Going into Saturday's match against the Riverhounds Rochester had only lost once since June 18, when they lost in Rhinos Stadium at the hands of Louisville City FC.
On the other hand, Pittsburgh had won just its second game in 10 matches the weekend before when they played Bethlehem Steel FC at home. The Riverhounds had earned just 7 points since beating FC Montreal on June 18. In that same time, the Rhinos earned 18 points and only lost to Richmond by virtue of a fantastic Yudai Imura free kick in Rochester.
After a significant weather delay, the game extended both of those trends for the two teams involved on Saturday night in Rochester.
The Rhinos earned a corner kick from an early counter attack. Ryan James served the corner to the far side of the box where rookie attacking midfielder Sofiane Tergou met the ball with a aerial volley. Tergou sent the ball back the way it came and easily beat goalkeeper Zack Steffen to open the scoring in the 8th minute.
Both teams battled through difficult rain conditions but the Rhinos doubled their lead before halftime. In his last involvement in the game, captain Mike Garzi whipped in heavy service from the right channel. Steevan dos Santos could not reach the cross but Tergou was open again at the far post. The French-born player quickly controlled the ball before curling a pinpoint shot into the upper corner at the far post for his second of the night in the 40th minute.
As has often been the case this summer, the Rhinos continued to be lethal on corner kicks. In the 57th minute Steffen appeared to clear the danger from a Rochester corner but he punched the ball directly to Sean Reilly. The first-year Rhino hit a strong left-footed shot to the far corner past Pittsburgh's goalkeeper for his first goal as a Rochester player.
Tergou's brace was also his first and second goals as a Rochester Rhino. Recent signing Bakayoko Gaoussou made his debut with a 15-minute appearance off the bench to close out Rochester's clean sheet victory over the struggling Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The result earned first-year Rhinos goalkeeper Tomas Gomez his fifth shutout of the USL season.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds now have 7 remaining games and with 16 points to their name can only hope and pray to reach 8th place. If Pittsburgh wins out and Orlando City B earns no more than 5 points (and the teams in between don't perform too well, either) they have the faintest of shouts for the final playoff spot. One more loss for Pittsburgh and another win for Orlando means that the Riverhounds will be the first casualty of the 2016 USL playoff race.
On the other end of things, Rochester is now tied with Charlotte on 39 points though the Independence has a game in hand. Either way, sixth-placed Rochester is as close to the playoff-clinching mark of 47 points as they are to slipping behind the final postseason berth Orlando on 32 points.
The magic number is based on the maximum number of points available to the teams below Orlando; Wilmington has 25 points with 7 matches remaining (7*3=21, 21+25=46). With that mark set, Eastern Conference leaders New York Red Bulls II and second-placed Louisville City FC have clinched their spots in the 2016 USL Playoffs.
Rochester travels to Cincinnati, Ohio for a mid-week showdown on Wednesday. If FC Cincinnati beats the Rhinos and Wilmington drops points at cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh, the first-year club would secure its playoff berth.
Cincinnati has 8 games remaining in the regular season. Its final 5 matches are against markedly lesser opposition: two games at Pittsburgh (the last placed team in the conference) against 8th-placed Orlando City B, 10th-placed Wilmington. and the 12th-placed Western Conference team Saint Louis FC.
Before that point, however, Cincinnati will be tested by Rochester, New York, and Charlotte. New York has been the best team in the conference for most of the season and the Rhinos or Independence could end up as an opponent in the postseason. While their participation in the playoffs is all but secured, Cincy will want to prove themselves against worthy opposition before ending the season with the likes of Pittsburgh.
A result in Ohio could boost Rochester's already strong momentum heading into a weekend trip to Wilmington.