Rochester Rhinos win by a goal at home. This is not a recording.
Bob Lilley summed up widespread expectations for this contest in his postgame comments to media: "Charleston will battle and games usually are physical and hotly contested; usually it's 0-0 or 1-0. I think both teams have notoriously been stingier on defense."
For two storied clubs in recent American soccer history and two teams renowned for defensive prowess, the game was marked by mistakes, lapses in judgement, and flukes. The game was also marred by erratic refereeing decisions from center official Geoff Gamble, but that's for a The 3rd Yellow feature.
The Rhinos took the lead in the 11th minute after team captain Mike Garzi served in quality service from a free kick in the right channel. Defensive midfielder Sean Totsch got his head onto the free kick, but Charleston goalkeeper Alex Tambakis made himself big and was able to get the block. The ball from serendipitously onto Joe Farrell's foot and rolled toward the goal. Forward Christian Volesky appeared to swing his foot towards the ball, en route to the goal, but may have held back after it saw the ball's path.
Rookie defender and former captain at LaSalle University, Farrell was credited with his first career goal. After the game he laughed with media, saying, "To be honest I'm not even sure if I touched it. But I'll take whatever I can get."
Rochester celebrations were short-lived, however, as the visitors fired back three minutes later. Unpressured on the right wing, Zach Prince fired an early cross towards center forward Romario Williams. The ball split Rochester's central defense pairing as neither Farrell nor German defense Wal Fall made a challenge. Williams controlled the ball and fired a low shot to the far post to beat Tomas Gomez in the 15th minute.
The Rhinos would reclaim the lead in the 28th minute as Forbes started and finished the attacking move. Forbes received a pass about 30 yards from goal and curled a pass over the top into the path of Steevan dos Santos. Duba took a touch to settle the pass and flicked the ball over a defender's head but Tambakis came off his line to block the shot. The ball fell kindly for Forbes who easily finished his second goal of the 2016 USL season.
Charleston came out of the halftime break energized and Rochester may have been on its heels. Williams, who excelled on the night as a bruising center forward, turned playmaker and sent a great through-ball for Ricky Garbanzo. Rochester's Farrell had stepped to pressure Williams but didn't have Fall or left back Bradley Kamdem covering his back. Garbanzo took a shot from the top of the 18-yard box that Gomez did well to save, but the former San Jose goalkeeper coughed up a juicy rebound that Garbanzo finished emphatically.
The battled-hardened Battery equalized for the second time in the 47th minute and the game was poised on a knife's edge for the next half-hour. The match could have gone either way as the traditionally conservative teams sent players forward to grab the winner.
That winning goal came from the foot of Tony Walls. Christian Volesky collected an early cross from the left wing and drove into the Charleston penalty area. Unable to find a shooting lane, Volesky left the ball to dos Santos, whose shot hit the arm of Charleston centerback Shawn Ferguson. Very cool and composed, Walls calmly approached the ball and waited for Tambakis to commit to the goalkeeper's right side. Walls rolled the ball slightly to the right of the middle of the goal to give Rochester the lead for the third time on the night.
After the game, Bob Lilley spoke about the importance of having Steevan dos Santos back after serving a two-game suspension. "Steevan is a competitive guy. He's strong and he's gonna take a lot of shots. Teams can't handle him if they're not trying to gain an edge by being physical with him. He knows that. It's unfortunate in the recent [past], he's gotten dragged in. I was proud of him tonight to do his job and keep his composure. Let's hope he continues to do that. Because when he's on the field for us, we're a more dangerous team offensively."
Kenardo Forbes also shared his thoughts on have the big Cabo Verdean forward back in the team. "It was really good to see him back, he's been big for us from last season coming into this season. I knew that once we got him back we would be much better offensively." Forbes noted the chemistry he developed with dos Santos early last season, "It was a combination between me and Steevan, you can see we've got that going on from last season."
When Democrat and Chronicle writer Jeff DiVeronica mentioned that the team has to keep dos Santos on the field, Forbes joked, "Yeah, yeah, I've talked to him about that."
Rochester Rhinos move to 4-1-1 on the season and remain perfect at home. The team next hosts Charlotte Independence on Saturday, May 14 at 6:05PM.