Usually a 2-1 win is better than a 0-0 draw but Rochester head coach Bob Lilley is more concerned with the performance rather than the result. Friday night's scoreless result belies a positive attacking performance, especially in the second half from Sahlen's Stadium. Short-term loanee Donnie Smith was a particular bright spot for the Rhinos on the night.
Rochester led the all-time series against the Kickers 10-7-5 ahead of Friday night's game but the Rhinos had only won twice in the last 10 meetings. Richmond is a 22-year old club with some knowledge about how to get results at this level. The Kickers finished last year on top of the regular season after a record-breaking unbeaten run at home. This year's squad isn't as successful but head coach Leigh Cowlishaw has the team playing well.
The Rhinos played the whole game without a true right midfielder. Lilley wanted the wide midfielders to play tucked in to allow overlapping runs by the fullbacks but Richmond's formation going forward forced McMahon and Obasi to be honest in their defensive responsibilities. Playing with guys in wide forward positions, Richmond was able to cut out the attacking threat of Rochester's defenders.
Rochester centerback Tony Walls had an uncharacteristically shaky first quarter of an hour but he acclimated somewhat to the Kickers' attackers and combined well with Kyle Hoffer. Despite keeping Richmond scoreless, the Rhinos defense was consistently troubled by George Davis IV until he left the game in the 84th minute.
In the first half when the Rhinos didn't have the ball, JC Banks joined Minh Vu up top in a flat strike partnership. If the team won possession, Banks would drop back quite deep in midfield to receive the ball and allow Tyler Rosenlund to overlap him through the middle into a forward position. This trend combined with midfielders pinching in meant that Banks or Vu often disappeared into the wings and left a lack of passing options in the center.
Twice in the first 45' Rosenlund dropped the ball from the corner to Sundly in the channel of the right side and the Revolution loanee was able to play a dangerous cross into the area. Though Sundly was never a limited anchorman in central midfield, Friday night's game showed a much more attack minded and versatile side of the young midfielder.
Minh Vu also had a transition period while being asked to play a slightly different role. While the Penn State standout has excelled this season coming in from an advanced wide left position, Lilley had him play primarily as a center forward. Vu didn't necessarily play poorly up top but the bruises he received from RIchmond's centerbacks are a rude learning curve for the dangerous attacking midfielder.
Donnie Smith told me after the game that he wasn't entirely comfortable with the role Bob Lilley had given him either against Richmond. "It was somewhat of a different position for me, he wanted me to play a little bit more tucked in versus the width that I'm used to," Smith said. "In the first half it took me a little bit to get adjusted to it, just because I'm still not used to playing in the center of the park as much. In the second half, though, I thought I played a lot better. I found the spaces, caught the gaps, had a little more success out wide, and obviously in the final third I thought I was able to get some crosses in."
Smith said that he felt that even with the late arrival into Rochester ahead of Friday's game, he felt a lot more prepared to fit into the squad than during his previous loan spell a month ago. "Obviously I know the guys a little bit more, knowing what they're gonna do, their tendencies. I feel a lot better about today's performance."
Bob Lilley echoed a lot of Smith's positive sentiments on the night. "Donnie Smith had a good game, especially in the second half," Lilley said on the field after the match. "He hit one with his left in the first half and one with the right in the second. He's able to wiggle through and able to break down defenders on the dribble."
Smith's flight into Rochester was delayed a couple hours and the defender/midfielder didn't get to the city until around 8pm on Thursday night. He told me that while he didn't get a full training in with the team, he was able to loosen up on Friday morning and get briefed by the coaching staff. "I just went on a little jog by myself just to get the flight out of the my legs. Then when I got into the locker room I talked with Bob for a while about the formation and kinda how I'd be playing and how the team would be playing."
When asked if an earlier loan decision would have been beneficial to Donnie integrating with the team, Coach Lilley seemed to agree.
"I think he knows the guys and he was able to train three days before we went down to Richmond and Wilmington. It would have helped but for us, but we discussed it, I said fine, if we get him in on Thursday he'll play Friday. We went over the tactics and he seemed to do a good job with that. He grew as the game went on, I think he took more risks and I thought he was very good for us. If someone was going to unlock Richmond tonight, Donnie was certainly one of the guys."
Rochester was unable to score despite a period in the second half with four corner kicks in less than five minutes. "For the corners, I'll take responsibility," said Lilley. "We need to do some more work on restart stuff, but to be fair, Richmond defends corners, in my opinion, as well as anyone."
"We weren't lost tonight, we just didn't quite get it done." Lilley's conclusion sums up a promising performance but ultimately slightly disappointing result. The Rhinos don't have any time to analyze the implications of Friday's 0-0 draw against Richmond as they travel to face Dayton on Sunday.
Rochester plays in Dayton, Ohio, against the Dutch Lions on June 1. Kickoff is at 7:00PM and the Rhinos will look to capitalize against the side that is still winless at home.