Goalkeeper Kristian Nicht was rocking a mean-looking mohawk on Friday, which must have helped him keep a clean sheet during a late push by VSI Tampa Bay FC.
A hallmark of Pat Ercoli-coached Rhinos teams of old was attacking teams early before they had a chance to settle into the flow of the match. This is exactly what the Rhinos did on Friday night as forward Blake Brettschneider and central midfielder Tyler Rosenlund combined in just the 4th minute. Brettschneider won a physical aerial battle with a Tampa defender before taking a tough towards the endline. Rosenlund saw space open up in front of the near post and made sure to get himself there before his teammate crossed. Brettschneider's cross found Rosenlund who opened up his hips and redirected the ball to the far post with his left foot.
1-0 to the Rochester Rhinos. This mark was uncommon but not unheard of, as Rochester had led at home against Montreal Impact Reserves last week.
Tampa Bay's back four were flat even after the Rhinos' goal and the team continued to exploit that with balls over the top to forwards or diagonals played into the channels for J.C. Banks or Mike Reidy.
Reidy was active throughout the game, as he usually is, and crossed a dangerous ball in from the left side early in the match. Forward on loan from the Revolution, Matt Horth did well to flick the cross into the path of Rosenlund's late arriving run into the 18-yard box. Rosenlund's shot hit off the crossbar, but the Rhinos were showing lethal intent and stringing together positive attacking sequences.
In the 25th minute, Horth pulled up limp clutching his hamstring. Coach Ercoli prompted both Tam McManus and the recently signed Andrew Hoxie to warm up but chose the Scotsman over Hoxie, who had joined the team on Tuesday.
McManus made his presence felt in the 37th minute with a wicked shot that hit off the post and caromed out of play. A veteran move, McManus used a Tampa Bay defender to screen the goalkeeper's view of his curling shot from outside the area.
J.C. Banks looked to have his swagger back in this match. In the first half he made a run down the right side, knocked the ball down with his head into his own path while sprinting, and cut the ball back into the area from the endline. Though the cross was dealt with by Tampa Bay's defense, Banks was not far from finding either Brettschneider or McManus and routinely made quick work of the opposition fullbacks. Banks and Reidy would switch flanks throughout the night.
While Reidy has made waves this season with his speed, the winger needs to be more decisive in the final third. Late in the first half Reidy ran in behind Tampa's defense but sprinted wide of the goal, which prevented the recent Colgate University graduate from having any angle for a shot. There was also no one else in the area to cross to because Reidy's teammates could not keep up with his breakneck pace.
The Rhinos did not start the second half the way they finished the first, whereas Tampa Bay came out of halftime energized. This led to some nervy moments at the beginning of the second period, especially when the Rhinos did not close down Tampa Bay's Mauricio Salles quickly enough. Rochester fans know Salles well from his time as a Rhino and his current tenure lighting up the Major Indoor Soccer League with the Rochester Lancers. VSI Tampa Bay was looking like the stronger team until Banks and McManus combined on a spectacular goal for the Rhinos.
From a broken play between midfield and the attacking third, 2012 Team MVP Banks played a ball forward on a side volley into space. The pass from Banks was weighted perfectly and McManus easily cleared the Tampa Bay defense, bearing down on goal from the left side of the area. Because the ball played in caught the defense off-guard, Tampa Bay's goalkeeper rushed off his line. McManus, a clever player around goal, flicked the ball over the onrushing Dave Martin and his shot dropped neatly into the net.
2-0 to the Rhinos; a brilliant assist by J.C. Banks and an even better goal from Tam McManus.
In the 58th minute, Bilal Duckett was booked for knocking the ball out of Salles's hands. This is another instance of a lack of discipline from the Revs' loanee full back.
Around the hour mark, McManus continued his strong performance by playing a ball through the center for Reidy to latch onto. Reidy curled around his defender, coming in from the right side, and dribbled into the 18-yard box. The young Rochester native drew the attention of several Tampa defenders and when he tried to cut back onto his right foot, one of them poked the ball to safety. Mike Reidy has the potential to be a great player at this level (or higher) but he desperately needs to complete his game.
Lance "Sunshine" Rozeboom picked up a loose ball in no man's land (between midfield and the attacking third) and played a fine pass to McManus down the right-side channel. McManus drove to the endline and crossed back into the area for Brettschneider. The former Revs and D.C. United forward ghosted into the center of the area, completely unmarked, and met the cross around the penalty spot. Brettschneider jumped up to side volley his shot off the bounce into the near side corner.
3-0 to the Rochester (formerly Raging) Rhinos was almost too good to be true. First time this season the team had scored 3 goals and they weren't even content with that scoreline.
McManus left the field in the 72nd minute to a standing ovation while returning Rhinos Andrew Hoxie entered the field to the same standing ovation. In the 76th minute, Revs' loanee Gabe Latigue subbed in for fan-favorite Banks and actively tried to leave his imprint on the match.
In the 86th minute, Brettschneider flicked a pass into the path of Latigue, whose blistering shot from the left side nearly ripped the outside netting of the goal. Less than a minute later, Rosenlund played a ball into the area for Hoxie. "The Big Smooth" showed his trademark composure in the area by controlling the ball from 3 Tampa Bay defenders and laying off a pass for Latigue at the edge of the area. Latigue's low shot had beaten Martin but flew just wide of the far post.
Brettschneider came off in the 87th minute for defender Tyler Bellamy. This match was Brettschneider most complete performance as a Rhino to date. Ross LaBauex also entered the match in stoppage time for Duckett.
Kristian Nicht withstood a stoppage time barrage by Tampa Bay despite nursing a late abdominal strain and a tight left groin. Nicht pulled up after a goal kick in the last few minute of regulation but stayed in goal and came up with a number of huge saves. Tampa Bay's Bundu was played in from the top of the area but Nicht kick-saved the close range shot. The German goalkeeper made himself large to block a toe-poke shot from Rife seconds later.
Brettschneider and McManus each registered a goal and an assist as the pair combined to lead Rochester to the season's best performance.