The Rhinos were without club captain Tyler Rosenlund, who is recovering from a leg injury sustained last weekend against Orlando, but the team made due on its trip to Pittsburgh. Lance Rozeboom returned to the starting lineup after staying on the bench during Rochester's midweek U.S. Open Cup win over Western Mass Pioneers. JC Banks and Alex Dixon also rejoined the starting XI and Dixon was particularly effective in this game.
Bob Lilley has determined his best defensive grouping for the team; Kyle Hoffer and Tony Walls playing centrally in front of rookie goalkeeper John McCarthy with Pat McMahon on the right and Onua Obasi playing left back. While Revs' loanees goalkeeper Luis Soffner and right back Jossimar Sanchez are not first choice at the moment, there are still 20 matches left in the USL Pro season and hopefully several games remaining in the Rhinos' Open Cup campaign.
Speaking of Revolution players, Alec Sundly started and played 90 minutes alongside Rozeboom in central midfield. As the pair had done previously, Rozeboom played more of an anchor role while Sundly ventured farther out of the middle to make defensive challenges and offensive runs into space. Sundly played the full game for Rochester and doubled up well as a second out-and-out defensive midfielder when Pittsburgh was pressing hard at the end of the game.
Even though the Riverhounds have yet to win a game in USL Pro this year, the team still has a number of dangerous weapons. First and foremost among them is 2013 Golden Boot winner José Angulo. The former New York Red Bulls benchwarmer was also a New England Revolution draft pick in 2009. Another critical piece for Pittsburgh is attacking midfielder Matthew Dallman who led the league last year with 12 assists, several unsurprisingly went to Angulo.
Joining this tandem is controversial forward Collins John. Collins John is an interesting figure, to say the least; in a match earlier this season at home against Wilmington Hammerheads FC, John scored a goal in the 67th minute, notched an assist in the 86th minute, and then received a straight red card in the 90th minute of the 4-3 loss. John came into Saturday's game for the second half and changed the complexion of the contest. John immediately became Pittsburgh's target forward which opened up space for his teammates to try to penetrate Rochester's defense.
Running up the left flank, Alex Dixon skipped past Pittsburgh's right back Mike Green as if he wasn't there. Whether Dixon was providing the service from the left or running in centrally as a target, Rochester's balls into the box were not effective on Saturday. A lot of the times, Pittsburgh merely outnumbered Rochester in the area as only Rolfe and either Banks or Dixon were available inside the 18-yard box. The instances when the ball escaped Pittsburgh's defenders, the Rhinos were a step or two behind the flight of the ball. JC Banks was just unable to reach a low cross from Obasi in the opening minutes of the match
Most of the first half was a midfield battle as neither team was truly able to put pressure on the other's goal. The chance for Rochester's goal in the 41st minute arose from a lucky bounce but Alex Dixon took his opportunity well.
A corner kick by JC Banks from the near side was half cleared by Pittsburgh, Obasi recovered possession and laid a pass off to Johnny Mendoza who sent in a looping, hopeful cross. Pittsburgh goalkeeper Michael Lisch, on loan from Houston Dynamo, comes off his line to collect the cross but stumbles over Colin Rolfe initially and then over Tony Walls.
Walls was the initial target but the ball bounces to Rolfe who whiffs on his volley attempt before hitting Pittsburgh defender Sterling Flunder with a follow-up attempt. At that point the ball rolls back to Dixon who slammed his shot into the back of the net from just beyond the penalty spot in the 41st to give Rochester the lead.
There's a final angle that shows Pittsburgh's Lisch actually got a touch on the ball after Flunder's block to send the ball to a waiting Dixon. It was a really unfortunate play for Michael Lisch but I wouldn't say there was ever a foul on the goalkeeper as Pittsburgh half-heartedly claimed.
Despite periods of sustained pressure in the second half, Pittsburgh only forced McCarthy into one save. That came from a shot by midfielder Rob Vincent in the first half. Here's the original angle:
The Riverhounds were a much stronger side in the second half but were still unable to break through Rochester's backline. With 20 minutes left in the second half, Lilley introduced Babacar Diallo and shifted to a 5-man backline to deal with the added pressure from Pittsburgh. This formation change allowed Rochester to absorb every attack the Riverhounds could muster and stand strong amid a late-game surge.
I know the fans over in Revs-land might not appreciate this sentiment, but if McCarthy is making saves like the one below when called upon and the defense is performing this well in front of him, Soffner might be seeing a lot more of the bench. Rookie 'keeper McCarthy earned his fourth clean sheet of the season on Saturday night.
This victory moves Rochester to 3-4-1 (W-L-T). After 8 matches last year (oddly enough on May 18), the team held a rather embarrassing 1-6-1 record. The dramatic improvement from 2013 to this season indicates the strong preparation that Bob Lilley puts his team through.
Rochester is now unbeaten in 7 matches in USL Pro and 8 matches in all competitions. Rochester are sitting in a tie with Sacramento Republic FC in fourth place right now though it has two games in hand over Orlando City and LA Galaxy II at the top. This Rhinos' side is clearly better than last year but still needs more offensive output to match the team's performance levels.
The Rhinos next play against expansion side Sacramento Republic FC at home on Friday, May 23 at 7:35PM.
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