Former Charleston Battery striker Romario Williams (right) is looking to land a spot with Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United this season. Photo provided
It doesn’t seem to matter where Romario Williams is playing when the soccer season begins — at some point he always ends up in the Lowcountry.
And that’s just fine with the former Charleston Battery striker.
Williams, who played the last two summers for the Battery, is back in Charleston this week trying to earn a spot with Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United FC.
Williams, along with the Five Stripes, are in the Lowcountry for the Carolina Challenge Cup, a week-long tournament featuring three MLS teams — Atlanta, Minnesota United, Columbus Crew — and the Charleston Battery of the USL. The MLS teams are making their final preparations for the start of the regular-season on March 3.
When Williams stepped onto the field at MUSC Health Stadium on Saturday night for Atlanta’s opening-round Cup match against the Columbus Crew, the Jamaican native couldn’t help but get a little nostalgic.
“To be out there Saturday night and to see the fans that cheered for me the last two years was special,” Williams said. “I have so many great memories from playing here the last two years.
"This will always will be a special place for me because the Battery gave me an opportunity to play a lot of minutes and develop as a player."
The Charleston Battery, a 1-0 winner over Minnesota United in the opening round of the Cup, plays Columbus on Wednesday at 5 p.m. Minnesota faces Atlanta United at 7:30 p.m.
This is a crucial season for Williams, a No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by the Montreal Impact. Atlanta acquired Williams from the Impact in 2016. He spent the next two seasons on loan with Charleston.
The former Central Florida star had an immediate impact on the Battery lineup, leading the club in scoring each of the two seasons he was with the club. He had 15 goals last summer in 22 appearances.
“Romario was fantastic for us, especially early in the season,” said Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. “He has the quality, the pace and the technical ability to finish. Any time he has the ball at his feet, he’s a threat to score.”
Williams was called up to the Jamaican national team throughout the summer and scored twice in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“In my young professional career, there’s no doubt that last season was the best season I’ve had,” Williams said. “It was a really good showing both at the club level and internationally. I was able to get into a rhythm during the early stages of the season and was able to carry that into the Gold Cup.”
By the end of the summer, all the travel and minutes caught up to Williams, who struggled to score over the final month of the USL season.
“I think fatigue was definitely a factor late in the year, but that’s a part of being a professional player,” Williams said. “As a striker you have to take care of your body so you can play on a high level when called upon. I was a bit disappointed not to finish the season a little stronger than I did. Especially after the kind of start I had, I expected more from myself.”
Williams said he spent the offseason working on his fitness level so he could avoid another late-season slump.
“At this level, there is no offseason,” Williams said. “You have to try and be match fit year round, so that’s what I’ve worked on since the season ended.”
Williams has played sparingly during the preseason, backing up Atlanta starting striker Josef Martinez, who scored 19 goals in 20 matches last season. Williams did score a goal in Atlanta’s 3-1 victory over Nashville SC on Feb. 10.
“It’s been a good preseason for me, I feel like I’ve been sharp and my movement has been good,” Williams said. “I had a goal against Nashville and that was finally good to get my first goal in the Five Stripes. It’s a very talented group and a deep group, so it’s going to come down to what I do in practice."