For the past two seasons, Charleston Battery midfielder Ataulla Guerra was Robin to Romario Williams’ Batman.
Guerra was the perfect sidekick to Williams’ leading role with the club. Guerra was the consummate complementary player, who did all the dirty work that allowed Williams to have back-to-back seasons of double-digit goals.
But with Williams playing with Atlanta United in Major League Soccer, the burden of scoring goals for the Battery this season has fallen on the shoulders of the Trinidadian midfielder.
It’s not a position he’s totally comfortable with. Guerra enjoyed his role when Williams was with the team, playing just behind the talented Jamaican striker, feeding him passes and doing all the grunt work that made the Battery one of the top scoring teams in the USL a year ago.
While Guerra doesn’t consider himself a natural goal scorer, he has certainly acted like one during the first four months of the USL season. As the Battery heads into Saturday night's match at MUSC Health Stadium with the Richmond Kickers, the 30-year-old has 11 goals on the season. He is tied for the USL lead for the Golden Boot, which is given to the league’s top goal-scorer.
“There’s a lot of responsibility on me to score every game,” Guerra said. “They are looking for me to score every game. Chances are something that you can create. You have to look for them. It’s not my preferred position with my back to the ball all the time, but if I have to, I’ll play it. I always knew that I could finish, it was just a matter of getting into position in the box and being alive in the box.”
Guerra has scored four times in the last five games, including a header in the 88th minute last week against Pittsburgh that proved to be the game winner. With his two assists, Guerra has had a hand in half of the Battery’s 28 goals this season. He also leads the club by creating 23 scoring chances.
“With Romario gone, we asked Ataulla to be more of a goal scorer this season, and he’s responded very well,” said Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. “Instead of being the assist guy, the guy who distributes the ball, he’s up top finishing off our attacks. He’s always had that extra little bit of quality you need to score goals. He’s played up there before, and he’s been having a great season, and we hope that continues.”
Three years ago, Guerra started his career with the Battery as more of a defensive midfielder. He slowly moved up in the Battery’s formation until he settled into his natural spot of an attacking midfielder the past two seasons.
“I just play where the coaches tell me to play,” Guerra said. “I know I can play any position on the pitch, but I prefer to play right behind the striker. Right now, we don’t have that player that I can play behind, so I’ve got to do what I’m doing - scoring for my team.”
But even Guerra is surprised at the rate he’s been scoring this season.
“Things are going my way,” Guerra said. “I’m getting the bounces, and that come from confidence, I’m just trying to create chances and be as consistent as possible. I know one is going to fall for me. My mentality is if I get a half chance, or any chance, I believe I can score.”
Anhaeuser has always marveled at Guerra’s work ethic on and off the field. It’s that intensity during training sessions that Anhaeuser believes has led to his success this season.
“I believe things have been working for me because of my attitude and work rate in training,” Guerra said. “Everything that I’ve done on the training ground has been working for me during the games. Everything I practice on the training grounds I’ve been able to implement during the games.”
As the goals have continued to mount for Guerra, teams have started to take notice. Anhaeuser expects Guerra to be defended even closer as the season moves into August and September.
“A lot of teams have really started to mark him closely, but he’s got that ability to get away from defenders,” Anhaeuser said. “When guys are playing tight on him, it sometimes works to his benefit because he can roll them or get past them. He can also lay the ball off, so the next game he might have four assists instead of four goals. He has that commitment to win.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s match is set for 7 p.m.