The Rhinos drew their previous seven matches on the road heading into the game in Charleston. While the team has not lost on the road since June 11 at Toronto, Rochester hadn't won an away game since June 4 at struggling Montreal.
The Battery had only lost once in 12 games prior to kicking off against the Rhinos, an odd 3-1 loss at home to the very same FC Montreal. In that span, Charleston also drew six of its last nine games making a tie the most likely outcome on Saturday night.
When the teams met in Rochester on May 6, everyone (spectators, players, and coaches) were rather surprised at how wide open the game was and how many gaps appeared in the defenses of both teams. The first meeting ended 3-2 in favor of the Rhinos after Charleston equalized twice. Saturday night's contest featured the same attacking intent and perhaps more competitive intensity as Rochester rode out with the 2-1 victory.
With the atmosphere of a postseason contest, both teams showed the ability to string quality passes together early. Rochester and Charleston had already clinched playoff berths with results in other games on Wednesday night but the coaching staffs on both teams wanted to take a step towards clinching fourth place and a first round playoff match at home.
The visitors on Saturday night nearly capitalized on a mistake by former New England Revolution fullback O'Brian Woodbine early in the match. Woodbine attempted a back header for his goalkeeper Alex Tambakis. Rochester's Christian Volesky read the play well but was caught in two minds as he approached the edge of the 18-yard box where Tambakis had rushed off his line. Instead of chipping the goalkeeper, as we've seen a few times in his Rhinos career, Volesky attempted to dribble around Tambakis and the goalkeeper broke up the play.
Charleston showed its own incisive attack after a quarter hour. Veteran Greek centerback Vasilis Apostolopoulos was whistled for a handball inside the area and the referee awarded the Battery a penalty. Apostolopoulos was drawn over to Rochester's left side to close down a cross from the channel. The defender was unable to time his jump correctly to head the ball clear and instead raised his left fist to deflect the ball in an attempt to recreate Maradona's Hand of God.
Apostolopoulos and Rochester were lucky to get off with just a yellow card for a deliberate handball inside the area but Justin Portillo stepped up to take the spot-kick. Portillo easily stroked his right-footed shot to his left as Rochester's Tomas Gomez dove to the opposite side. Charleston took the lead at home in the 15th minute, 1-0.
Rochester tried to pressure immediately but Steevan dos Santos saw a rebound volley flash wide just a minute later. In the 23rd minute Charleston created a chance to double their advantage but Gomez came up big. Zach Prince hit good service from the right channel that found Garbanzo about nine yards from goal. Garbanzo got good power on the header but fired it more or less at Gomez and Rochester's goalkeeper gobbled up the ball.
Kenardo Forbes, while playing deeper in midfield at times this season, is still the team's primary playmaker and he showed that ability to kickstart Rochester's scoring play. Forbes played a one-two in to Volesky's feet and as the forward peeled around his defender, the Jamaican found Sofiane Tergou in space near the top of the area. Tergou in turn played the ball in to Volesky, who took a touch to create separation from Charleston's defenders. The space allowed Volesky to get around the ball and fire a low drive to the near post in between defenders as Tambakis was hedged to the far side.
Volesky equalized the game in the 25th minute with his 10th goal of 2016 USL season.
After the equalizer, Charleston put on a passing clinic. The Battery seemed able to slice into Rochester's penalty area at will with clever passing and quick movement in tight space off the ball. On each occasion, however, a last-ditch tackle from Rochester broke up the danger. Ryan James, who started at right back before switching to the left side in the second half, was outstanding in his work-rate, recovery, and tackling efficiency against the Battery.
The frenetic pace of the match only picked up to start the second half. Woodbine hit a strong left-footed strike from about 25 yards out that came back off the crossbar. Cuban forward Heviel Cordoves picked up the ball after Garbanzo was fouled to drive into Rochester's box. Gomez came off his line quick while staying big to smother the chance by Cordoves.
In the 54th minute, Rochester almost forced the go-ahead goal from the foot of Volesky. Dos Santos started the drive by feeding the ball wide on the right to Mike Garzi. Garzi's cross found Volesky at the top of the six-yard box but the forward could not generate power with his redirection. Tambakis did really well to save the chance off Volesky's left foot from close range.
The odd story of Jeremy Ebobisse, who left college soccer to become draft eligible as in on loan from MLS to the Battery, took a turn as he made his professional debut in the 63rd minute. The young attacker was involved in several promising plays for the home side but at times played like someone unfamiliar with his teammates or the strength of tackles at the USL level.
Rochester began making substitutions after centerback Joe Farrell came off with an apparent head injury in the 72nd minute. When the dust settled, Bob Lilley had introduced Michel Guilavogui, Dom Samuel, Chase Miller, Asan Samuels, and Bakayoko Gaossou while shuffling the lineup around.
The scoring drive started with a ball over the top of Charleston's defense for dos Santos to chase. Dos Santos drifted wide left with the ball and cut the back inside to Guilavogui, who shifted the ball from his right foot to his left trying to find a shooting lane. When none appeared, the Guinean winger passed square to Tergou, whose shot was blocked. Tergou picked up the rebound and slipped a pass into the path of Gaossou. The rookie took a touch in traffic to set himself up before firing a heavy toe-poked effort that bounced off Tambakis and into the net.
Signed just three weeks ago, the PDL standout scored the go-ahead goal in the 81st minute to give Rochester the lead on the road.
After Rochester's second goal, the game became very stretched. Kenardo Forbes saw an effort cleared off the line by Charleston defender Taylor Mueller after a series of attacking passes. Youngster Ebobisse was fortunate to win a free kick off substitute right back Chase Miller despite handling the ball on the play. The ensuring set piece from 19 yards was blocked by Volesky and cleared behind by Gaossou.
In the final minute of stoppage time, Ebobisse ran at Miller in the area and forced the defender to trip himself up. Ebobisse tried to sneak a shot in at the near post but Gomez was on the scene and saw the shot wide of the frame.
In the meeting between two perennial USL playoff teams, the Rhinos came out on top. The three point momentarily moved Rochester into fourth place with just three games remaining.
Hopefully to solidify its chances of hosting a postseason match, Rochester hosts first placed New York Red Bulls II on September 10 at Rhinos Stadium.