5,963 fans turned out for the Rhinos' home opener against recent nemesis Harrisburg. Although the result wasn't there, the team put together their best performance of the young season. The proceedings were unfortunately overshadowed by striker Matt Luzunaris stomach-churning broken leg.
Bilal Duckett picked up an injury at the end of the Revs' match in Portland earlier in the week and wasn't available for selection on Saturday night. Argentine right back Lucas Fernandez was also not available for head coach Jesse Myers after injuring his groin in training. With both right backs out, Myers turned to off-season central midfield signing Ross LaBauex to fill in on defense.
Hometown winger Mike Reidy started on the right and Revs' rookie Gabe Latigue started on the left side of midfield. Lance Rozeboom and Michael Tanke were defensive minded ball winners while Tyler Rosenlund looked to spark the attack going forward from midfield. Matt Luzunaris got the start up top.
The Harrisburg City Islanders came out of the gate stronger and faster than Rochester. Rhinos players tried to set a physical tone early with hard challenges against forwards Sainey Touray and Morgan Langley. Touray had a chance in the 6th minute but didn't have the composure in the area to punish the Rhinos' sluggish start.
The defining moment of the match, and possibly the season, was a horrifying injury to forward Luzunaris. Luzunaris was sprung on a through ball on the ground from the midfield and was bearing down on the area. Harrisburg goalkeeper Nick Noble rushed off his line and challenged for the ball as Luzunaris took a heavy touch at the top of the box. Noble won the ball, there was absolutely nothing dirty about the play, and Luzunaris looked to just go over from a hard challenge. The screams told a different story.
Disclaimer: This is gross.
Replays showed what actually happened. Because of a heavy touch, the ball got away from Luzunaris as Noble was coming off his line. That meant that Luzunaris was stretching to reach the ball when he collided with the keeper. The Rhinos forward had his right foot caught under Noble at the time of full contact and snapped his fibula. As Luzunaris rolled over top Noble and hit the ground, replays showed his lower right leg flapping around like cooked spaghetti. He was carted off and went directly to the hospital. Head coach Jesse Myers and team president Pat Ercoli both spoke to Luzunaris as he was being taken off the field
The loss of Luzunaris is a big blow to a Rhinos team that was struggled to score goals this season. Revs' loanee Matt Horth replaced Luzunaris for the rest of the match and will compete with Blake Brettschneider for the starting spot during the remainder of the season. Horth was active as soon as he entered the game but too many of his runs and passes were wasted as the midfield was largely not on the same page as the former Atlanta Silverbacks forward.
Harrisburg scored on one of two corner kicks they had in the first half. Christhian Hernandez put the corner into the area and Touray rose up to flick the ball to the far post. Langley was wide open at the far post and tapped the ball in to give the City Islanders the lead over the Rhinos. The injury to Luzunaris and the goal for Harrisburg seemed to take the bite out of the Rhinos' game. Harrisburg controlled much of the first half, winning a majority of midfield battles, retaining possession well, and feeding balls into the channels on the flanks.
Danny Earls was dynamic in defense and attack as he made important interceptions, recovered behind his central defense pair, distributed well from the back, and pushed up on the overlap down the left wing. Late in the first half Earls had a short cross from the left side to Latigue who was at the corner of the area. Latigue's shot was blocked by the Harrisburg defense and the ball fell to Horth but his shot was skied over the goal.
Latigue tried an ambitious placed shot to the far post, upper 90, but the ball curled just over the goal. Mike Reidy had the tenacity to take on several Harrisburg players but ran himself into a dead end. Latigue was open in the area but Reidy didn't see him and was dispossessed by three converging Harrisburg defenders. A minute later Latigue sent in a cross to Horth but the forward couldn't direct his header on frame.
The introduction of Tam McManus for Tanke around the hour mark changed the complexion of the game. McManus showed the hunger and fight that has been largely missing from the Rhinos this season. Reidy sent in a cross to McManus but the Scotsman's header was driven just wide of goal. Despite his positive movement and several shots, including a well-struck 25 yard free kick, McManus couldn't manufacture a result for Rochester.
Latigue came out for Kendell McFayden in the 69th minute, continuing the trend of not completing matches despite playing well. Tyler Polak entered the game in the 66th minute to replace Ross LaBauex, who went down with a cramp.
Rochester had a half-hearted penalty claim late on in the game, but the referee waved away the shouts. The final whistle came amid a strong stretch of pressure from the Rhinos, including a corner kick that Kristian Nicht went up for. Saturday night's result puts the team at 0-5-1, the Rhinos worst ever start to a season. Despite a good performance, especially in the second half, the team fell to Harrisburg for the sixth consecutive match against the City Islanders.
The team later revealed that Matt Luzunaris went into surgery on Sunday morning and will be out for 3 months if treatment is successful. Luzunaris suffered a broken fibula and tibia in his lower right leg. Well wishes for a speedy recovery to Matt who was always enthusiastic and excited to play his soccer in the city of Rochester.