In the world of sports, good games are usually remembered for a few days but often forgotten when the next match rolls around. Great games sometimes become the high point of the season with maybe a play or two finding a place in our mental highlight reels. Then, in an entirely separate category, are the monumental contests in which legends are born, showcasing such passion and persistence, where seconds of brilliance become defining moments, to be remembered forever from the smallest fan to the seasoned executive.
My friends, Charleston's semifinal playoff tie with Rochester was one such contest. In my years as a Battery fan there have been countless ups and downs, but last night's extra-time penalty-kick winner shines among the brightest and best as one of the most dramatic showdown's I've experienced in any sport. This game was truly something special.
An odd mix of history accompanied the Charleston Battery as they took the field Friday night at Sahlen's Stadium. On their last visit, nearly three weeks ago, Charleston handed the Rhinos their worst home defeat in franchise history. However, the Battery had only beaten Rochester once in postseason play, that playoff victory coming en route to their Championship in 2003. With the weight of that tension hanging thick like a fog, the epic struggle commenced. In the blink of an eye, halftime arrived and both sides entered the changing rooms seething frustration. The hard-fought forty-five minutes ended in a stalemate with both teams deserving goals and each having none.
The blow came ten minutes after the intermission as the Rhinos dogged persistence fused with a touch of fortune to give the hosts a slender lead. Rochester's Danny Earls sparked the play with a dangerous cross into the penalty area that was quickly skittered away by the Battery back-line. The clearance fell to Rosenlund whose reflex shot was countered by a diving Andrew Dykstra. But the game was up as Rhino's Kendell McFadden was on hand to poke home the parry, leaving Dykstra in no-man's land.
As the minutes elapsed, it seemed enough to send Rochester through to the final and Charleston's hope eroded with every tick of the official's watch. But that watch saw fit to allow four minutes of stoppage time, just enough time for the visitors to resume the fight. Punished in nearly the exact manner of their previous goal, former Rochester midfielder Tony Donatelli was the man who inflicted the critical wound. John Wilson struck first and his shot was barely scuffed off the line. Applying the pressure, Charleston put the ball right back into the box and a wild scramble ensued. Charleston's Hoffer finally nabbed the ball and served it up for Donatelli. The Battery forward used his head to level the game and send the match to extra time.
Both tension and exhaustion characterized the nervous half-hour with the Battery owning the early initiative. JC Mack nearly netted twice, having been narrowly denied in the finish. Rochester countered with immense pressure of their own, but this game was destined to finish in the most dramatic way possible.
While no wants a game to finish on penalty kicks, in terms of excitement, its pretty hard to beat. The Rhinos were up first and Dykstra managed a colossal save right off the bat. Patterson's penalty was flawless and the Battery had the lead. Donatelli's kick went over the bar and with Captain Colin Falvey's shot stopped, Rochester were poised to finish the job. Shockingly, Rhino's captain Troy Roberts dribbled his shot wide to send the affair into sudden death. With astounding composure, Dykstra quenched two more penalties placing JC MACK on the spot, with the match to win. Cooly converting, Charleston's comeback man fired them into the USL PRO Championship and into the realm of legend.
Bordering on the unbelievable, the Wilmington Hammerheads convincingly routed the Orlando City Lions, a defeat nearly as gratifying as the Battery's extra-time thriller. These amazing results mean that the Charleston Battery will be hosting the Wilmington Hammerheads in the USL PRO Championship game at Blackbaud, this Saturday September 8.
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History is in the making and the Battery have managed their most memorable post-season run to date. This is the Beautiful Game and I'm proud to have been a part of this incredible season.
As always, thanks for reading The Beautiful Game.
(photo credit: USLPRO facebook page)