Most people, including yours truly, did not give Harrisburg much of a chance heading into Saturday’s clash with the Charleston Battery. But the City Islanders weren’t intimidated by the number one team team in the East, and they turned in one of their most impressive performances of the season.
Charleston took control to start the match, and they had some solid chances to put away an early goal. Fortunately, Brandon Miller was able to keep the ball out of the net and prevent the City Islanders from going down a goal early. Perhaps his most impressive save came in the 6th minute when he managed to stick out a hand to swat away a bouncing shot from Romario Williams.
As both teams settled in, the City Islanders started to control more possession and apply pressure. Charleston played tough in the box and denied Harrisburg any easy chances. However, this approach gave away a little too much space at the top of the box, and Harrisburg’s Rasheed Olabiyi was able to take advantage in spectacular fashion. After intercepting a Charleston pass, Olabiyi quickly centered himself and delivered an absolute laser of a shot from about 30 yards out. The keeper never had a chance of getting there, and just like that, it was 1-0 Harrisburg.
O.M.G #SCTop10 worthy!@rasheed_olabiyi with a for @city_islanders#HARvCHS pic.twitter.com/STD2EaVcyA— USL (@USL) May 20, 2017
Charleston responded to going down a goal by doubling their efforts to find Romario Williams, their biggest scoring threat. However, Harrisburg defender Lee Nishanian was on top of Williams for the entire first half, and most of the passes that were sent towards him were either headed away or broken up. The Battery were left unable to find an equalizer before the halftime whistle.
The Battery came out more aggressive in the second half as they continued to search for a goal. However, they should have realized that physical play would have consequences during this match. Head Referee Luis Guardia had already handed out four yellow cards in the first half, so a hard tackle (or even just a medium tackle) would probably see a yellow. Charleston midfielder Tah Anunga seemed to forget this early in the second half, and he crashed into Aaron Wheeler off a quick throw-in. That was enough for Anunga’s second yellow, and Charleston would be finishing the match with only ten men.
The Battery were only temporarily thrown off by this chain of events, and they soon found the opportunity to get themselves back in the match. Shortly after a Charleston substitution in the 68th minute, Dante Marini crossed a pass to Kotaro Higashi at the top of the Harrisburg box. Higashi quickly tapped it to Ataulla Guerra who was able put a low shot just inside the post for the equalizer.
Things went from bad to worse for Harrisburg less than a minute later. Charleston was able to break up a pass deep in Harrisburg territory and it landed at the feet of a speeding Romario Williams. Williams made one touch and sent a low ball to the far post just beyond the reach of Brandon Miller. Williams’ seventh goal of the season gave the Battery their first lead of the evening.
.@Williams_Romy17 puts @Chas_Battery in the lead 2-1 and now leads the #USL with 7 goals!#HARvCHS pic.twitter.com/wjKVBHUO7h— USL (@USL) May 21, 2017
The City Islanders refused to hang their heads after this reversal of fortune and they quickly began pressing for the equalizer. Already down a man, Charleston’s approach at this point was to concede possession while looking to counter when the opportunity presented itself. Despite many chances, including a Paul Wilson cross in the 83rd minute that just missed a closing Aaron Wheeler, Harrisburg was still a goal down in the 90th minute. It was then that the 4th Official delivered the good news. There would be six minutes of added time.
Harrisburg needed almost the entire six minutes, but the pieces finally came together with about a minute to go. Paul Wilson sent a lob to Aaron Wheeler, who headed it across the front of the net to an open Cardel Benbow. Benbow was able to head the ball back over to the feet of Johnny Mendoza who then slammed it home for the equalizer.
.@city_islanders with the late equalizer!#HARvCHS pic.twitter.com/8efyDhPzuA— USL (@USL) May 21, 2017
Neither side got a good look at the goal in the remaining seconds, and the 2-2 draw still held when the final whistle blew.
Harrisburg’s next match will be at home this Wednesday the 24th against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Charleston will be staying inside the Commonwealth of PA as they prepare to travel to Bethlehem on Thursday the 25th.
- The abundance and variety of cards throughout the night was astonishing. In all, nine yellows and a red were handed out throughout the evening. The reasons for the bookings varied as well. Two of those yellows were for dissent and one of them was for time wasting. This heavy level of carding will also hurt Charleston during their next match-up. In addition to Anunga’s suspension for the red card, the Battery will also be without defender Forrest Lasso due to yellow card accumulation.
- There was an interesting sequence around the 50th minute where it appeared that Charleston’s keeper picked up a back pass from one of his defenders. No call was made on the field, but replays certainly made it look like that’s what happened.
- Neither team seemed particularly happy with the result. Both sides knew that they were only one play away from leaving City Island with all three points. These teams won’t meet again until October, but you should mark your calendars now because it’s sure to be another barn-burner.