Rochester's recording breaking defense took on the high-flying firepower of LA Galaxy II on Friday night for the 2015 USL Championship from Sahlen's Stadium. After an intense 120 minute match, the Rhinos came out on top to claim the fourth league title in their 20 year history with a 2-1 victory. LA's star forward Ariel Lassiter opened the scoring before Asani "Big Game" Samuels scored two headers for the win.
In the second half, Bryan Olivera hit an out-swinging left footed service found the head centerback Bradley Diallo at the top of the six-yard-box after taking a slight touch off Daniel Steres. Brandon Miller jumped up to push the ball away but the powerful header but the ball smacked off the underside of the crossbar.
The league shutout-king was unable to get solid contact on the ball either before hit came back off the woodwork or after. LA's Ariel Lassiter was unmarked in the goalmouth to tap home the rebound while Miller was on the ground.
Lassiter's 65th minute goal, his fourth of the 2015 USL playoffs, gave the visitors a well-deserved lead. Los Dos came out of the halftime break the much more energized team and controlled a majority of the run of play. The Rhinos did not register a single shot in the second half until stoppage time.
Asani Samuels had scored just twice for Rochester in the USL; both games came late in the season and Samuels came into the game later. The first was in the 86th minute at home against Harrisburg City Islanders on August 22, the second was an 85th minute goal against Toronto FC in the regular season finale. Samuels was also the difference-maker on the road in the Third Round U.S. Open Cup, scoring twice and assisting the third in extra time.
In the dying minutes of the game, Rochester pushed up the left side and won a free kick from Oscar Sorto. The free kick wasn't very effective but did win the home side a corner kick as regulation wound up. Mendoza lined up the corner that found Samuels at the top of the six-yard-box. The Jamaican-born forward rose above the crowd of players, including goalkeeper Diop, and fired his header down into the turf.
LA did not place a defender on either post so Samuels's header had the chance to bounce off the ground in front of the goal line before tumbling in for the equalizer in stoppage time. The goal in the 90+ minute was a dagger in the heart of LA players who were just minutes away from lifting the trophy themselves.
The emotional blow on Los Dos from conceding when the result was within reach was visible during extra time. LA Galaxy II struggled to regain the impressive run of possession they displayed in the second half of regulation.
Kenardo Forbes took the corner kick from the same corner and found the same player. Asani Samuels rose up again, despite heavy pressure from LA's Tommy Meyer, and nodded in with the side of his head past substitute goalkeeper Bennett Sneddon. The second header from Samuels gave Rochester the lead in the 113th minute.
Goalkeeper Bennett Sneddon came on for Clement Diop after the starter was concussed in a collision with Colin Rolfe. 18-year-old Sneddon made his first appearance in USL after he signed a professional contract with LA Galaxy II on July 20th. Prior to that contract, Sneddon had trained with the team and had sat on the bench a number of times in 2015 and 2014 as an academy player.
Rochester had 7 total shots in the game but only 2 of those were on frame, meaning that both of LA's goalkeepers combined for 0 saves. In the second half of regulation the Rhinos did not muster a single shot until the goal from Samuels in stoppage time.
In extra time, however, the true Rochester Rhinos form showed through and they limited the visitors to zero overall shots. The Rhinos won in true Bob Lilley fashion, a 1-goal margin after a tightly contested affair.
Bob Lilley has spoken throughout the season about his team's ability to battle through adversity. He often referred to the 3-1 victory on the road over Harrisburg City Islanders in the U.S. Open Cup, when the team played about 80 minutes into extra time with only 10 players.
All of the work that the players and coaching staff have brought in since the wintry preseason training sessions has finally paid off. Bob Lilley's match management paid off in the USL Championship not from his defensive organization but from his in-game attacking substitutions.
The Rochester Rhinos are the 2015 USL Champions.