No, you didn't miss a major announcement from Chicago Fire. The Fire have not created a standalone reserve team in the last week like the LA Galaxy did earlier this year. This Fire Reserves team is a member of what's left of the MLS Reserve League and, like last season, the MLS clubs that don't partner with a USL Pro club will send their reserves teams to play limited inter-league fixtures with USL Pro. These games count in the standings for USL Pro (and the MLS Reserve League, for what that's worth).
Bob Lilley made a few slight changes to Rochester's starting lineup that appeared to shift the dynamics of the match and set the team up for its 2-0 win over Chicago Fire Reserves. The team's defense has looked uncomfortable through the first two matches, a loss in Orlando and a controversial draw in Dayton, and the head coach tried out a new back-four combination against Chicago. Lilley brought Minh Vu back into the first XI and handed Sundly his first start as a Rhino.
Kyle Hoffer remained the rock in central defense but Tony Walls, naturally a fullback, slid in to partner the USL Pro veteran. Onua Thomas Obasi kept his place at left back while Pat MacMahon stepped in as right back on Monday. Of these four players, only Hoffer has started and played 90 minutes in both of the previous matches this season.
Revs' fans shouldn't worry that Soffner watched from the bench as rookie John McCarthy earned a clean sheet because he is still squarely in Lilley's plans for the season. As I mentioned during preseason, both Soffner and McCarthy are talented players who will share goalkeeping duties in the early part of the season. To prove his place in the squad, McCarthy made a number of saves against Chicago and easily collected corners and crosses out of the air.
Alec Sundly earned his first start of the season in central midfield where he partnered with club captain Tyler Rosenlund. The two sat deep in midfield, breaking up Chicago attacks and feeding the ball to Rochester's offensive threats. Minh Vu was a constant threat down the left flank while JC Banks and Sam Petrone swapped places on the right wing and in the hole behind center forward Colin Rolfe. For his part, Rolfe was able to move into open space and adapt to the dynamic play of his teammates.
Rochester's goal came in the 22nd minute after some sustained midfield pressure by the Rhinos. Right back Pat McMahon broke up a Chicago attack through the midfield and played a short square pass to Rosenlund in the middle of the park. Rosenlund picked his head up to see Vu darting inside from the left side. A lack of communication in the Chicago defense meant that right back Marco Franco didn't successfully pass his mark on to his centerback so Vu ran between the two of them. Franco was unable to react as the ball bounced over his head and Vu calmly lifted his shot over goalkeeper Alec Kann into the net.
Vu is a potent attacking midfield threat for the Rhinos and had his way with Franco throughout the first half. The former Penn State standout continued being a positive outlet for Rochester in the second half, as well.
Though Chicago came out from halftime a resurgent side, Sundly and Rosenlund protected the back four well enough to limit the Fire Reserves to speculative shots from distance. Sundly played much of his match rather quietly. The Revolution loanee put a solid shift in midfield and allowed his teammates to play with a great deal of freedom.
Rolfe and Banks connected well throughout the match but particularly so in early in the second half. Banks played a pass to Rolfe who flicked the ball into space for Banks to run onto. Kann came off his line to close down the angle as Banks drove into the 18 and Rochester forward's low shot was saved.
In the 63rd minute, Lance "Sunshine" Rozeboom entered the game for Rolfe and took up a two-way role as Rosenlund pushed up as a pivot in a 5-man midfield. Sundly maintained his duties an the anchor-man in front of Rochester's defense until the 87th minute.
Vu and Petrone made way for the fresh legs of Johnny Mendoza and Alex Dixon half way through the second half. Mendoza quickly made an impact with a clever ball over the top for Dixon to run onto but the former Houston Dynamo forward hit his low shot just wide of the goal. On the ensuing goalkick, Chicago loses the ball in midfield to Rozeboom and passes short to Mendoza. Mendoza does well to pick up Banks running through the middle as a lazy Chicago centerback keeps him onside.
Banks drove into the 18-yard box and fires a shot that hits Kann on its way into the back of the net. The former Rhinos MVP had a relatively muted celebration as he grabbed Rochester's insurance goal in the 81st minute.
By the time Jossimar Sanchez made his club debut in the 87th minute, coming into the match with Mike Garzi as both Banks and Sundly headed for the bench, the contest was largely over. Rochester simply maintained possession and passed the ball around an understaffed Chicago Fire Reserves.
In the 65th minute, Steven Kinney left the match for Chicago but the home team determined it didn't have an able-bodied substitute to replace him. Kinney didn't appear injured, but the coaching staff decided to take him out of the match anyway. Due apparently to confusion over the MLS Reserve league eligibility rules, Chicago's coaches, C.J. Brown and Clint Mathis, didn't bring on a substitute despite naming two more field players to the matchday squad.
Without letting this Chicago coaching oddity overshadow Rochester's achievement, the Rhinos won their first match of the 2014 USL Pro season on Monday. The team now holds a 1-1-1 record and heads back to Rochester for the home opener against Charleston Battery at 4:05PM this Sunday, April 27.