante Marini would enter the fray. Marini had started the Battery's first three games, before Higashi would start last week, and impress his manager enough to keep his place for this match. He wasn't as impressive as against the Rhinos, but put in a decent shift in what was only his third game of the season.
And Marini was involved almost straight from the off, as a searching through ball by Guerra almost found the late run of the winger with 15 minutes to go, but the goalkeeper would collect and smother the ball before Marini could pounce.
Joe Cole would have a pop at goal on 77', which went straight to Cooper before having to be replaced due to an apparent hip injury.
The Rowdies had a corner on 79' that looked dangerous, but the in-swinging ball was collected by Cooper, who rose above everyone in the box and commanded his area well.
The game wound into the last ten minutes with both teams looking to create as the game became stretched, but with just two minutes of normal time left, the Battery would earn a corner.
The first ball would be cleared for a throw-in, and the ball would bounce around the box before a missed clearance by Luke Boden would fall to the feet of Tah Brian Anunga. The midfielder would take a touch before placing the effort in the bottom corner, giving the Battery a late lead in what was a very entertaining game.
In stoppage time, it was last chance saloon for the Rowdies, who pushed everyone up for a last gasp free kick, which was smuggled clear before they earned a corner with what would prove to be the last attack of the night. The Battery would smuggle clear, and the final whistle would blow, giving the Battery a hard earned three points.
The Battery would certainly say they earned it, after a game with so many twists and turns, remaining perfect on their travels to go along with the three points gained in Charlotte in the second week of the season. The win also puts them top of the Eastern Conference, with 12 points from five games, losing one, but having won the other four.
Romario Williams was once again the only ATL player to feature, but didn’t find his way onto the scoresheet after his hat-trick against Rochester last week. His overall play, though, shows just how much of a complete player he can be, as he used his excellent pace to create, and his strength to shield and bring players into the game.