FC Cincinnati came into Saturday evening's match on the back of two home league wins and two victories in the U.S. Open Cup. Prior to that positive run, Cincinnati was winless in five USL games and a result on the road in Rochester would have consolidated the team's good form.
On the other hand, Rochester is unbeaten in 7 games in all competitions since the team's devastating loss on the road at Charleston Battery. The Rhinos had not conceded a goal for 205 minutes before kicking off against Cincinnati on Saturday.
Both teams had Open Cup matches on Wednesday and while Rochester was able to rotate for that match against GPS Omens, Cincinnati played a number of regular starters for its cup game against Louisville City FC. As a result, FC Cincinnati trotted out a starting lineup at Capelli Sport Stadium with more than a few changes from the normal personnel.
Perhaps as a result of lineup changes or tired legs from midweek fixtures, the first half of the match was largely forgettable. Neither team fashioned a shot on goal and many of the statistics were even after the opening 45 minutes: 247 passes for Rochester to Cincinnati's 245, passing accuracy percentages in the mid-70s for both teams, and possession ever-so-slightly in Rochester's favor 50.2% to 49.8%.
The deciding moment of the game which punctuated the midfield slog came from the right foot of left back Bradley Kamdem Fewo in the 65th minute. Rochester’s playmaker Kenardo Forbes played a simple ball to Kamdem Fewo’s foot and followed th pass to make a run into channel.
Kamdem Fewo described his positional familiarity as a winger talking to media after the game. “I grew up playing forward so I like being close to the net. I like to attack and everything. This year, sometimes I play left back or winger and I like both. As long as I can be on the pitch, it's okay for me.”
The second-year Rhino discussed coming in cold so early in the first half after Rayane Boukemia, the starting left winger, left the match in the 22nd minute with injury. “It was a little bit difficult because I didn't get a warm up. So it was a little bit harder at the beginning to get used to the pitch, to the game right away. My teammates helped me out. Ryan talked to me a lot, Kenny and Wal in the middle and Brandon, they would tell me 'No go there, go here'.”
Kamdem Fewo flubbed an earlier chance when Stefan Defregger flashed a low cross through the 18-yard box from the right side but the UNLV alumnus waited for the ball to reach his left foot instead of attacking with his weaker foot. “If I look back at it, I should probably have hit it with my right. But there's next time,” he laughed.
The match's sole goal-scorer entertained the possibility that he was a master of mindgames by using the earlier chance to convince Cincinnati's defense he was not a threat on his right foot, but ultimately explained the split-second decisions on the play of the game.
“Kenny [Forbes] made an overlapping run and in the moment I thought, Okay he's on my left, maybe I play him. But as soon as he made that run, both of the defenders followed him so it was all open in the middle. That helped me out a lot so there was more space, I took a touch and I shot. I didn't even think much of anything; just the space and the shot.”
Goalkeeper Tomas Gomez rather quietly earned his fourth clean sheet of the 2017 USL campaign. After the match he spoke about how the team views itself in relation to other teams in the league.
“For us, it's hard to look at the standings and try to formulate the math to where we should be because we're so many games behind everyone. And we had that big layoff so now it's kind of like were playing catch-up with these games,” Gomez said. “Were just trying to take care of one game at a time.”
It may be easy for players to get carried away looking at the team's schedule but Gomez described how the methodical gameplans help everyone focus on the task at hand. “I just think that if we get a goal, we expect to win the game. If we get the goal, we try to mentally tune in and defend and make sure they don't get a goal.”
“We got one and held on to it.”
Rochester Rhinos head coach Bob Lilley was pleased with another positive result at home despite noting several areas of the game his side could improve in coming weeks.
“Today I thought it was a gritty performance. Similar to the Tampa Bay game, we found a goal and we showed some mental toughness to make it stand up. But we've got to get better creating more consistently. It hurts a little but not having Christiano available.”
Haitian winger Christiano Francois, who was crucial in Rochester’s 4-0 win over Charlotte Independence on April 29, has been out of action with an eye problem for about a month.
“We just have to be a little bit more consistent with our passing in transition,” Lilley described multiple plays in which errant passes exposed the backline to dangerous chances.
“But I like that we've defended pretty well since that Charleston game. We just have to keep getting better. Cincinnati's a good team, they're on a bit of a run. I know they rested a few guys and it won't be easy when we go to Cincinnati. But we had to beat the team they put on the field and if you look at their opening roster, none of them were rookies. They all have experience.”
The left-sided starting centerback for FC Cincinnati in this match, Garrett Halfhill is a first-year professional but the point still stands that Cincinnati's second string squad contains solid players with a lot of USL experience among them.
“For me, we got the job done. I'm proud that we battled. I don't think even as a team we would think it was a great performance,” Lilley said, but the team did not suffer from consequential mistakes. “Even at the end, I think we did a pretty good job closing them out. There were a few anxious moments but at least we weren't just sitting in the shadow of our own goal posts.”
Perhaps Bob Lilley summed up the evening perfectly with an elusive smile. “It's a good day when Bradley scores with his right from outside the box.”
With Saturday's win over Cincinnati, the Rhinos improve to 4W-1L-3D and climb up the table despite holding four games in hand. Perhaps more importantly, Rochester is now in the best form of any team in the Eastern Conference, with two draws and three wins in the last five league games.
The Rhinos now travel to Florida to face Orlando City B on Wednesday June 7 and Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday June 10.