Ataulla Guerra does all the dirty things on a soccer field that don’t always show up in the boxscore.
If there’s a loose ball, Guerra is usually there to win it. If the opposition is building an attack, Guerra is there to break it up. If the Battery needs a pass to free up a teammate for a quality scoring chance, it’s normally Guerra’s flick that starts the play.
Guerra might only have four goals on the season, but there might not be a more valuable player for the Battery than the lanky midfielder from Trinidad & Tobago.
Looking to end a recent winless streak, the Battery will take on the New York Red Bulls II Saturday night at MUSC Health Stadium beginning at 7 p.m.
For the first two months of the season, the Battery was among the top scoring teams in the USL. Much of the credit for the Battery’s offensive success can be directly traced to the feet of Guerra.
“He’s the player that is our link from our defense in the midfield to the forwards up front,” said Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. “He’s very important to our attack. He’s huge. He has the technical ability to make a good pass and the dribbling ability to breakdown a defender and he has the ability to finish.
“If a defender doesn’t step to him he can slide a pass by them or shoot. If they step up on him, then he can get by them, take the shot or make that final pass that leads to a goal.”
When teamed with striker Romario Williams, who has 14 goals on the season, the two make a lethal combination.
“Those two have such great chemistry and they feed off of each other,” Anhaeuser said. “Romario creates space, but so does Ataulla. They create space and scoring chances for each other.”
The Battery’s attack has been anemic of late, scoring just three times in their last six matches.
Guerra injured his groin against Jacksonville in the U.S. Open Cup in late May, forcing him to miss all of June and the better part of July. It’s no coincidence that while Guerra was rehabbing and working his way back onto the field, the Battery's offensive struggles began. Charleston has won just one time during the month of July and is 0-3-3 in its last six matches.
“One player shouldn’t make that much of a difference and all of our struggles of late are not only because we were missing Ataulla, but he’s a big part of what makes our attack go," Anhaeuser said. "We need to have him back on the field.”
Guerra returned to the lineup, playing 60 minutes in a 1-0 loss to Toronto FC II last week. Guerra said he’s close to getting his timing back and should return to early-season form in the next couple of weeks.
“I’m feeling more comfortable out there, it’s progressing,” Guerra said. “The biggest thing is getting my confidence back. I’m 75-80 percent of where I was at the beginning of the season. I still don’t have full confidence in my right leg. I can shoot, but not like at the beginning of the season.”
A year ago, Guerra played all over the field for the Battery. He saw extended time at holding midfield, but was also used as an attacking midfielder, outside midfielder and forward during the 2016 season. He admits he’s most comfortable playing just behind the forwards in the Battery’s attacking formation. It’s there that the 29-year-old can best take advantage of his ability to set teammates up for scoring opportunities.
“I like to get the ball in dangerous positions,” Guerra said. “If I’m right behind the striker I can free up my teammates and be on the ball as much as possible. I prefer to be more of an offensive player, but I’ll do whatever the coaches ask me to do.”
Guerra said the Battery just needs to find its confidence again, and scoring early against New York on Saturday night will be the best way to get out of their scoring funk.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of goal it is, an ugly goal will do,” Guerra said. “We just need to get an early goal to get our confidence back and start scoring like we were in the beginning of the season.”