It took 110 minutes for Rochester's 2014 U.S. Open Cup Second Round matchup against Western Mass Pioneers to heat up but the Rhinos avoided embarrassment against the New England amateur club.
Though Rhinos' head coach Bob Lilley was visibly (and definitely audibly) upset at his team's performance on Wednesday night, Rochester was never really threatened by the visitors.
While the match in general was not a showcase for attractive soccer, the first half was particularly frustrating for Rochester. The team only managed two official shots in the opening 45 minutes as the Pioneers' 5-man backline smothered all of Rochester's attacks. Diallo and Obasi were credited with the home sides only efforts on goal, a defender and midfielder, despite the team playing 3 forwards.
The second half was slightly more enterprising as Rhinos played in a number of dangerous crosses, particularly towards the end of regulation, but no one was ever able to capitalize on the service.
Luis Soffner started in goal and 3rd year Rhino Brandon Miller was on the bench as rookie John McCarthy got a well-deserved rest.
After missing a few weeks with injury Babacar Diallo, who had played as right back at the start of the season, slotted in to partner Kyle Hoffer in the middle. Ayao Sossou started at left back as he continues to establish his match fitness after some nagging leg injuries. Revolution loanee Jossimar Sanchez started and played the full match as right back after an appearance in midfield recently against Wilmington.
Club captain Tyler Rosenlund left this past weekend's match against Orlando and missed Wednesday night's cup match with that same injury. Ball-winning aficionado Lance Rozeboom watched the game from the bench after picking up a sprain on his toe. Without two regular starters available, Bob Lilley decided to shake things up in midfield by moving two defenders into unfamiliar positions.
Tony Walls, a career fullback who has been playing in central defense this season, adapted rather well to an anchor role in front of the back four. Walls seemed to enjoy breaking up opposition attacks and playing short square passes to his teammates. Onua Obasi has been playing left back for the Rhinos despite a history as a forward in futsal. On Wednesday night Obasi played on the left side of an inverted triangle midfield with Mike Garzi on the right. While his defensive positioning faltered during the first half, racking up three fouls including the team's only booking, Obasi was a regular threat moving forward both centrally and down the left channel.
Up top, recent signing Levi Houapeu interchanged with Colin Rolfe while Sam Petrone played slightly behind them. The three forwards made consistent and quality runs off the ball but lacked coherent service from Rochester's makeshift midfield.
Johnny Mendoza, who assisted JC Banks's goal in Chicago and has shown attacking creativity from midfield, replaced Garzi in the 74th minute. Rochester's knight in shining armor this season, JC Banks, entered the game in the 80th minute to take Petrone's place. Lilley made his final change at the start of the second period of extra time, introducing Alex Dixon after Rolfe suffered a head injury.
With so many changes to the starting lineup, I'm sure Lilley would have appreciated the extra substitutions afforded him in USL Pro matches. USL Pro allows 5 changes while the U.S. Open Cup, along with most every other competition, only uses 3 substitutions.
Rochester made the breakthrough in the 111th minute after a bit of a scramble inside the area. Alex Dixon served a cross into the center from a deep position on the right wing. JC Banks did well to out-jump his defender and power a header toward the far post that forced Western Mass Pioneers' goalkeeper Warren Gross into a diving save.
Onua Obasi picked up the rebound wide of goal and attempted to play the ball into the middle, either as a pass or a shot. After some attempted clearances, the ball bounced to Levi Houapeu inside the 6-yard box and the new Rhino made no mistake with a wide open net in front of him. Houapeu's goal was a moment of relief for those who had stayed at Sahlen's Stadium to continue watching the game after regulation ended.
Obasi doubled Rochester's lead just three minutes later with a great solo effort. The Birmingham native won possession on the left side of midfield and attacked the tired Western Mass Pioneers' defense. Obasi cut inside and took a very tight angled shot to the far post that Gross reacted late to. The ball skidded off the wet turf and under Gross for the Rhinos' second goal.
As the players now seemed to share the fans' sense of relief, Rochester lost concentration after grabbing an insurance goal. 2 minutes from the end of extra time, substitute midfielder Kyle Tomos drove down the left flank for Western Mass and as he approached the endline cut a brilliant low cross back towards the penalty spot.
Rochester goalkeeper Luis Soffner dove to get a hand on the pass but missed so William Daniels had an empty goal to aim at as he pulled one back for the visitors. Though Western Mass Pioneers may have had a faint chance at coming back in the match after pegging Rochester back at 2-1, the remaining minute and a half of the game were very quiet.
Though Rochester got its win, Bob Lilley would have liked to see a more emphatic result a half hour earlier and perhaps without needing to draw on his regular starters. The 2-1 victory AET moves Rochester into the Third Round of the 2014 U.S. Open Cup in which the Rhinos will host Reading United A.C. (PDL) on Tuesday, May 27 at 7:35PM