The weather started out bright and sunny at Sahlen's Stadium around kick-off but the night turned dramatically dark by the end of the match. Rochester's prospects on Saturday night followed much the same trajectory. Despite taking a first half lead from Minh Vu's well-taken free kick, the Rhinos conceded three times before ultimately losing 3-2.
John McCarthy; Pat McMahon (75'), Babacar Diallo, Kyle Hoffer, Tony Walls; Tyler Rosenlund, Lance Sunshine Rozeboom (59'), Alex Dixon, Minh Vu (69'), JC Banks; Colin Rolfe (82')
Mike Lisch; Rob Vincent, Andrew Marshall, Sterling Flunder, Brian Fekete (66'); Matt Dallman (89'), Danny Earls, Alfonso Motagalvan, Kevin Kerr; Mike Green (72'), Collins John (83')
Pittsburgh Subs: Hunter Gilstrap, Mike Seth (83'), Seth C'deBaca (89'), Joseph Ngwenya (66'), Jose Angulo (72'), Johnny Arteaga
The Rhinos mostly played a 4-2-3-1 on Saturday night with Lance Rozeboom and Tyler Rosenlund the deepest players in midfield. Colin Rolfe played up top and Banks played behind him in the hole. Minh Vu lined up on the right side with Alex Dixon on the left but the two attackers frequently switched flanks to run at different defenders.
Tony Walls played against the Riverhounds in the left back position after neither Onua Obasi nor Ayao Sossou dressed for the game. Babacar Diallo, who had gotten time in the cup match against Reading United AC, partnered Kyle Hoffer in the center of defense. Whether he's playing centerback, in midfield, or as a fullback, Tony Walls has a high soccer IQ and regularly makes clever decisions that may not appear as much at the time but routinely put his teammates in better positions with the ball.
In just the first ten minutes of Saturday night's game, Rochester earned a free kick and two corners. Though the team wasn't able to take advantage of these opportunities, the early chances allowed center forward Colin Rolfe to get involved inside the area. One would think that repeated service into the former Houston Dynamo forward would have provided Rolfe with a rhythm but he was a step behind the play for the whole game.
Rolfe, Vu, and Dixon combined well to win a free kick in a dangerous position for the Rhinos in the 24th minute. Rolfe drew a defender but dummied the ball to Vu who played a pass into the path of Dixon coming in from the right wing. Dixon took a touch on the ball before getting fouled hard by a Pittsburgh defender.
Both Minh Vu and JC Banks stood behind the ball but Vu curled his free kick around the outside of the wall and into the near post of Mike Lisch's goal in the 26th minute. It was Vu's second goal of the season for Rochester, his previous coming in Chicago in that rather bogus game against the Fire Reserves. The previous game in which Vu scored was the only game that Rochester scored more than 1 goal, a 2-0 win, this season in USL Pro.
After scoring the goal, Rochester seemed to concede more and more of the game to Pittsburgh. The equalizer in the 43rd minute was almost as inevitable as the Rhinos' opening goal. Danny Earls whipped in service with his left foot from the near corner and defender Brian Fekete did well to direct his header into the ground. The ball bounced up just out of reach of John McCarthy's gloves at the far post to tie up the game.
Pittsburgh's goal before halftime was only the second goal that John McCarthy has allowed in USL Pro this season, the only other coming against Orlando in Rochester on May 10. McCarthy led the league in clean sheets coming into this weekend's matches.
Despite starting the second half with a couple quality chances, the Rhinos quickly slumped back down and allowed Pittsburgh to take control of the game. Danny Earls got his second assist of the night with another well-taken corner kick with his left foot. In the 75th minute Earls sent an in-swinging service that defender Rob Vincent was able to direct the ball to the far post unopposed without leaving the ground. To borrow a cliche from the FIFA video games, "That was schoolboy defending."
Mistakes piled up for the Rhinos as an unnecessary turnover in the defensive half gifted Pittsburgh a third goal. Substitutes Joseph Ngwenya and Jose Angulo combined to punished a lazy play by Rochester. Diallo played a soft pass up the field to Dixon whose poor first touch allowed Ngwenya to poke the ball lose. Angulo picked up the ball and drove forward, as Rochester's defense scrambled to take up positions, before dishing a pass out wide to Ngwenya.
Ngwenya made quick work of Diallo at the endline and played a simple square pass for Angulo who somehow beat two Rochester defenders into the 6-yard box. The tap-in for 2013's USL Pro MVP was not a shining of Bob Lilley's stalwart defensive organization.
As a consolation and what might have been a make-up call from referee Jeff Forward, Rochester won a penalty in the 90th minute. Tony Walls, who had taken up a role as a striker, went down in the area under a challenge from Danny Earls and JC Banks calmly stepped up to take the shot. Despite nailing the penalty for his fourth goal of the season, Banks was unable to rally the team to equalize in four minutes of stoppage time.
Saturday night marked not only the first win of the 2014 USL Pro season for Pittsburgh but also the first time that the Riverhounds had ever won in Rochester. The Rhinos were 12-0-1 against Pittsburgh all-time coming into Saturday's match. This was also the first time since the season opener at Orlando that the Rhinos conceded multiple goals in a game.
Over the course of the postgame press time, Rochester head coach Bob Lilley said the phrase, "We didn't do the little things," three or four times. Lilley has been upset about small mistakes and the lack of intelligent work rate from his team for a couple weeks now. "We were gonna pay a price at some point and now the lesson's been served," Lilley said after the game. "Hopefully we can move on from it quickly and make up for it as we go forward."
The schedule certainly doesn't get any easier for the Rhinos now. Rochester flies out to the West Coast to take on LA Galaxy II on Wednesday before traveling to face Arizona United SC on Saturday. "Now we have to regroup quickly and play at a higher level because the next game is going to be a very difficult one in LA," Lilley said more wishful than confident. "We've gotta build during this road trip if we want to have an opportunity against D.C."
Despite the two road games coming up on the longest trip of the season for the Rhinos, all eyes are on that Fourth Round U.S. Open Cup match-up against D.C. United at home on June 17. Before that though, Rochester plays LA Galaxy II on Wednesday June 11 at 10:30PM EST and Arizona United SC on Saturday June 14 at 10:00PM EST.