The second half of Friday night's match against Antigua Barracuda FC had more than enough intrigue for a full 90 minutes. Odd calls from the match's center referee official Charles Murphy paved the way for a barn-storming last 20 minutes.
The only notable event in the first half was a player collision in the dying minutes. Antigua goalkeeper Molvin James (who looks remarkably like the Pillsbury doughboy) came off his line to punch clear a ball lofted into the area. Rochester forward Blake Brettschneider was looking up at the ball and tracking its movement through the air. When James got his fists to the ball he also connected with the right side of Brettschneider's head and because the forward was watching the ball he couldn't see the contact coming. Brettschneider spent a considerable amount of time after being blindsided but was able to stand up and walk off the field on his own accord.
At halftime the Rhinos were tied to a team whose record was 0-13. To make matters more tenuous, Antigua had outshot Rochester 5-2 in the first half. The second half started out as innocuous and boring as much of the first period was.
A dozen minutes into the second half, an Antigua player won the ball around half field and pushed it forward to striker Orlando Mitchum. Mitchum carried the ball for a step or two before unleashing a shot from outside to area to the far post. Kristian Nicht played his angles correctly but Mitchum hit the shot with the outside of his right foot across the face of goal so the ball curled in to the inside setting of the goal.
In the 57th minute the Rochester Rhinos found themselves a goal down to the worst team they've ever faced in 17 years.
The goal forced Rochester head coach Pat Ercoli into a couple of substitutions. Reidy came off for Ross LaBauex while Bilal Duckett made way for inventive Argentine right back Lucas Fernandez. Former Colorado Rapids midfielder LaBaeux is not a poor player but his defensive qualities are certainly more prominent than his attacking instincts. Last season Fernandez was the most improved player for the Rhinos but his lack of discipline shone through on several notable occasions. Sometimes playing with a chip on your shoulder can be positive, but other times it leads to problems for your team.
If my foreshadowing skills didn't give it away yet, Fernandez was involved in an incident that put his team's position in troubling circumstances. With just 7 minutes under his belt, Fernandez went forward for a Rochester free kick. James easily caught the service and flopped to the ground in order to kill some time off the clock. As he turned to jog back into his defensive position, Fernandez appeared to make slight contact to the goalkeeper's head with his left foot. The referee was immediately on the spot and didn't hesitate to show the full back a straight red card.
There are several things to unpack regarding this incident. First is that Fernandez messed up. Regardless of whether the contact was malicious or even intentional, Fernandez put himself in a situation where the referee could make that call. I don't think he deserved a dismissal for that play but how could Fernandez not notice the large orange mass lying on the ground in front of him?
Last season Fernandez earned himself a reputation for cheeky, dirty play. While I did the same thing as a player, Fernandez multiple times tripped his opposition player behind the play and it only takes one conversation between referees after the match for that kind of tag to stick.
We can't overlook the fact that the referee was probably pretty poor, as are most of the referees in USL-Pro. By accepting the de facto third division status, USL-Pro also accepted being assigned the worst and least experienced match officials in the professional leagues per the structure of PRO.
In the minutes leading up to the dismissal, center official Murphy had been losing control of the match. Murphy showed two bookings in the 67th minute and one in the 69th minute before sending off Fernandez in the 70th. The referee has the argument that he needed to set a line to maintain the civility of the proceedings.
Several things coalesced in the 70th minute dismissal of Lucas Fernandez. The sending off also set in motion a few trends that would decide the rest of the match.
Six minutes after the dismissal, Tyler Rosenlund went down rather softly just inside the area. Rosenlund had taken a hard touch to cut the ball to his right and bundled over an Antigua defender's outstretched leg. Rosenlund would have been unable to get on the end of the ball and didn't really look to be in possession of the ball after knocking it past the defender. Likewise, Rosenlund looked to be going down before any significant contact was made.
The referee didn't hesitate to point to the spot but the incident reeked of a make-up call. Nonetheless, fan-favorite Danny Earls stepped up to take the penalty kick. Despite Molvin James's best efforts, Earls executed his penalty perfectly and buried his shot into the upper right corner. A few minutes later, Antigua had a stronger shout for a penalty than the incident for which Rochester was awarded the spot-kick but the referee waved off the protests.
Rochester subbed out J.C. Banks for Andrew Hoxie. Again, coach Ercoli took out the team's natural wide players and forced the Rhinos to play through the middle for the final stretch of the match. Fortunately, Brettschneider and Rosenlund were able to connect down the center of the field to control of the match. The former Revolution forward dropped into midfield to receive the ball and turned to find Rosenlund streaking towards the area. Rosenlund took one touch on the run and popped the ball over an on-rushing James. The ball dropped into the net and Rochester took a lead for the first time on the night; 2-1 Rhinos.
In the meantime, Antigua had a number of chances. Besides the penalty shout, Antigua hit a wide open shot against the post and caught the Rhinos on the counter several times. Rochester didn't really deserve to win on the night but the result moves the team to 2-0-2 in their 4-game home stretch. The team has earned 8 points in the last 4 games after only earning 6 points in their previous 11 games. Antigua Barracuda FC is now 0-14-0 on the 2013 season, but I'll have more about that team in a post soon.