Leading up to this midweek encounter, the USL promoted the match as a battle between Kenardo Forbes and Joe Cole, the midfield maestros for their respective sides. While Cole watched the game from his couch in Florida, Forbes was active and effective for Rochester throughout the match playing in a more advanced position.
While Tampa Bay’s former EPL Champion sat out of the team’s trip to Western New York, Cole’s replacement in the center of the park was no slouch. Michael Nanchoff, who usually plays on the wing when Cole is available, was pulling the strings for the Rowdies. The former Portland Timber nearly played Deshorn Brown through Rochester’s backline in the 8th minute but the defense swarmed to clear.
Rhinos forward Jochen Graf did well in the first half to occupy both of Tampa’s center backs but the home side failed to capitalize on the lanes that opened up as a result. On the other end, Nanchoff took advantage of space that opened up for him. In the 26th minute, it appeared as though the seas parted between Rochester’s defense and midfield, allowing Nanchoff to stroll forward before firing a shot over the frame of the goal.
At 6’3” Wal Fall is a natural target on corner kicks. Just before the half hour mark, Forbes directed service from a corner towards the German centerback-turned-midfielder. The ball appeared to graze a Tampa Bay defender’s head before coming to Fall, whose initial attempt at goal was blocked by goalkeeper Matt Pickens. With Pickens scrambling, Fall was the first to pounce on his own rebound to tuck away his third league goal of the campaign.
Fall’s second 27th minute strike of the season gave Rochester the 1-0 lead at halftime.
Tampa Bay came out for the second half looking to catch Rochester on the break with pace. Jamaican international cetnerback Damion Lowe broke up a set piece attack from the Rhinos and started his side the other way.
Lowe set speedy winger Darwin Jones on his horse from midfield but the former Sounders academy player was tracked by Rochester’s Forbes. As Forbes closed him down, Jones appeared to stumble on the ball and hit the turf.
After that play, the referee used input from the VAR system to show Lowe a booking. Five minutes later, the Rowdies had a shout for a booking that never came to Rochester. Mike Garzi fouled Nanchoff inside the center circle to prevent a meaningful counter attack and when the Tampa Bay player went down, Garzi appeared to trod on his arm.
Nanchoff looked to be in serious discomfort in his right forearm but was fortunately able to continue in the match. Just minutes after VAR informed a seemingly arbitrary booking for Lowe, Tampa Bay was left question how Garzi did not see his second yellow card of the game for that incident.
Between the 71st and 78th minutes, Tampa Bay had three set piece opportunities from the right channel. Rochester goalkeeper Tomas Gomez was equal to Nanchoff’s delivery, coming off his line to punch clear or collect each free kick.
As the game became stretched in the closing minutes, Rochester found a few chances to seal the victory from substitutes Sofiane Tergou and Antonio Correia and from right wingback Jordan Dover. Even though a second goal never came, the Rhinos were able to see out the 1-0 victory over a strong Tampa Bay side to improve to 3W-1L-3D on the season.
After the match, Rochester’s players were relieved to right the ship after a lackluster performance in last week’s cup win and a frustrating result on the weekend against Richmond Kickers.
“We were at home,” Jordan Dover said after the match, “And at home we never feel like the underdog. We had a gameplan going into the game. We executed well. And we never expected to lose this game so we got the result and we’re happy.”
Goalkeeper Tomas Gomez was similarly pleased. “We had a gameplan coming in and we knew Tampa has some players that have done well in MLS and overseas, they’re very experienced players. But we had a gameplan and for the most part we executed it. We got the goal and they couldn’t break us down.”
“Honestly, we head into every game at home thinking that it’s our game. We don’t like to drop points. We saw Tampa is a good team, they’re second behind Charleston [on goal difference]. We came with a gameplan,” Gomez said, “We were like, If we stick to the gameplan and everyone doing their job, we’re going to get a result.”
“That’s what ended up happening today.”
Third-year Jamaican midfielder Kenardo Forbes spoke about literally being the poster-boy of the team in USL’s promotion of the game. “It doesn’t put any extra pressure on me. I just take it as a positive that the league recognizes the work that I do even though I don’t score a lot of goals.” Forbes said after the match.
“I think it’s a positive for me because now someone recognizes what I do. Here in America people like goal-scorers, they don’t like really appreciate deep playmakers. I feel good about it.”
Forbes laughed off suggestions that there might be a friendly competition between him and Fall for the leading goal-scorer within the squad. “Nah, I don’t think so at all. We, as the senior guys, have to step up and pinch in as we can because we lost two of our main goalscorers last year; Steevan dos Santos and Christian Volesky. We have to step up and show the young guys. Whenever we get a goal, it’s a bonus for us.”
Second-year goalkeeper Gomez told me after Wednesday’s 1-0 victory that he was happy that the team earned a clean sheet but that he simiarly doesn’t fret over his personal statistics. “For me it’s about the team. Last year, I don’t even know how many shutouts we got. The team in front of me, when we get clean sheets, normally it’s because everyone else in front is making my job easier. There’s probably less than a handful of times that I’ve actually had to do something amazing.”
“For the most part, when the team plays well, as long as I do my job, we’re going to go get a clean sheet.”
Rochester’s players are looking forward to having the next six days without a game after a bit of grueling stretch for the team. Gomez spoke with a sense of relief, “We’re gonna have a little break up until the next game, which is nice because we’re coming off the first time in the season that we had 3 games in 8 days. We ran through a lot of bodies in those 8 days. Some guys are resting. And we have some guys who are coming off injury.”
Gomez laughed off any concerns about rust in the team’s next USL game on June 3 after the time off. “As much as you love it, it’s still like a mini-preseason again. Everyone’s going to be itching to get back and get results.”
Dover was one player who featured in all 3 of Rochester’s recent matches. “It will definitely help us, we’ve been working hard over this past week. Lots of games, lots of tired legs. We’re just going to use this time to get our legs back, to get back into the groove and we should be fine by next week.”
Forbes was also looking forward to some time without competitive matches. “It gives us time to work on whatever we need to work on. We had two games in a week, Wednesday – Sunday. So now this gives guys like me some rest, much-needed rest. Because I’m always there in the team, so I need my rest.”
Forbes and Dover (and all of Rochester’s squad) will be able to rest until next Wednesday at the earliest when the Rhinos host GPS Omens of the Bay State Soccer League in the Third Round of the U.S. Open Cup on May 31. Rochester travels to Cincinnati in league play on Saturday, June 3.