Forrest Lasso's header from a Justin Portillo free kick midway through the second half was what gave the Charleston Battery the three point Saturday night, earning a hard-fought win over St. Louis FC.
The goal came after the Battery could've had a few by half time even came, if not for a mixture of good defending and a bit of luck on the side of the visitors, but the Portillo-Lasso connection, one that's paid dividends on more than a few occasions this campaign, would come through again for the Black and Yellow, keeping them top in the Eastern Conference.
Afternoon rain gave way to Evening sunshine, and the Battery would make three changes to the team that beat Bethlehem last week. Tah Brian Anunga and Kotaro Higashi coming back into the side, whilst Romario Williams returned from illness, and Dante Marini would keep his place, but would switch wings to cover for Maikel Chang, who picked up a slight hip injury in the game last week and was listed on the bench.
The home side were on the attack as early as the second minute, with the striker Williams playing through for Higashi who would overlap, and while he took his first touch in stride, his second left a defender with an opportunity to get back. and the chance would go begging.
Dante Marini and Obi Woodbine would soon combine to begin a counter that would fall to Williams on the left in a dangerous position, but his cross into the box would be too flat and was cleared away.
Marini would be involved again on 13', playing a great ball in for Romario Williams that he took down expertly, but a slight bobble would mean that he would have to take his shot almost on the half volley, and he got no power on the effort, though forced the goalkeeper into his first save of the evening.
Three minutes later, it would be Guerra and Williams combining after the midfielder would send a great ball into his teammate, though it was similar to the Higashi chance in that Williams' first touch would be great, but his second would force him wide, and though one on one with the 'keeper, the angle was tough to get a decent shot off, and his effort would go into the side netting.
With just under half an hour gone, Higashi was troubling the defense again, getting to the byline before playing the ball low back across looking for the onrushing assistance of his teammates, though the cross would be deflected behind for a corner, and then cleared away from the set piece.
But the danger would come down the right a short time later, this time through the full back, Woodbine, who sent a dangerous ball in across the face of goal, taking a bounce before the oncoming Williams would track it down on the left and lay the ball off for the inward run of Dante Marini, who would run directly toward goal and sting the palms of the goalkeeper, who was forced into a save before the ball was cleared.
Romario Williams would then take a through ball wide on 39', cutting in and having a pop at goal, which went behind for a corner. The out-swinger from the left looked menacing, with the ball bouncing around and causing havoc in the area, but it was eventually cleared by the defenders.
Three minutes before half time, the Battery would force another corner, and this time someone was able to steer it on target, only for the ball, which looked destined for the bottom corner, to be cleared off the line by a defender covering the far post.
So, given the chances, the home side could've found themselves up at the break, especially with the chance that was cleared off the line, but the teams would go in level at the break.
The visitors would come out in the second half with their tails up, however, earning a free kick within the first five minutes, but the Battery defense would remain stout, and would smuggle the ball clear.
A St. Louis cross on 53' was eerily similar to the Woodbine cross for the Black and Yellow earlier on, but no one would be there to connect and the chance would break down.
A Quinton Griffith cross just before the hour mark would be cleared away, only to fall to Dante Marini, who would lay off for Obi Woodbine. Woodbine's shot is known to be particularly lethal if he can keep it on target, but the 'keeper was able to get himself behind the effort to produce a save.
And then, on 62', came the breakthrough. Woodbine was again involved, going on a pacey run down the flank before cutting in and forcing the defender into a challenge, which the referee adjudged to have been a foul about 35-40 yards from goal.
Up stepped Justin Portillo to the controls, and with the center backs, Lasso and Mueller creeping their way into the box, you would put good money on them making a nuisance of themselves if the chance provided itself.
And so it did. The ball had just enough height on it to trouble the defense, but pin the 'keeper to his line, and Lasso got his head to the ball, which went into the ground and past the goalkeeper and defender on the line and up into the top corner to give the Battery the lead. The goal was Lasso's fourth this season, and the assist was Portillo's fifth, with that combination paying dividends not for the first time this campaign.
And four minutes later, the Battery could've had another. A great cross from Romario Williams found the onrushing Woodbine, but he was forced to take the shot on the volley, and the effort went wide.
A St. Louis free kick on 68' would see Tah Brian Anunga find his way into the book, but the chance wouldn't trouble Odisnel Cooper in goal.
On 74', Dante Marini would be replaced by Maikel Chang. Marini put in a very impressive shift, putting himself about and creating and getting on the end of a couple chances, earning himself a well-deserved rest.
Six minutes from time came the best chance for the Black and Yellow to double the lead. The substitute Chang would find Justin Portillo, who had a shot saved and smuggled clear for a corner that looked like it found Anunga, who connected on the volley which cracked the bar and fell back out into the path of Romario Williams, who before he could turn, looked to have been fouled. The referee was unmoved and decided against pointing to the spot, but the chance wasn't gone and fell to Maikel Chang, whose curling effort looked destined to trouble the 'keeper before just creeping over the bar.
Quinton Griffith would have to be replaced due to injury by Skylar Thomas shortly after, as the full back would go down under a challenge and seemed to have a muscle issue.
Attaula Guerra would then be brought off for Ricky Garbanzo shortly before four minutes of stoppage time were signaled by the fourth official. Full time came shortly after, giving the Battery all three points.
The result means the Battery remain top of the Eastern conference, but they go into a difficult four game away run, including their first foray into this year's edition of the US Open Cup against the Atlanta Silverbacks, their next match, which is on Wednesday, May 18. Kick off is at 3:30.
On his return to the side, Romario Williams had a good night in terms of chance creation, not only for himself, but his teammates. However, those chances couldn’t be converted into goals, but he’ll surely be happy with the result.
TOP IMAGE: FORREST LASSO CELEBRATES WITH FANS AFTER PUTTING HIS TEAM IN FRONT. ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF ROSS ALMERS PHOTOGRAPHY