On July 19th, Rochester head coach Bob Lilley watched his team fall to Wilmington Hammerheads FC thanks to a counter attack by TFC's Jordan Hamilton (who is now headed to the Portuguese second division on loan). Lilley was justly furious with his team's performance at home to a team that played the night before. Last night's result might just make up for dropping points at home to Wilmington.
Orlando City came into Sunday afternoon's matchup undefeated on the season. Last year's squad, the one with Dom Dwyer that cruised through the USL Pro playoffs beating opponents by a combined score of 15-6, still managed to lose 4 league contests. A lot of us who follow the league joked that 2014 would be Orlando's victory lap before departing USL for the big lights of Major League Soccer, and the team's record before this weekend was a testament to that quality. Orlando had only dropped 8 points from 18 league matches this season in the form of 4 draws; that's 85% of all available points.
Rochester had pretty abysmal home form before Sunday's match, holding a record of 3-4-2 at Sahlen's Stadium. Rochester beat Charleston at home early in the season, defeated a very weak Dayton side, and then destroyed an oddly understaffed FC Dallas Reserves team for its three victories in Rochester. The Rhinos had a faint sense of hope ahead of the team's third match against Orlando this season. The team lost but wasn't run off the park in its season opener in Orlando and held the defending champions to a 1-1 draw in Rochester in May.
Rochester had never beaten Orlando in 9 previous meetings in USL Pro.
John McCarthy; Patrick Slogic, Babacar Diallo, Onua Obasi, Pat McMahon; Tyler Rosenlund (83'), Tony Walls, Johnny Mendoza (86'), Alec Sundly (80'); Levi Houapeu (68'), Colin Rolfe (75')
Subs: Brandon Miller, Kyle Hoffer (86'), Mike Garzi (68'), Lance Rozeboom (80'), Minh Vu (83'), Matt Luzunaris (75'), Pierre Omanga
Rochester's lineup was a bit weird in that there were no natural wide midfielders on the field. This is forced by injuries to Alex Dixon and JC Banks. Dixon is still recovering from a nasty toe injury and Banks is suffering from a concussion. Banks cracked heads with a defender against Wilmington and was medically cleared during the week but told me that he was struck by a ball during training on Saturday.
To compensate for the lack of wide options, Rosenlund and Mendoza operated as central wingers and Houapeu played dynamically just behind Rolfe. Rosenlund and Mendoza played in the middle when Rochester was defending and then would run outside when a ball was played into either channel.
Talking to Lilley about Orlando, the veteran coach did not seem impressed by the supposed American soccer darlings. Lilley said Orlando didn't play much differently than other teams in USL Pro but that they simply executed better. Against Wilmington, Lilley was very disappointed with central defender Kyle Hoffer and opted to replace him in the starting lineup with Slogic. Slogic offers height in the back and frees up Diallo to utilize his speed. Both Tony Walls and Revolution-loanee Alec Sundly played defensive roles to clog up space in the middle for Orlando.
Much of the first half-hour was an open affair. Rochester had a few chances early but the visitors did their best to keep the Rhinos' backline honest. The breakthrough came on a midfield turnover by USL Pro MVP candidate Kevin Molino. Colin Rolfe won possession from Molino, played a short pass to Houapeu and then made a run on the left side waiting for the return.
Houapeu tried twice to find Rolfe but couldn't elude veteran defender Rob Valentino. The third time was the charm as Houapeu ducked behind a recovering Aodhan Quinn and found Rolfe in acres of space at the top of the 18 yard box. 17 year old defender Tommy Redding could not close Rolfe down and the former Houston forward lobbed a shot over Miguel Gallardo to the far post to give Rochester the lead in the 31st minute.
Despite whatever luck you could point to during the build-up, Rolfe's shot was taken perfectly and the striker deserved his second goal of the USL Pro campaign.
Just two minutes after going ahead, John McCarthy did his part to help the Rhinos and his own claim for the league's best goalkeeper. The rookie from LaSalle University did well to get down ball and parry Darwin Ceren's free kick from within 20 yards.
The second half was much of a midfield battle. Lilley introduced defensive midfielder Mike Garzi in place of Houapeu in the 68th minute before making two like-for-like switches, Matt Luzunaris for Rolfe (75th) up top and Lance Rozeboom (80th) for Sundly in midfield. With Luzunaris playing as the team's target forward, Minh Vu came on in to operate as the outlet player on the wings with 7 minutes left in regulation. In a move that we've seen a few times when the Rhinos are playing with the lead, Mendoza came off and Hoffer slotted in as an auxiliary centerback for just a few minutes left in the game.
Orlando only used two substitutes and the team only brought six players on the trip to Western New York. Ian Christianson, a midfielder that the New York Red Bulls loaned to Orlando on Friday, and Guiseppe Gentile, a forward waived by Chicago Fire on June 30, both entered the game in the 64th minute.
The visitors amassed seven corner kicks in the second half but didn't force McCarthy into making a single save. Despite plenty of midfield possession, Orlando couldn't create quality chances against Rochester. Through a combination of determination and luck, the Rhinos were able to complete a task that no other team in USL Pro has this year (Harrisburg and Richmond haven't played Orlando yet).
This win keeps Rochester in fifth place and moves to team to 8-7-6 (W-L-T). The Rhinos are well within the 8-team playoff picture and this result shows that Lilley's strong defensive organization can be successful with a few lucky bounces in the attacking end.