Defensive mistakes have plagued Rochester early in the 2017 USL season and Saturday's home opener was no different.
Between the final whistle last weekend in Charleston and the opening whistle at Saturday's home opener, Rochester Rhinos head coach Bob Lilley has delivered a consistent message. He's told media that the loss to the Battery, while an embarrassingly scoreline, could be productive if it motivated the team to perform sharper. To paraphrase liberally, sometimes teams need a swift kick to the backside to re-calibrate their ability relative to the rest of the eastern conference.
Lilley's players did not respond in that fashion against New York Red Bulls II.
The team played a formation resembling a 4-1-4-1 with Wal Fall sitting in front of the defense and Darius Madison leading the line up top. The 2015 USL Champion and 2016 USL Champion traded blows through much of the first half but the breakthrough remained elusive until stoppage time.
The visitors fashioned their best chance of the first half in the 22nd minute and breakout performer Vincent Bezecourt was heavily involved. The 23-year old French midfielder carried the ball forward and spread a pass wide to winger Florian Valot. Valot continued into the box before threading a clever pass to find Bezecourt. Despite leading his team with four goals so far in the 2017 USL season Bezecourt fired well-over the frame with his left foot.
After a brief period of sustained pressure, Rochester dropped the ball back to right-sided center back Joe Farrell. About 40 yards from goal, Farrell launched a cross forward in the direction of Madison. The first-year forward used his chest to knock the ball down into the path of midfielder Mike Garzi. The longest-tenured player on the roster, Garzi set his approach and fired the ball into the bottom corner from 19 yards out in first half stoppage time.
Garzi explained the play to media after the game. The team was playing balls into Darius Madison and the forward while Garzi drove forward from midfield. "I had run in behind and he wasn't flicking it, he was chesting it down and we weren't quite connecting. So I came up to him and said, next one chest down to me and I'll have it. It just ended up being at the top of the box and set up perfectly for me. And you know, it went right in the bottom corner. It was a dream goal."
Rochester carried its narrow advantage out of the halftime break but the visitors pounced on miscommunication in the back.
In the 50th minute, Justin Bilyeu hit a hopeful ball from midfield for forward Brandon Allen to work with. Ryan Felix posted up goalside of Allen while Farrell attempted to make a play on the ball. Farrell's awkward touch, impeded by Allen, fell to the forward's feet and all three defensive players for Rochester made questionable decisions. Felix stepped away from Allen despite starting goalside, Farrell stepped towards Allen but couldn't close down quickly enough, and goalkeeper Tomas Gomez appeared to over-commit to his near post which allowed Allen to sneak his equalizer in at the far side.
At the hour mark, Christiano Francois clowned David Abidor, who had pinched over to apply double-team pressure on the winger. As he approached the endline on the run, Francois attempted to cut back a low cross to the penalty spot but could not find a teammate. One player made a near post run and the other ran towards the far post, both abandoning the inviting space at the top of the box.
New York's second goal started with service from their captain, Bilyeu. From the left channel, Bilyeu had time and space to set himself as neither Ryan James or Francois pressured the full back adequately. Though the service was hopeful, Rochester's defense gifted the go-ahead goal to the young Red Bulls side.
While coming to collect the lofted cross, Rochester goalkeeper Gomez called the ball but collided with center back Ryan Felix. Both Gomez and Felix are watching the flight of the ball and they fail to see each other. As Felix clattered into him, Gomez dropped the simple catch and the ball fell to Bezecourt of all people. The attacking catalyst for New York, Bezecourt easily finishes past a recovering Farrell on the goal line to take the lead in the 65th minute.
Bob Lilley made attacking substitutions to try to force the late equalizer but the home side could not connect in the final third.
In the third minute of stoppage time, James launched a ball forward from half field. Farrell was lining up to challenge for the ball as he was fouled in the area. The referee seemed unmoved as Farrell fell to the ground and the ball fell to Fall in the area. The towering German midfielder controlled the bouncing ball but fired wide of the goal from close range.
After Fall missed his chance, Louro launched the ball upfield from the ensuing goalkick and Farrell won a free kick inside the center circle. Club captain Forbes served the free kick into the box and Farrell powered a header home. The second year center back darted in between centerbacks Hassan Ndam and Tim Schmoll, who had entered the game seconds before, while goalkeeper Evan Louro inexplicably came off his line into "no man's land".
Farrell is no stranger to stoppage time goals, scoring a late equalizer at home against Bethlehem and a consolation goal on the road against Toronto. Naturally, Farrell was enthusiastic after the match while remaining focused on the team.
"Personally I feel good. For the team, it was a good way to get that point back. It's still not where we need to be. We wanted three points tonight and we only got one. We have to put it a lot of work coming up next week and we've got another game at home next weekend."
The second-year defender described his late goal. "I heard the goalkeeper put a shout on it and I just wanted to beat him there. I beat him to it and I just put it in the net."
I asked Farrell if his equalizer was a bit of justice after he didn't get the call on the earlier play. "Whenever there's a ball in the box, I want to be the one winning it. The first one, I actually got dragged down from behind," Farrell said. "For me, I just wanted to get to the ball first and put it on target because then there's always a chance it goes in."
Not one to sugar-coat things, Rochester Rhinos head coach Bob Lilley admitted his team was poor on the night. "For me, this was the third poor performance in a row. We played poorly in Toronto, it was a disaster in Charleston, but today for a home opener even if this was just any game, this was a poor performance."
"There were glaring mistakes on the goals but teams are playing through us. I just don't think the energy is there to defend. We're not winning tackles. We're getting pushed around. Defending is a team mindset. And we gotta get better; we're too easy to play against."
"I'm happier getting a late draw at home than losing but it's two points dropped. It's a home game, in this league you've got to win at home. It's disappointing to drop the points," Lilley said. "We have to make more of a commitment to play on both sides of the ball."
In his fourth season with the club, Garzi summed it up well. "It's encouraging that we're able to get the goal but this is Rochester and we're a championship organization. And we're not going to win many championships coming from behind 2-1 at home."
The Rhinos host Charlotte Independence at Capelli Sport Stadium at 6:05PM.