Rochester made the short trip up to Ontario to play Toronto FC II with 21 points from 9 games to its name. Toronto had earned 7 points from its season opening 8 game road stand and had played the Rhinos at Sahlen’s Stadium just two weeks earlier.
From the first whistle Rochester showed the young Toronto team why it was at the top of the table. In just the fourth minute, Colin Rolfe played a through ball on the ground for his forward partner Christian Volesky to run onto. Volesky easily beat Toronto goalkeeper Quillan Roberts to the ball but his heavy touch pushed him to the endline. The rookie striker, who leads the team in scoring with four goals, cut back near the line inside the 18-yard-box but his attempted centering pass was gobbled up by Roberts.
This sequence came to epitomize Rochester’s attack in this game. The team defended solidly, transitioned well, played a number of through balls or balls over the top of Toronto’s defense, but simply could not put enough shots on target.
Even traditional wing-play didn’t provide a respite for the Rhinos. Both Marcos Ugarte and Johnny Mendoza played decent service in from wide positions, as did overlapping fullbacks Sean Totsch and Pat McMahon, but the home side was able to deal with crosses. Between Adam Bouchard and Skylar Thomas, Toronto’s defense had the height to clear a lot of aerial service and for more dangerous balls into the box, athletic goalkeeper Roberts was quick to claim anything close to his line.
Rochester relied heavily on support from its fullbacks going forward. Whether for drop passes, overlapping runs, or quick passes, McMahon and Totsch were regularly involved in Toronto’s half of the field. To provide defensive cover, Tony Walls sat back deeper in midfield than he’s played this season and protected his central defenders. This allowed the fullbacks peace of mind while attacking but also meant that Walls was not able to impose himself in the attacking third.
Walls was still an integral part of the game for Rochester and an entertaining tidbit for neutrals. The midfield battle between Walls and Toronto’s Molham Babouli started early, lasted the whole game, and included not only tricks (flicks and nutmegs) but also crunching physical challenges. It appeared in the first half that Rochester may have targeted Babouli as several players came in late on him after the referee shifted her attention elsewhere. Rochester players would have wanted to get under Babouli’s skin and provoke some retaliation from him as he displayed a profound lack of discipline in his late dismissal from the game two weeks ago in Rochester.
Toronto stumbled into the best chance of the game in the 43rd minute. Left winger Raheem Edwards cut in from the flank and drove forward through the middle of the field. Multiple Rochester players, including centerback Grant van de Casteele, stuck legs out and the young Toronto academy player graciously leapt by them. As he approached the top of the 18-yard box, Edwards had teammates on either side and just Vassilis Apostolopoulos behind himself and Miller in goal. Instead of passing to either of his open teammates or even taking on Rochester’s last defender, Edwards fired a left footed shot very far wide of the far post.
Rochester came out of halftime energized and the introduction of Kenardo Forbes in a floating attacking role ushered in this change. Forbes led the team into not only pressuring Toronto higher up the field but also pressuring with a much higher level of intensity. This meant that in addition to long periods of possession in Toronto’s half, Rochester was often able to reclaim the ball from the home side with relative ease.
Toronto’s head coach, Jason Bent, tried to shift momentum to his side by introducing Jordan Hamilton in the 57th minute. Even though Hamilton has experience playing in USL, he was largely marked out of the game by Rochester’s van de Casteele. The former Colorado Rapids defender and his partner in the back Apostolopoulos were much more composed in the second half and didn’t allow Toronto’s speedy attackers to cut through them again.
Despite long stretches of attacking play from Rochester, the visitors’ best chance didn’t come until the 84th minute. Playing on the left side Johnny Mendoza knocked the ball back and forth with Totsch before sending a tight angle cross into Volesky. With his back to goal, Volesky took a touch across his body and turned to his right to get his shot off. Roberts did very well to throw his right hand out to push Volesky’s close-range left-footed shot around the near post for a corner kick.
Rochester finished the game with six corner kicks but was unable to turn any of them into meaningful scoring opportunities. While continuing its run of outscoring opponents in each game, Rochester also continued to struggle executing chances in front of goal.
Forward Colin Rolfe left the game at halftime after appearing to injure his shoulder a number of times in the first half. A potential loss of Rolfe shifts goal-scoring responsibility onto Volesky and Duba who did not develop any chemistry over 30 minutes against Toronto.
A fourth clean sheet for Brandon Miller bodes well for Rochester’s defense, however, and places him as the top goalkeeper in the USL Eastern Conference. If Miller and the defense continue to perform at this level but the offense struggles to convert, the Rhinos could be involved in a lot more scoreless draws this season.
Rochester next travels to Harrisburg to face the City Islanders on Wednesday in the Third Round of the U.S. Open Cup before returning to Sahlen’s Stadium to host FC Montreal on Saturday, May 30.