Rochester displayed the same sluggish first half performance that fans have unfortunately come to expect at home. After a brief weather delay, the rain parted but the players forgot to start playing. The star of the first half was the center referee Jeff Forward. Though the second half did pick up intensity, only the last 15 minutes produced anything resembling quality soccer. It was a truly drear scoreless draw for the Rochester Rhinos against the Charleston Battery.
Okay, you guys. There were zero shots on goal in the opening 45 minutes. That's not a deceptive stat line, in fact that one shot credited to each team in the first half was probably generous from the statistician. Rochester was caught offside twice and earned a corner while Charleston had two corners. There are absolutely no highlights from the first half.
Rochester Rhinos starting lineup:
John McCarthy; Pat McMahon, Babacar Diallo, Kyle Hoffer, Onua Obasi; Tony Walls, Alec Sundly, Mike Garzi (65'), Tyler Rosenlund (85'); Minh Vu (65'), Colin Rolfe (83')
Subs: Brandon Miller, Patrick Slogic, Lance Rozeboom (85'), Sam Petrone, JC Banks (65'), Pierre Omanga (83'), Levi Houapeu (65')
The lineup was another tweak on a 4-4-2. Lilley pretty much lined his men up in a 4-3-1-2 with Walls as the anchorman, Garzi playing center-right, and Sundly playing as the center-left midfielder. Tyler Rosenlund was operating as the playmaker in front of the three midfielders but behind a strike tandem of Vu and Rolfe. Though both forwards are rather dynamic, neither provided consistently wide outlets and the midfielders all stayed tucked inside. Obasi likes to get forward but he didn't make enough of an impact and McMahon is still finding his balance when he pushes into the attack.
Again, Lilley's hand was forced by the lack of healthy natural wide players but Friday night's performance (both the coach's tactical performance and the players' effort) paled in comparison to the victory over Orlando. Rochester was stale at best in the first half as no one seemed to have ideas or the motivation to pursue them. In the second half, some players appeared to have a fire under their feet but the team's attacks were disjointed and lacked cohesive flow.
The last 15 minutes were played at a frenetic pace. Bob Lilley referred to that period of the game as a "track meet" and said that when games open up like that the result can be "flip of a coin." Lilley has showcased his defensive organization time and again with this Rhinos squad but his team has rarely shown any attacking flair to complement that workrate off the ball.
Tony Walls enjoys playing the tough guy in defensive midfield, he told me that was his natural role growing up in club and college and JC Banks later collaborated that story. "Ball-winning is one of my better attributes and defensive midfield is one of the positions where I can use that the most," Walls said, "Anything to help the team."
John McCarthy has the swagger to be a superstar. His ability is venerable but his attitude and personal drive can take him to the top of the domestic game. He not only knows what he has to do to succeed but is adept at reading how others adapt to situations on the field in front of him. McCarthy had some praise for the progress of his starting centerback Babacar Diallo. "Baba grew up in France, his English isn't the best, and he's kinda shy so we've had to urge him on every game. But he's getting better there, he's definitely gotten stronger since the beginning of the season."
"In terms of communication, Kyle is very good," the rookie goalkeeper continued. "When Slogic came in against Orlando his communication was on point, he did very well. I feel like across the whole back line, from Pat McMahon to Onua, it's getting better. Every game it's getting better." Consistent play from the defense will be important as the Rhinos make their way towards the postseason but McCarthy noticed some shortcomings within the attacking players.
"I think the back line was communicating great today but there definitely could have been some more up the field. Our organization has to be better through the midfield." McCarthy told me he is confident that Walls can marshal the midfield when he becomes more familiar with that position at the USL Pro level.
A feel-good note from Friday night's game involves former Revolution 2014 third round SuperDraft pick Pierre Omanga who made his professional debut on Friday night when he came off the bench in the 83rd minute. The Paris native has been dealing with a sports hernia since joining Rochester in the spring."I was injured for three months so it was hard to get as prepared as I wanted to because of that. But now I am getting better and I am feeling fit and I hope that I'm going to get more playing time by the end of the season."
I asked Omanga in which role he feels he best excels on the field, "I think I can be the target guy for the team but I'm gonna play wherever the coach wants me to play. When I was in New England I was playing at wing. So wherever the coach wants me to play I'm going to get in there and do the job."
Omanga was an unused substitute against Orlando last weekend and came off the bench for his debut against Charleston on Friday night, I joked if that meant he was going to earn a start next week, "I hope so. I'm waiting for my chance and hopefully I'm going to score some goals and make a difference."
That game next week is the final of Rochester's five game homestand, the team's only meeting with Orange County Blues FC. An early evening kickoff of 6:05PM on Sunday will bring the return of fan-favorite forward Andrew Hoxie to Sahlen's Stadium as the Rhinos battle another team on the cusp of the 8th and final playoff position.