While I predicted either a blow-out for Rochester or a resilient home win for Wilmington, the game ended in a draw. Despite long stretches of sustained pressure by Rochester, the visitors weren't able to force Hammerheads goalkeeper Andre Rawls into many saves. Both goals came at the end of this game in the 89th and 92nd minutes respectively.
Rochester was 2-2-5 all-time against Wilmington going into Saturday night's match. Last season the Rhinos played a scoreless draw in North Carolina, lost to a Jordan Hamilton breakaway goal at home, and resoundingly beat the Hammerheads at Sahlen's on the last day of the regular season. The Rhinos took a long bus trip down to Wilmington, highlights of which you can see here to face the struggling Hammerheads FC who have won just once this season.
It might be suggested that an undefeated team at the top of the standings would be content playing for a draw on the road but even if it was a game against a more apparently formidable team that Wilmington, Rochester head coach Bob Lilley wouldn't settle for anything.
Through the first five minutes of Rochester's ninth game of the season, the team had tried to force the issue through the middle, had played Colin Rolfe over the top into a wide left position, and had shown patience moving the ball around their own back-line and midfield. Even though the Rhinos showed potential in a variety of ways early on in this game, the visitors were unable to break through.
It felt like Rochester served up at least a dozen corner kicks in the first half. Without exaggerating, there was a spell inside the opening half hour when Rochester had four consecutive corner kicks. Second-year midfield Johnny Mendoza served up all of Rochester's corner kicks during the game.
On one such corner kick from the left side of the goal, Mendoza hit out-swinging service with his right foot that eluded the grasp of Andre Rawls and fell to Onua Obasi at the far post. Obasi smartly laid the ball off for Tony Walls whose long shot hit deflected off a Wilmington defender and was ultimately cleared.
In the 33rd minute another Mendoza corner from that same side of the field found Rochester's Julian Ringhof at the penalty spot. The German defender's uncontested header left Rawls planted on his heels but Wilmington's Justin Moose cleared the chance off the line. Oddly enough, this wasn't the midfielder's first save of the game as he had already made a goal-saving intervention.
Despite forcing the hosts into an "all hands on deck" mode of defending, Rochester couldn't score and actually conceded possession to Wilmington at the end of the first half. An injury to Wilmington's Brian Ackley prompted coach Carson Porter to introduce midfielder Nick Zimmerman who changed the complexion of the game and allowed the Hammerheads to retain much more possession.
Wilmington did not carry on this form into the second half but Rochester's chances were also few and far between. Around the 50th minute Revolution midfielder Tyler Rudy fired a fierce shot from a broken throw in on the left flank but his shot hit Wilmington's Anthony Peters. Volesky picked up the rebound but stabbed his quick shot into the outside netting.
A few minutes later Mike Garzi cut in from the right wing and drove forward through the middle. Because he wasn't closed down he was able to push up to the edge of the 18-yard-box but his shot deflected off a defender to take the sting out completely and Rawls collected the harmless ball.
Around the 74th minute, Rochester fashioned another dangerous opportunity. Christian Volesky played a ball over the top for right winger Kenardo Forbes wide of the far post. Forbes quickly knocked a low cross back in front of goals towards recent substitute Duba. Wilmington's hard-man Paul Nicholson, filling it at centerback, was unable to clear the ball as Duba was winding up for his shto from 6 yards out.
Duba would not be held scoreless, however, and found his second late goal in as many games. Thirty seconds after Wilmington played a toothless free kick from a promising position, the Cabo Verdean forward powered a shot past Rawls.
Wilmington's Fran Martinez hit a free kick that Miller gobbled up at the 87:38 mark of the game. Miller threw the ball short to left back Onua Obasi who sent a long ball upfield. This hoof is partially cleared by Wilmington but fell to winger Marcos Ugarte who played a short pass for Forbes on the left flank.
Forbes took a touch before curling an early cross into the path of Duba rushing up the field centrally. Duba beat his mark, Wilmington's centerback Ashani Fairclough and easily tapped the ball past a hapless Andre Rawls in goal for the home side as the clock hit 88:08.
Perhaps an 89th minute goal would be enough to seal a late victory, but the Hammerheads has other plans in mind. In the first minute of stoppage time Tom Parratt took a corner kick from the near side for Wilmington. Rochester cleared the ball out to Justin Moose outside the 18-yard-box who recycled the ball over to Parratt. The former Scottish youth international cut back onto his right foot and fired a diagonal ball past the penalty spot. Defender Fairclough hit a glancing header just out of Miller's reach from within 12 yards in the 92nd minute.
Referee Doug Hartman allowed the teams play over six minutes of stoppage time but neither team was able to find a winner in the frantic final four minutes of the game. This draw will serve Wilmington better than Rochester as the home side needed any points it could muster. While Rochester is still undefeated, coughing up a stoppage time goal on a broken set piece will be sure to elicit a recalibration from coach Lilley in training next week.
Rochester is now 6-0-3 on 21 points. The Rhinos next play on Wednesday night in U.S. Open Cup action against NPSL side Greater Binghamton FC at Sahlen's Stadium.