Rochester started the game brightly and put on-field pressure on the visiting City Islanders. As a club, Harrisburg has been under renewed scrutiny following their long-time partner Philadelphia Union announced a full USL reserve team for 2016. With a chance to clinch the first playoff berth this season, the Rhinos attacked Harrisburg early.
After a quarter of an hour, Rochester's Duba was pressured by four Harrisburg players and the ball squeaked out to Tony Walls. Walls saw Alex Dixon streaking across the center from the left wing. Dixon controlled the ball in the right channel and cut up the endline. Recovering Harrisburg midfielder Jose Barril put in a clumsy challenge on Dixon and conceded a penalty.
Club captain Tony Walls stepped up to take the penalty. Walls dispatched his strike to his right while Harrisburg goalkeeper dove the other way. The goal was Walls's second penalty of the season after burying one during a torrential downpour against Pittsburgh at Sahlen's earlier in the summer. Tony gave Rochester the lead in the 16th minute.
After scoring the goal, the Rhinos fell into a predictable lull in the first half. For the remainder of the first half, Harrisburg grew into the game and controlled possession for long stretches.
Several players told me after the game that Rochester head coach Bob Lilley's halftime team talk was the reason the team came out firing in the second half. Timi Mulgrew in particular praised Lilley's knowledge of the game and simple communication. Mulgrew said that his coach had laid out what the team needed to do better in the second half and the team executed after the break.
"We had a good first twenty minutes then we kinda let off the gas a little bit. We got a little bit tired. We came out in the second half and switched it on," Dixon said about the strong second half performance from the team. The Rhinos came out of the halftime break with even more exuberance than they started the match. Harrisburg insisted on playing a high line even though Rochester's strike-tandem of Alex Dixon and Duba is remarkably quick.
Seven minutes into the second half, the regular poacher Duba turned playmaker by beautifully curling a ball from his own half over Harrisburg's defense for Dixon. The former Houston Dynamo forward easily rounded Noble, who had come off his line, and walked the ball into the net. The assistant referee had flagged for offside, however, and the referee disallowed the goal.
Even though the goal didn't stand, the play showed how easily Rochester could utilize speed to get behind Harrisburg's defense. In the 55th minute, Dixon again broke through and caused trouble for the City Islanders. Walls turned in the middle of the field and curled a ball into space for Alex Dixon to run onto. The speedy forward ducked away from Ken Tribbett and approached the edge of the area as midfielder Yann Ekra appeared to push him into an on-rushing Noble.
Ekra's contact on Dixon was outside of the box but referee David Mon decided that the Harrisburg had denied a goal-scoring opportunity and produced a straight red card. The dismissal ten minutes into the second half changed the complexion of the game, as any red card would, but Rochester had already asserted its superiority since halftime.
From two steps inside the attacking half, Kenardo Forbes played a ball over the top that beat Harrisburg's flimsy offside trap. Duba ran onto the ball and showed great strength to hold off centerback Tribbett. The big Cabo Verdean forward had the option to play an easy square ball to Mendoza but finished well with his left foot past Nick Noble in the 67th minute.
Strolling leisurely into the attacking half, Sean Totsch, playing left back, hit a sublime outside of the right foot pass into the path of Duba. The big man again beat the offside trap but saw his first shot blocked by Noble's right arm. Luckily the ball bounced towards the middle of the box and Duba was able to take a touch into space before dispatching the ball for his second goal of the game in the 71st minute.
"When I saw the defender coming up behind me I thought to just protect the ball," Duba said about his first goal. "I love Totsch. In training sometimes he makes those good passes for us strikers. I missed the first shot but I'm lucky to get the rebound and I'm able to put the ball in the net."
Later Totsch, then playing in the center of midfield, hit a pinpoint pass across the field to Rolfe down the left channel. Rolfe controlled the ball and played a low cross through the box towards Samuels. The rookie forward saw his initial attempt saved by Noble and his second shot deflected off defender Leverock before bouncing in.
Samuels capped off Rochester's spectacular second half with his first career USL goal in the 86th minute. This game was the first time the Rhinos had scored more than two goals since the April 11 match in Montreal (3-0) and was the first time the team nabbed four goals in a game since August 30, 2014 when Rochester beat Harrisburg on the road 4-1.
"It was good for us," Dixon said after the match. "We've been waiting to score more than two goals in a game, and finally it came. So hopefully we can keep it going next weekend and hopefully we can keep the goals rolling in."
Rochester's utility player this year, channeling the versatility of Tony Walls in 2014, Sean Totsch has played both full back positions and both central and wide midfield. Totsch reads the game well and had informative observations about Saturday night's game. "You definitely saw that the back side was a little open," he said. "We had some good runs through the midfield and I tried to exploit those runs. It was a good game, there were great runs from the guys, and it was great way to finish it. You have to give it up to the strikers for putting away those chances."
When I asked about his creative and effective pass to Duba for the team's third goal, Totsch was beaming. "It's something that you pull out when it's necessary. You saw their guys were trying to cut that gap in between them. When you put the ball in with the outside of your foot it bends right into the path of the forward. It was the right ball for the right run."
Injured midfield Christian Silva, acting as color commentator for Rochester's broadcast spoke about the performance of Dixon and Duba during the match. "They just complement each other so well. The rest of the league is in trouble, I'll just say that."
"They're a great pair," Totsch said with regard to Dixon and Duba up top. "It gives you a bit of everything. Steevan is deceptively fast and Dixon is really fast. The mix of a big strong man and a fast player is deadly."
Dixon also spoke about his partnership with Duba after the game. "It felt good. We were playing well. I think he receives it well and I try to make runs in behind; that was the gameplan. I thought I did my job, I think he did his job; he got two goals. Hopefully we can build on that and keep it going next week."
With the emphatic win against the City Islanders, Rochester has now clinched a playoff spot and home field advantage for any possible first or second round playoff matchup. The top two seeds in the standings receive a bye to the second round while teams placed third through sixth compete in the first round.
The Rhinos next play on August 30 at home against Saint Louis FC.