The Rochester Rhinos suffered a near-historic loss on Saturday night in Charleston, South Carolina. Rochester's 5-0 defeat to the Battery was the second worst result in club history. Head coach Bob Lilley's 1-1-1 record after three road games to start the season is not terrible but questions remain over how much the heavy loss will weigh on the team ahead of the home opener against New York.
While the USL pointed out in its match report that Saturday's result was the first time the team conceded more than 3 goals since the 4-2 loss at Charlote Independence on August 1, 2015 and the first time the team allowed 5 goals in a match since a 5-1 loss to Harrisburg City Islanders on April 27, 2013, the situation is actually worse.
Only 19 times in Rochester's 23 year history, the team has conceded more than three goals in a league game (21 in all competitions, including playoffs and U.S. Open Cup). There have only been 5 competitive matches in club history in which the team conceded 5 goals.
Saturday’s five-goal margin loss was the first such case since July 6, 1997 (a 6-1 loss at Montreal) and marks the second-worst loss in club history, only behind a 0-6 road loss to Colorado Foxes on June 27, 1996.
“We wanted to show Charleston a different look,” Rochester head coach Bob Lilley said after the game. “We had a lot of different people in the lineup as well as the different system and I think that was the first mistake of the night. And then we didn't play as well as we can.”
Lilley admitted that the coaching staff did not do enough work either with the formation change or the rotated squad to prepare the team for a difficult road trip like Charleston. “We've got to get better, coaches too,” Lilley said. “I know that we're a lot better than we played tonight.”
That different look Lilley referenced was something of a 3-4-3, an alteration of the 5-3-2 the Rhinos used effectively last season. The wingbacks, Bradley Kamdem Fewo and Ryan James, hugged the respective sidelines while Wal Fall and Mike Garzi patrolled the center of the field. Rayane Boukemia played as the target forward with Kenardo Forbes and Christiano Francois operating on either inside channel behind him.
The backline featured two debutants, Sergio Campbell in the center and Todd Pratzner on the right, with returning defender Joe Farrell on the left. Rochester native Dan Lynd started just his second game in goal for Rochester after joining the club for the 2016 season.
Rochester’s players appeared to still be in training mode when the game kicked off and the Battery quickly asserted their control over proceedings. It took Romario Williams a quarter hour to find the game’s first goal but only a quarter hour more to wrap up the match as a contest.
Fifteen minutes into match Williams received a pass outside of the area and drove through the heart of Rochester’s defense. Despite having players behind the ball, no Rhinos player confronted Williams and the Jamaican international finished low across the face of goal. Lynd was rooted to the ground five yards out and could only watch the game’s first goal cross the line.
Williams capitalized on an awful mistake ten minutes later for his second of the night. Joe Farrell misjudged a clearance by Charleston’s Justin Portillo and then miscontrolled the bouncing ball before struggling to start a recovery run. Williams was easily able to glide past the flat-footed Farrell for a 30 yard breakaway. Williams bore down on goal and easily finished his instep shot past Lynd.
About a minute later any Rochester players who had been awake for kickoff were surely asleep as the team’s defense gifted another golden opportunity to the hat-trick hero. Former Revolution fullback O’Brian Woodbine launched a throw from the left side into the box behind Rochester’s defense. Campbell slipped while reaching for the ball as he bounced past him and Farrell was not close enough to Williams to prevent his calm touch and finish into the corner of the net.
Inexplicably, Farrell elects not to sprint back to close down on Williams after he sees the throw coming in or when he sees his teammate Campbell failed to intercept the ball.
It was a comedy of errors in Rochester’s backline, especially for the Battery’s second and third goals; unforced errors in consecutive minutes. Having secured his triple within the opening half hour, Williams could have tuned out but instead turned provider for his strike partner. Ataulla Guerra played a one-two with Williams at the top of Rochester’s area before baking Todd Pratzner and finishing low for a 4-0 scoreline in the 31st minute.
Pratzner had put his arms up to potentially slow down Guerra but did not attempt to actually block the goal-bound shot. Campbell had stepped forward to foul Williams late and was stationary when the ball crossed the line while Farrell leisurely recovered to step in front of Guerra.
While the Rhinos did perform better in the second half, and got cameo appearances for more players, there were few positives (if any) to take into next weekend’s home opener.
Cuban attacking midfielder Maikel Chang added the cherry on top of Charleston’s sundae in the 81st minute. Substitute left back Skylar Thomas sent a low cross into the box towards Heviel Cordoves. Cordoves flicked the ball on towards his former national team and Chang coolly slotted home for the Battery’s fifth goal.
After the match, Lilley discussed how the team can use Saturday’s result to prepare for the the next match. “I've been in this spot before, so for me it's never pleasant but you've got to get back to work. I'm sure a lot of these guys have similar experiences, but now it's about showing up ready to go back to work and believing in yourselves again.”
“Our job is get ready. This game stops at this point and there's no reason to spend a lot of time on this game. This is a game for each individual to assess how they did, how they competed because we made more mistakes than we wanted to. Our work is going to be focused on preparation and getting everyone on the same page. To get off to a quicker start next week against New York at home.”
“We've learned a lot about ourselves tonight,” Lilley said. The veteran USL coach said that after three games in the 2017 season that the team needs to re-calibrate how it gauges itself against opponents.
“A loss is a loss. At some point it stings, it hurts, but the reality is if you'd have told me we're 1-1-1 after three games, I would have said I could live with that.”
“Now everything in our team goes back to training and getting ready. We've got to be ready to have a good performance at home next weekend. And that's all that really matters now. It really doesn't matter if we lost a heartbreaker there or got blown out. The home opener is a game we want to put out a good performance in.”
“It's important that we move past this and see where we're short, where we can get better. Guys understand that they’re going to have to play well as a group every time out. It happens to every team in every league at some point. You've just got to move on,” Lilley said.
“We could have given up 5 goals last year in Orlando [a match that ended 2-1 for the hosts] but they didn't happen to finish their chances as well as Charleston did tonight. Charleston is an experienced team and they had a really good performance as a team tonight so they deserve credit for that,” Lilley said referencing the Battery's killer instinct to end the match as a contest early on.
Romario Williams has now played against the Rochester Rhinos 3 times across 3 seasons for FC Montreal and Charleston Battery. He has caused headaches for Rochester's defense in each outing, scoring his team's opener in Charleston's visit to Rhinos Stadium in June 2016.
“Absolutely. And he will the next time we play him. But we've had success against him in the past, not just with Charleston but also when he played for Montreal. So we've dealt with him before, we'll deal with him in the future, just we didn't deal with him tonight. I'll leave it at that.”
Williams's first half hat-trick and assist for Guerra's goal speaks enough for the quality of the 22 year old Jamaican forward.
In addition to fixing the woeful defensive displays from Saturday night, the Rhinos could use a center forward like Williams after the team was shut out in consecutive matches.
The Rhinos host New York Red Bulls II in their 2017 USL season home opener on Saturday April 22 from Capelli Sport Stadium at 6:05PM.