Midfielder Guy Abend’s 78th-minute goal — his first of the season — made the difference Saturday as Louisville City FC topped the Charleston Battery by a 1-0 score at Slugger Field.
Abend recovered a botched Charleston clearance and finished to the goalkeeper’s right to keep LouCity in first place in the USL Eastern Conference standings. The Battery, who entered third on the table, played the boys in purple to draws in two previous meetings this year, both in Charleston.
Other than home field advantage, what was different about Saturday's matchup?
"We finally won," Abend said.
"The players deserve enormous credit to stay focused and show the type of concentration and quality and to be able to go and win the game," added coach James O'Connor.
LouCity earned three points with a shorthanded squad, as defender Kyle Smith finished a three-game suspension Saturday, while midfielders Mark-Anthony Kaye (Canada) and Devon “Speedy” Williams (Jamaica) were set to square off in an international friendly in Toronto.
The boys in purple were plenty dangerous without a trio of their key players. Midfielder Niall McCabe challenged Charleston keeper Alex Tambakis on two occasions, with a shot from distance in the 26th minute and from a tough angle on the right in the 57th minute.
Between the posts for LouCity, goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh posted his sixth clean sheet of the season, coming up with a diving save in the 11th minute to keep the game scoreless.
"The goalkeeper on our team, it’s going to come down to maybe one moment in the game or two moments in the game where you have to come up big and make the save," Ranjitsingh said. "That’s how it’s been because the rest of the game, they’re going to shut it down for you and keep it clean.”
LouCity continued another telling trend Saturday. The club has rebounded from each of its five defeats this season to win next time out.
O'Connor noted the celebration that followed Abend's goal, as he joined reserves and substitutes near the home team's bench.
"It shows the spirit that all the guys have," the coach said. "When you see that the goal goes in and everyone's celebrating -- that's something the guys have really bought into this year. The collective spirit has been excellent."
LouCity doubled Charleston's total shots (12-6) and triple chances on goal (6-2). With the Battery content to lay back and focus on defense, the boys in purple controlled 56 percent of the possession, which culminated in Abend's 78th-minute strike.
As the Charleston clearance bounded away from goal, it appeared to deflect off a defender and to Abend before the Battery could further defend it.
"Ilija (Ilic) did a really good job holding that guy, not letting him get to the ball," Abend said. "I just took a shot, prayed, and it went in.”
The victory moved LouCity clear of the Charlotte Independence atop the USL Eastern Conference, and that's with two games in hand. The first of the club's final eight regular-season games is set for Saturday, Sept. 9, away against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.