Rochester Rhinos knew they needed a win and some help in other results to finish in the top four of the USL Eastern Conference in order to win the right to host a playoff match this season. From the opening whistle, the home side set out to do their part. The Rhinos attacked down the flanks through their wingbacks, Bradley Kamdem on the left side and Ryan James on the right.
Bradley Kamdem, as he has been many times during the 2016 USL season, was ever-present and always dangerous as an outlet and the overlapping run. Not to be outdone by the chances created by his teammate, Ryan James showed a strong work-rate in crafting the team's opening goal.
James received the ball in his own half before driving up the right flank, beating a couple opponents in the process. Christian Volesky was stationed in the middle of the area as a target but James's service found an on-rushing Steevan dos Santos making a run to the near post. Instead of opting for the simple play and heading to the near post, dos Santos aimed his header low to the far post. Despite being a talented young goalkeeper, Toronto's Quillan Roberts could not get a hand to the powerful header.
The Rhinos took the lead in the 7th minute and continued to control the game for the remainder of the first half. The game lulled into a comfortable rhythm for twenty minute in the middle of the opening frame but the home side pushed the issue again in the final five minutes.
Dos Santos rode a challenge from Liam Fraser at midfield to win a ball out of the air. The Cabo Verdean forward then drove forward and dipped his shoulder in front of a recovering defender to get into a shooting position. At the top of the area, dos Santos dragged his right footed shot across the face of goal and wide of the goal.
At halftime, Guyana international Brandon Beresford replaced club captain Mike Garzi. Garzi was feeling ill and the team decided not to push him on the cusp of the postseason so he did not return from the locker room.
The second half started with Rochester on the front foot again. In the 48th minute, Sofiane Tergou received a pass to his feet and laid the ball off for Kenardo Forbes. The Jamaican midfielder hit a heavy shot that forced Roberts into making a good save low to his right. Dos Santos headed the rebound towards goals but Roberts scrambled to make the second save, as well.
In the 54th minute, Kamdem whipped service into the box that dos Santos just missed 7 yards from goal. Three minutes later, the ball bounced up off the turf surface at Rhinos Stadium for dos Santos to hit a fierce volleyed effort from 30 yards wide. Unfortunately, the big forward did not make clean contact and the shot hooked wide of the net.
In the 63rd minute, Beresford received a low pass from assistant coach and now starting centerback George Kyriazis and turned to face the Toronto goal. The rookie midfielder played a tight one-two with Volesky at the top of the area but Beresford was fouled when breaking through Toronto's defensive line. As he often did on Saturday night, the referee allowed pay to continue when there was an obvious foul. In turn, Rochester was also the beneficiary of eyebrow-raising non-calls.
Toronto was credited with its first shot of the game in the 80th minute after a 35 yard free kick pinballed inside the Rochester penalty area. TFC II's forward struck a shot that was blocked in the box by Wal Fall. The team's sole shot on target did not materialize until the 89th minute. Wes Charpie, who captained Toronto, headed a cross from the left flank right at Tomas Gomez. Though he officially only made a single save in the game, Gomez was active picking crosses out of the air to earn his seventh clean sheet of the 2016 USL season.
Ryan James, who is from the Toronto area and served up an inch-perfect assist for the game's only goal, spoke to media after the match. "I got the ball and you always try to look forward with your first touch," James said, explaining the buildup for the goal. "I took my chance and tried to beat him, I saw that he overcommitted."
James drove forward into the channel before sending in quality service. "That's what we've been practicing all week, we've been practicing it all year; as soon as you can get your cross, look up, and see who's there. Steevan made a great run."
"It was an important game because we were fighting for the fourth spot," dos Santos told media after the game. "The coach says we have to make movement for the ball. I saw Volesky [drawing defenders] and I just made the run on the near post and luckily the ball goes in."
"That was a nice goal," he added, smiling.
Most forwards at this level or any level would try to power a header at the near post but dos Santos consciously picked out the far post. "I tried to put it as far as possible from the keeper. I think the keeper was standing closer to the near post than the second post. I tried to put the ball on the second post because I thought it would be more difficult for him."
When media mentioned the team's solid record in the second half of the regular season, dos Santos interjected to say they've only lost once in 18 games after Saturday's result. "It's important to finish the regular season with a victory. It's better for us to go, I hope, to host the first playoff game at home. For us, it's going to be important."
After Rochester did their part in beating Toronto FC II, the results in the two relevant matches, New York Red Bulls II beating Charleston Battery 2-1 and Louisville City FC drawing Charlotte Independence 1-1, the Rhinos will now host a playoff game.
While not exactly subscribing to good vibes, "I don't really personally believe in momentum," James did give illuminating comments on overcoming adversity. The wingback had his head wrapped and actually received two stitches in his right eyebrow during halftime.
"I definitely think that our team has some knocks and some bruises, maybe, but every team has bruises, everyone has knocks. It's a long season and it's about how much are you willing to fight through those knocks and those bruises. I think we have a team that's willing to push through the pain and kinda push through everything that they're working against right now at the end of the season to kinda win the last couple games and win the playoff game."
The Rhinos host Charlotte Independence in the first round of the 2016 USL Playoffs on October 1st at 6PM. The team defeated the Independence on September 17 in Charlotte 1-0 and will look to defend their USL title at Rhinos Stadium.