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Rhinos vs. Eagles 2013: Season's First Points Earned in 0-0 Draw

A strong defensive performance overshadowed a continued lack of offensive prowess in the Rhinos' 0-0 draw with the Charlotte Eagles.

Kristian Nicht started in goal with Troy Roberts and George Kyriazis in front of him. Tyler Polak started on the left and Lucas Fernandez on the right sides of defense. Lance Rozeboom played defensive midfield while Gabe Latigue and Danny Earls played on the outsides. Tyler Rosenlund looked to spark the attack from central midfield and Blake Brettschneider lined up slightly behind strike partner Matt Horth.

Playing at college or high school athletic facilities used to be part and parcel of playing lower division soccer. Despite Charleston Battery, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, and Rochester Rhinos having their own soccer specific stadia, the Charlotte Eagles have bounced around local venues and currently play at Queens University of Charlotte. As such their field had lines for several other sports and there are only stands on one side of the field.

Aside from subpar facilities, Charlotte's gameplan was simple, direct, and persistent. The Eagles relentlessly tried to play their forwards through on goal with long balls over the top of Rochester's defense. Despite his age, Troy Roberts did well to chase down those balls or communicate with goalkeeper Kristian Nicht to come off his line early.

Kyriazis however, struggled with chasing down balls but often made up for it by intercepting balls through the air and distributing well to his teammates. There were a few plays in which Kyriazis was exposed. In one play he failed to track his mark's diagonal run when the Charlotte attacker ran in behind right back Lucas Fernandez. Fernandez had stepped to pressure the man on the ball and then had to turn and sprint into the corner to close down the Charlotte player Kyriazis didn't follow. Luckily Fernandez put in an energetic tackle to knock the ball out but Kyriazis almost cost the team.

At the end of the first half, Kyriazis and Roberts both thought the other would run down a ball that bounced over their heads. As a result, neither followed the play and a Charlotte forward was through on goal. If not for some quick feet from Nicht, who rushed out to smother the ball, a defensive error could have cost Rochester the game.

Aside from those notable mistakes, Rochester's defense was very solid and much more similar to the performances fans have come to expect from the back four. The Rhinos exhibited much more tenacious defending against Charlotte than their Florida opposition last weekend. Defenders and midfielders closed down Charlotte players quickly whenever they had the ball at the top of the box. 2012 USL-Pro Goalkeeper of the Year, Kristian Nicht, made a number of acrobatic saves to keep the Eagles off the scoreboard even when they had several corners in quick succession in the second half.

The Rhinos had better build-up play during the first half, but Charlotte's constant long balls kept the Rochester defense on its toes. In the first half Matt Horth did well to beat a few Charlotte players but ultimately turned over the ball because none of his teammates had joined him in the attack. Horth has shown some strong individual skills but this team still clearly lacks cohesion going forward.

The second half was more of the same with some sustained midfield presence from the Rhinos and quick breaks from Charlotte. One chance of note for Rochester after halftime was created by a burst of pace from Kendell McFayden. McFayden raced down the field following an interception by the Rhinos. The speedy forward beat 3 Charlotte players before drawing a foul. Danny Earls stepped up to swing the free kick in with his left foot but the ball sailed over everyone's head.

The Rhinos finished the match with only 4 shots, compared to 11 for Charlotte, but the team controlled possession for long stretches of the game. The team will take its first point of the season and Nicht will be glad to add Friday's match to his list of clean sheets. Coming after a weekend of two losses and being outscored 6-1, the 0-0 tie against Charlotte momentarily eased the panic-start to the season. With that said, Rochester needs to figure out how to score goals.