In life you may not get a second chance to make a first impression but the Rochester Rhinos performance against Charlotte seemed much more fitting for a home opener.
The Rhinos secured a draw in their home opener last weekend against an energetic Red Bulls II side but played a much crisper and cleaner match against the Independence on Saturday night. The team started the contest on the front foot and while they did not score for nearly a half hour, the Rhinos never looked back after Wal Fall's free kick goal.
Rochester found joy attacking up the right flank with full back Jordan Dover and winger Christiano Francois both looking lively and sending service into the box. In the 20th minute a cross by Francois was met at the far post by Mike Garzi, but his header was unintentionally blocked at close range by Charlotte's Joel Johnson.
Kenardo Forbes took a corner kick in the 24th minute from the far corner that Farrell was able to connect with his head. The attempt was goal-bound before a timely clearance by fullback Dennis Castillo. Fall picked up the ball after Charlotte's half-clearance and drove through the heart of the defense, drawing a foul from defensive midfielder Jun Marques Davidson. The foul occurred one step outside of the penalty area.
The 24-year old German midfielder scored one of his four regular season goals against Charlotte last season and took that confidence into this match. Coming so close to goal, a free kick over the wall would have been difficult so Fall saw the opportunity to fire his shot around Charlotte's wall.
“Last year I scored a goal against Charlotte over the wall. I guess the goalkeeper was thinking I [would] go over the wall again. I tried to hit it at the goalie's corner.” Despite a seven-player wall, Charlotte's goalkeeper Cody Mizell could not react quickly enough to cover the portion of the goal left open.
While Fall's 27th minute strike was the difference at halftime, Rochester was playing with confidence and attitude. The Rhinos conceded less than five minutes into the second half against Red Bulls II last week but came out of the break firing on all cylinders on Saturday night.
50 seconds into the second half, fourth-year midfielder Mike Garzi doubled Rochester's advantage. Dover played Francois wide into the channel and the Haitian winger fired in a cross from the right flank. Garzi had made a smart run into the box to create separation from Charlotte's fullback while Darius Madison occupied two defenders with his run. Garzi had the time to take a touch and set himself before firing his scissor volley past Mizell in the 46th minute.
Instead of resting on a two-goal lead, the Rhinos continued to attack and Francois continued to be involved in everything positive for the home side. Francois brought down a long cross-field pass from Fall, cut into the penalty area, and found Madison's feet. Madison took a touch to set up a right footed shot and blasted his effort on frame.
The shot appeared to take a deflection on either former Revs/Rhinos defender Bilal Duckett or his centerback partner Luke Waechter but Madison disagreed with that suggestion postmatch. Whether there was a touch from a defender or not, Madison's second goal of the season bulged the back of the net in the 52nd minute.
After Rochester's third goal, the Independence generated their best chance of the match. In the 66th minute Alex Martinez played a through-ball into the path of substitute forward Casey Townsend but Rochester goalkeeper Tomas Gomez was quick off his line to clear the ball with a sliding challenge.
Charlotte coach Mike Jeffries attempted to piggyback that attacking momentum with the introductions of Jorge Herrera in the 67th minute and David Estrada in the 76th minute. Whether with his passing or his uncanny ability to win free kicks, Enzo Martinez was integral to Charlotte's attacking efforts in the second half.
Despite some disciplinary flareups, Rochester's players kept cool heads and remained focused on the match. Late in the game, Francois still had fresh legs and continued to cause headaches for Charlotte's defense. In the 84th minute, Francois picked up a pass from Madison in the right channel and carried the ball into the box to draw a penalty from Charlotte’s rookie defender Waechter. Team captain Kenardo Forbes tried to cheekily chip the goalkeeper but Mizell was able to get a hand on the shot before the ball crossed the line for Rochester's fourth goal.
Through the remaining five minutes of regulation and five minutes of stoppage time, the Rhinos held on and kept a clean sheet for the second time this season.
After the game, all the Rochester players and staff were full of smiles. “We started well from the beginning and we had pressure on the ball. We were connected everywhere. We were playing off the shoulder everywhere,” Wal Fall said. “A big compliment to the team, it was a great win today.”
First-year winger Christiano Francois was equally emphatic about the team's performance and result. “When we came out here, we just wanted to win the game because we're at home,” he said. “We have been training all week very hard.”
“The game we lost against Charleston, it was a difficult game because the season just started so the guys didn't really know each other well, we just started with each other. I think after the loss, we came here and we worked hard. We just came out and said We're not going to lose anymore. We're going to try to win every game.”
Rochester Rhinos head coach Bob Lilley nearly let out a smile speaking to media after the game. “I think we started on the front foot. We stayed aggressive and our defending is getting better. Our spacing is getting better. Our decision-making is getting better.”
“There's not four goals between these two teams,” Lilley said. “We just had a good start and you can see that early in this season a team gets up early and it can happen.”
Lilley referenced his postmatch comments from the loss in Charleston, “A couple goals go in and it could have ended 5 today just like then. But next time we play Charlotte it'll be much more difficult, it'll be on their field.”
“I like that we played 90. We've been talking about it and we can't play in spurts. We were more consistent. They made a really bit of a run at 3-0," Lilley said. The USL veteran coach praised his team's defensive work as well as the goal-haul.
“We limited their chances. We were harder to play through. They had some dangerous pieces in there with Ekra and Enzo - both Martinez brothers - even late in the game they're bringing in Herrera and Estrada; there's quality.”
“I don't think we got too low after the Charleston result and although we didn't play great against Red Bull, we made some strides. Now we made strides again and we got the three points. I'd like to think that we can consistently put out good performances.”
“I thought this was the first full 90 minutes,” Lilley said.
On goals from Fall, Garzi, Madison, and Forbes, Rochester brushed aside their challengers from Charlotte and appeared to right the ship with the disastrous loss on the road to the Battery still fresh on the mind.
The Rhinos travel to face Saint Louis FC at 8:30PM on May 6.