The Charleston Battery remain top in the East after prevailing over the Bethlehem Steel by a score of 1-0.
The goal came courtesy of Attaula Guerra, who bundled home at the back post after a flick on from a Quinton Griffith cross. Both sides had chances to add to the scoring, but the Battery were able to hold on, and after Tampa Bay dropped points against Ottawa earlier, they now sit two points clear at the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Battery made three changes to the side that drew 2-2 with Ottawa, with Dante Marini and Naveal Hackshaw both coming back in after Kotaro Higashi and Tah Brian Anunga had previously had a run of games each. There was also an enforced change in the way of top scorer Romario Williams, who missed the match through illness and would have to be replaced by Heviel Cordoves.
Cordoves would create a half chance for himself in the tenth minute, as he would surge his way into the box after receiving the ball wide. The striker would make his way into the box with defenders on him, only to get the ball stuck between his feet. He would still find space and time to power a shot toward goal, but it would be deflected by a defender, who by that stage was able to get in front of the effort and reset himself. The ball would then ricochet off the legs of the defender and toward Attaula Guerra, but his effort would then be blocked before the Steel would scramble clear.
Just past the quarter of an hour mark, the visitors were threatening after getting a free kick just about 20 yards out. The referee blew his whistle, and the Steel had apparently decided to try one from the training ground, as there were two men over the ball, with one leaving it, becoming a decoy and running over the ball before it was eventually hit wide, and thus would go out for a goal kick on the near side.
And then, on 18', the Battery would find the breakthrough. Quinton Griffith would make a great run to the byline before finding room to almost lollipop a cross toward Heviel Cordoves at the near post. The ball was just a bit too high for the striker to get much of an effort on it, but he was able to flick it on, which allowed the oncoming Attaula Guerra to bundle it over the line at the back post and put the hosts ahead.
The goal was Guerra's third of the campaign as he continues to impress in that role just behind the striker, and was showing that even without his usual partner in crime, he could still find a way to give a meaningful contribution to the team.
The Battery earned a corner just after the half hour mark, which fell in the box and was redirected on goal in the melee only to be blocked away, not once, but twice, before being cleared by the visitors.
And then, the next real chance would then fall to the Steel. Midfielder Marcus Epps would hold the ball up before playing a cheeky little one-two, before finding himself in the box and using strength to separate himself from the defenders before curling a shot toward the far post that looked destined to draw the game level before bouncing just wide.
That's how we went in at the break. The Battery did deserve the lead, but were left wondering if the other missed chances would come back to haunt them.
The halftime festivities were a treat, with Ricky Garbanzo completing a crossbar challenge, meaning that the Battery would give away $1000 to Keeper of The Wild, this week's nonprofit of the match.
The match lulled slightly at the beginning of the second half, with a 66th minute Bethlehem free kick only finding its way into the gator pond being the only thing of note early on.
Kotaro Higashi would replace Maikel Chang, and nearly find a way to seal the points for the Black and Yellow on 83', getting past his man with a bit of trickery, but his cutback with the ball right on the end line found no one crashing in, and the ball was cleared.
This eventually led to a corner for the visitors with six minutes to go, which wasn't too dissimilar to the Battery's chance at that end in the first half. The ball would fall to a man and find its way toward goal, and Odisnel Cooper would initially struggle to clear before the play was blown up as the 'keeper had caught a kick to the stomach.
The Battery had one last chance to add to their tally in stoppage time, when Quinton Griffith went on a signature surging run, finding space and having a pop at goal, but the ball would find its way just over the bar.
After the five added minutes were up, the whistle blew, giving the Black and Yellow the three points, and keeping them top of the Eastern Conference.