It was a night to remember for the first-year Rochester forward known as Duba. Steevan Humberto Fortes dos Santos was seemingly at the center of every attack the Rhinos generated as they easily handled the challenge from the fourth seeded Red Bulls.
In his first start since September 16, the Cabo Verdean forward caused havoc for New York defenders. 23 year old rookie Konrad Plewa got first hand knowledge of Duba's physical play in the first half. Rochester opened promisingly and Duba applied pressure to the visiting backline in the 22nd minute. Plewa attempted to play a back pass to his goalkeeper but the pass was uwoefully under-hit and Rochester's forward looked to pounce on the mistake.
To compound the poor pass, Plewa got himself tangled up with Duba while he was the only defender near the play. Duba would have been clean through with just goalkeeper Santiago Castano to beat if Plewa had not intervened. The referee did not hesitate to reach in his back pocket and produce the red card for New York's defender and no Red Bulls player protested the decision.
To their credit, the Red Bulls did not back down after losing a player. The team maintained its ostensibly attacking lineup, shifting from a midfielder into defense while keeping three forwards. On the contrary, Rochester's players seemed to ease up their pressure after the dismissal, showing patience rather than urgency or attacking intent.
Red Bulls head coach John Wolyniec, a former Rochester forward, might have been happy taking his team into the halftime break in a scoreless draw. Despite the positive work from the remaining 10 New York players on the field, a moment of brilliance from Duba changed the game shortly into the second half.
Powerful forward Duba singled out NYRB right back Shawn McLaws and ran directly at the 22-year-old. The Cabo Verdean striker performed a series of step-overs to force McLaws onto his heels before cutting centrally and finding his shooting lane. Duba saw the space open up and curled a stunner into the far post past a diving Castano.
"When I passed my defender I tried to put the ball far from the keeper and luckily the ball goes in. When I cut in I say to myself I have to put the ball on the second post because there the ball would go to side netting and it would be difficult for the keeper," Duba told media after the game.
As the game approached the hour mark, the Rhinos began to slow the play down again. The hosts probed for openings from the flanks but always opted to recycle possession back to the centerbacks rather than make a risky pass forward. Coach Lilley pushed Kenardo Forbes farther centrally in order to pull the strings for Rochester's attack and to good effect.
In the 69th minute, Alex Dixon played a give and go with Forbes who sent a ball into the box for the former Houston Dynamo forward. Dixon went to ground inside the penalty area with New York defender Mike DaFonte before recovering possession and dropping the ball back to Forbes. Forbes saw Duba open at the far post and sent a hard driven ball in his direction. The hero of the match, Duba slid in to redirect the ball into the goal for his second of the game to double Rochester's advantage.
Duba was kept onside by Akinyode in the center and wasn't tracked by fullback McLaws. While the second wasn't as spectacular as his first, Duba's brace assured victory at home in Rochester's first playoff match of 2015. When asked about the second goal, Duba laughed, "There I was a little bit lucky, I was in the right place at the right time."
After the game I spoke to Duba and Greek defender Vasili Apostolopous. Both players were brimming with confidence ahead of next weekend's Eastern Conference Final at Sahlen's Stadium.
"We just have to fight for each other," Duba said. "We don't care about who we're going to face because we've played them before and we didn't lose against them so it doesn't matter which team is going to come here."
"We keep going and we look up for the next game which will be tougher, for sure. It will be harder because they are a better team I think, either Louisville or Charleston," Apostolopoulos told media. When asked about the team earning yet another clean sheet Apostolopoulos took a second to boast about this season's performances. "Oh, we have a good defense. I think we are the best defense in the league. We conceded only 15 goals so we are the best, I think."
"We don't care who we play against, we don't care," Vasili continued with a smile. "If we play how we play and just do what we do, that's all. We know what we can do. We know ourselves and we know how we can play. We are good so we will see next Saturday."
Rochester head coach Bob Lilley summed up his impression of the game in two words: "I'm happy." That's quite a concession from the eternal perfectionist who amassed an impressive 17-1-10 regular season record.
"I was pretty comfortable with what we were doing frankly until the red card came out. I thought we may have relaxed at that point and I think they [New York] raised their effort level." Lilley talked about making adjustments to the formation and the roles of his attacking players at halftime; he pointed to the goals as proof of those changes.
"Obviously the goal is massive" he said. "It was a great goal by Steevan and the second goal was a great team goal because it was one of the things we talked about at halftime." Lilley continued, "Kenardo influenced the game a little bit more in the middle and it gave Steevan a little more support higher up the field. It was just a tweak we knew we might use."
Lilley mentioned that Duba's physicality and dogged pursuit of the ball led to the red card and that the foul was clearly a straight red card decision. He also considered how playing the Red Bulls just two weeks ago affected his preparation for the match.
"I think with Marius he caused a lot of problems the first game so we got a little bit of help a little bit earlier. They obviously really wanted to get a lot of balls to him early in the game so we were prepared for that," Lilley said. "That works for both teams though because they saw us too. Most of the players we faced, I think they had two changes on the field, Bonomo up top and Akinyode in midfield. We knew they would try to play similar to how they played last week because they played great and had momentum."
The coach's final comments sum up the general attitude of the team: one down, two to go.
"I was happy how we started. I actually thought the red set us back a little bit. Fortunately we were able to correct that in the second half and I think we did okay. I think we did what we were supposed to do. This is just one game. It's about next week now."
The Rhinos host Louisville City FC at 7:05PM on Saturday, October 10th at Sahlen's Stadium.