In the Rochester Rhinos' third game in six days, Bob Lilley again rotated his squad but also introduced a new 4-3-3 set up that proved to be crucial in the game's only goal in their victory over D.C. United.
Rochester was missing Alec Sundly to the Revolution and star forward J.C. Banks had a slight injury to his knee that relegated him to a substitute role. Lilley opted to leave regular left-back Onua Obasi on the bench in favor of more defensive-minded Patrick Slogic.
The coaching staff wanted Slogic to maintain the defense's shape as a stay-at-home fullback but the 6'6" defender couldn't match the pace of D.C.'s play down the right wing. Right back Jalen Robinson burned Slogic on a number of occasions, to the ire of Rochester's coaching staff, but D.C. was not able to capitalize on any of the 20 year old's service.
The match was pretty wide open in most of the first half hour but neither team could force a goalkeeper into a dangerous save. D.C. had generated some opportunities but couldn't put their shots on frame.
Rookie midfielder Mike Garzi had more freedom to drive forward in Tuesday night's match than he has in his regular defensive role this season. The stand-out from Colgate University took advantage of Lilley's new tactical formation to get into the box and take defenders on 1-v-1. Garzi beat Alex Caskey with a great first touch and then opened up space between himself and Jalen Robinson to play a low ball in towards Colin Rolfe at the near post.
The former Houston Dynamo forward did well to beat both center-backs Nana Attakora and Steve Birnbaum to the corner of the 6-yard box but did even better with his touch. Rolfe redirected the pass from Garzi with his left foot at tight enough angle to avoid Andrew Dykstra and tuck the ball in at the far post in the 27th minute.
Mike Garzi described that play after the game, "Tony played a great ball out to me and I saw the guy [Caskey] closing me down fast and I thought 'just take a chance, take my first touch forward.' And it ended up being a good touch and then I was 1 on 1 with the defender [Robinson], I beat him and got my cross off to Colin. He got a great touch on it, it was a great finish by him."
After Rochester's goal, D.C. continued to probe primarily from the right side but could not really trouble John McCarthy. The first half ended with Rochester leading 1-0. Despite some physical play from both sides, the referee had not issued a single yellow card (or bothered to blow for too many fouls) in the opening 45 minutes.
The rain had started pouring by the start of the second half and the wind picked up its intensity as play got underway.
D.C. center-back Steve Birnbaum received the game's first booking for hauling down Johnny Mendoza after the crafty attacking midfielder beat him down the right wing in the 50th minute.
Birnbaum then received his second booking ten minutes later for fouling Colin Rolfe after both players misjudged the flight of McCarthy's punt in the strong wind. The second overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft was sent off seconds before the center referee whistled for a lightning delay.
After a 38 pause, the match resumed play in the 61st minute but conditions barely resembled the game of soccer.
Here's a snapshot of what conditions were in the 9 minutes between weather delays.
After a 91 minute delay, Ben Olsen set D.C. in an all-out attack mode despite playing a man down. Bob Lilley switched Obasi in for Slogic and moved Walls into the back line. The visitors lined up four forwards in step with Rochester's 5-man defense and peppered balls over the top into the Rhinos' penalty area.
The man advantage allowed Rochester to play a 5-3-2 with two forwards as outlets and was able to kill a lot of time in the final ten minutes by running the ball into the channel. D.C.'s last play of the game saw senior Jamaican national team forward Michael Seaton challenge all three Rochester center-backs (Walls, Hoffer, and Diallo) but his shot rolled harmlessly into the arms of John McCarthy.
With 4 saves registered on the night, McCarthy earned his first clean sheet of the U.S. Open Cup to complement his league-leading 5 in USL Pro. Colin Rolfe's goal was his second of the competition as he also scored a flicked goal in the 119th minutes against Reading United AC in the previous round.
This win is Rochester's first ever against D.C. United in the teams' fifth meeting. The Rhinos were previously outscored 10-1 by the capital club. On the victory Bob Lilley said, "Although it wasn't their top lineup, it was still a good team. We had to play well and I thought we battled. With the travel it was going to be a tough game no matter who we played against tonight. After a disappointing loss [in Arizona] the guys rebounded and I thought it showed a lot of heart."
When I pressed the coach about the strength of D.C.'s squad on Tuesday night, he responding by evoking the romanticism of the cup tournament. "Obviously if they had Eddie Johnson and Espindola it would have been more difficult for us but you never know what will happen on the night."
Rochester will travel next week to face the winner of Wednesday night's match between the Revolution and the Kickers in Richmond. If the Rhinos do have to face the Revs next week keep coach Lilley's words in mind, stranger things have happened in this tournament.