While the team relinquished its perfect record at home (they were 6-0-0 going into the match), Rochester is still undefeated in the 2015 USL season. Despite struggling to produce chances, the Rhinos were strong defensively and goalkeeper Brandon Miller earned his ninth clean sheet of the campaign.
Rochester head coach Bob Lilley was not as frustrated by the team's performance as he was after last week's 2-1 win over Montreal. "We played decent, I think we played a good team. It's disappointing we couldn't find the goal, though," Lilley said at the end of the night. The team knows that Rochester will need to perform much sharper against second placed Charleston Battery.
Saturday night was the first ever meeting between the Rhinos and expansion-side Charlotte Independence, but there were several familiar faces in the encounter. Rochester came up against two former players in defenders Patrick Slogic (2014) and Bilal Duckett (2013). Suiting up for Charlotte alongside them was former Revolution reserve midfielder Paolo DelPiccolo; all three started against the Rhinos. After the game, Lilley spoke fondly of his former player Slogic, who enjoyed a strong night at right back for Charlotte.
"Pat was good for us last year. I thought he showed his versatility with us last year playing outside back. He's done it pretty successfully with them this year, as well. We were obviously aware of him on free kicks because he's big and he's good in the air. I think we coped with him pretty well on the night. He's a good player but I'm pretty happy with my back four right now," Lilley smiled.
The first half was definitely something to forget for the Rochester Rhinos soccer club. Hosting an inferior team, the Rhinos failed to make any chances count and were only credited with four shots in the opening 45 minutes, three of which were on target.
Both the coaching staff and the players agreed that the first half was disappointing for the Rhinos. Head Coach Bob Lilley mentioned that the heat was a factor for the home side. "It was hot in the first half and we had to try to raise our energy levels in the second as the sun went down," Lilley said. Match officials used a field level probe, gauging both heat and humidity, to measure the well-worn artficial surface at Sahlen's Stadium, but they did not feel the conditions warranted mandatory water breaks.
In the second half, Rochester seemed to pick up the pace of play. Christian Volesky (who played 30 minutes), Timi Mulgrew (23), Tyler Rudy (19), Vasili Apostolopoulos (14), and Asani Samuels (4) all attempted to shift the game into the Rhinos' favor. Mulgrew and Rudy were arguably the most effective players in the second half.
The two Revolution loanees combined on a dangerous attack for Rochester in the 80th minute, the team's best chance of the game. Rudy took a ball from the left flank off his chest and drove forward into the heart of Charlotte's defense. He played a ball into the channel for Revolution teammate Mulgrew, who got the angle on his defender and whipped in a promising cross for Rudy.
Mulgrew admitted the cross was a bit high, while Rudy testified that the service was fantastic and that he may have overrun the flight of the ball. Rudy ultimately used his shoulder to direct the ball into the net while the referee adjudged that he had played the ball with his arm. The goal was called back for Rudy's handball but that remained Rochester's most promising attack.
Mulgrew was again an effective attacking threat in the second half of the game against Charlotte. Playing on the right wing, Mulgrew provided consistent service in his 23 minutes plus stoppage time and even cut in onto his left foot for a shot in that goalkeeper Lampson saved in the 84th minute.
Fan favorite Steevan Humberto Fortes "Duba" dos Santos was a late scratch for the home side after failure a pre-game fitness test. Duba had been dealing with muscle tightness for a couple weeks and was replaced by rookie Asani Samuels on the bench.
Rochester's starting attacking players (Johnny Mendoza, Kenardo Forbes, Alex Dixon, and Colin Rolfe) failed to break down Charlotte's defense. The visitors sat two players deep in midfield and played with only one striker. "They made it hard for us to break them down. For them this is a good result but for us, we're just disappointed we couldn't get another win at home."
Mulgrew's injection of pace and attacking intent off the bench did not go unnoticed by head coach Lilley. "Timi definitely gives us quality with his crossing." When asked whether he saw Timi as better on the right or left wing, Lilley said, "To me, it comes down to match-ups. Johnny was having pretty good success off of the left and he has a good relationship with Onua so tonight Timi he played on the right. Next week he could be on the left, hopefully wide players should have an ability with both feet and certainly Timi does."
In his first game back from an automatic one-game suspension. Tyler Rudy also performed well. "I thought Rudy looked sharp, he brought energy and picked up some loose balls. He looked to serve the ball around. It was good to get them in and have them impact a tight game like that. I thought they both did well on the night," Lilley said after the game.
"I kind of overcommitted my run and the ball was a little bit behind me," Rudy explained after the game. "The only way I could have gotten onto it was sort of like this," Rudy gestured to his shoulder and upper arm. "Instead of a clean shoulder it was kind of lower, so it was the right call. I wasn't really disappointed with that, I was hoping I could sneak it by the referee but he had a good angle on the play."
Rudy was excited to discuss his chemistry with Revolution teammate Mulgrew. "I feel a connection with him because we had preseason together in New England. We came on a few weeks ago at Harrisburg and we had similar plays. I know where he's going to be all the time. I thought we could sneak one in there on that play, me to Timi, Timi back to me for the goal. It would have been awesome."
About the role of coming off the bench, Rudy had a measured response. "I think all the guys that came off the bench tonight provided a spark. We're all itching to play. There are so many good players on this team and Bob rotates the squad so much. You really have to fight, any minutes you get you have to make the most of."
"I was excited about coming off the bench and trying to change the game a bit," Mulgrew said after the game.
Regarding the service he played in for Rudy on the annulled goal, Mulgrew said, "It was a little high, it could have been lower for him. That's something you work on everyday so in the coming week I'm going to grind it out again and keep going to be a little bit better each time. Hopefully next time I get that chance it will be on the floor and he can score with his foot instead of his shoulder," Mulgrew joked.
Now 6-0-1 at home, Rochester holds an 11-0-7 overall league record. This year's squad is closing in on the club's record lowest goals against of 15 in 28 games in the 1998 A-League season.
The Rhinos lead the league in fouls committed and also rank 23 (out of 24) in shots faced, which show the fierceness and staunchness of Rochester's cohesive team defense. With the NY Cosmos's loss over the weekend, the Rhinos are now the only remaining undefeated team in American professional soccer team.
Rochester head coach Bob Lilley summed up the forward-thinking sentiment of the team after the scoreless draw against Charlotte. "We've got Charleston next weekend so now we have to go work hard this week and get ourselves ready for that really big battle against Charleston."