Fourth-year goalkeeper Brandon Miller impressed Rhinos head coach Bob Lilley during the past week's training and earned the starting nod ahead of rookie Adam Grinwis and Scottish veteran Sean Murdoch. Regular centerback Grant van de Casteele tweaked a hamstring at the end of last week's game in Saint Louis and sat out of the squad as a precautionary measure. Revolution midfielder-on-loan Tyler Rudy started with Tony Walls in the center of the field.
The first half breakthrough came from the hard work of forward Colin Rolfe. The industrious Rolfe put New York centerback Andrew Jean-Baptiste under significant pressure and won the ball before laying a pass back to Tyler Rudy. "We were trying to get a little bit of pressure on their centerbacks. We thought if we did that they would give up the ball. That was just one example of good team defending and it resulted in a goal," Rolfe said after the game.
Rudy curled a shot with his right foot from the top of the 18-yard-box but Santiago Castano sprawled to his left to make the diving save. The ball fell to Alex Dixon who finished his first-time volley from about six yards out to give Rochester the lead.
Rudy spoke after the game about his involvement in the game-winning goal and its likeness to a certain Revolution goal against Real Salt Lake. "It was a great play by Colin Rolfe. That's just how he is all game; a scrappy player. He got the ball to me and I was trying to pick out the back corner. The shot didn't have enough bend on it but the keeper made a good save. In the Revs game yesterday Chris Tierney had same shot from the same spot; I was trying to reenact that Tierney goal, for sure. I was happy to get the first points on the board for me here in Rochester," Rudy said.
Dixon was rather muted in his celebrations after the game. The former Houston Dynamo forward said, "Rudy had a shot and the keeper made a good save. I was just in the right place at the right time and had an easy tap-in."
Rochester started the game with a flat 4-4-2 formation against NYRB's 4-3-3 but coach Lilley was uncomfortable with the amount of the ball the visitors were controlling for long stretches at the beginning of the game. To deal with the overlapping runs from New York's fullbacks and the congested runs through the middle, Lilley switched to a diamond in midfield.
Rolfe discussed the ebb and flow of the match after the game. "The first ten minutes they came out and were moving the ball well. We weren't too worried about that, we knew that they're a good possession team coming in. I thought we dealt with that well as the game went on. I feel like we got the better of the chances and it showed on the scoreboard today."
As New York pressed in the second half to create an equalizer, Rochester punished the visitors with an incisive counter attack. Christian Volesky won the ball at half field shortly after entering the game for Dixon. When Volesky played a square pass to Rolfe, Mendoza saw the opportunity develop. "I saw Rolfe getting the ball so I started running and calling his name," Mendoza said after the game. Mendoza overlapped Rolfe on the left side, took one touch to draw Castano off his line, and cutely finished past New York's goalkeeper to double Rochester's advantage.
Despite capping off a strong personal performance with a goal, Mendoza wasn't particularly pleased with the showing from his team. "This performance wasn't the best. We needed to have control of the game more but we got the three points and that's what matters. Getting the three points in front of this crowd is huge."
Head coach Bob Lilley shared those sentiments. "It's a good result but I don't think we played particularly well on either end so hopefully we can grow a little bit." Lilley credited Rolfe's work rate for the first goal saying that Rolfe "doesn't give up on any ball," and that, "He forced the turnover in the big play going into halftime." The veteran USL coach also cited Mendoza's ability to read the play for the team's second goal.
"Johnny recognizes moments. Typically he's not going to have that much space to run into. Normally he's the connector for us but there was an opening because of how many guys they were pushing forward. He recognized those moments and was prepared to get forward in behind."
Timi Mulgrew replaced Mendoza in the 78th minute for his Rochester debut. The dynamic forward played the final dozen minutes plus stoppage time as a right winger and did a lot of work on the defensive side of the ball.
While it may a bit presumptuous to trot out the tired line that "champions find a way to win even while playing poorly," this 4-0-2 Rochester Rhinos team certainly acts like a champion. Colin Rolfe attributed the positive feelings around the team to the high standards demanded by Bob Lilley.
"I think we understand his personality a little bit better this year. He holds us to a high standard every day. We go into practice and he challenges us to get better. As long as we keep doing that, I think we'll be looking good towards the end of the season."
Rochester next plays in Montreal on Saturday May 2 at 4PM.