Rochester came into Sunday afternoon's match on the back of the team's first league defeat of the season. The 4-2 result in Charlotte against the Independence was the first time the team conceded more than one goal all year and Bob Lilley, famous for sending out defensively organized teams, sought to perform much better against Richmond.
A further factor in Rochester's favor, in addition to the home field advantage and motivation from the previous week, was Richmond's game in Harrisburg on Saturday. Five of the players who started against the Rhinos also started and played significant minutes against the City Islanders the night before; William Yomby, Fred Owusu Sekyere, Jason Yeisley, Uriah Bentick, and Braeden Troyer.
While the stage was seemingly set for Rochester, the Kickers controlled much of the first 20 to 25 minutes. The Rhinos started the game in a 4-4-2 formation with Johnny Mendoza playing right midfield and Kenardo Forbes up top partnering Christian Volesky. In order to combat Richmond's compact midfield, Lilley shifted the formation slightly to create space out wide with Mendoza operating in the hole.
Former Jamaican international Kenardo Forbes spoke after the match about the effectiveness of that formation change. "Sometimes I get more space up top, sometimes I get it on the wing. This is one of the games where I can get it on the wing." Forbes was modest about his performance against Richmond's left back Bentick, whom he the better of most of the game. "Coach knows best," Forbes said, "so he switched 25 minutes in and I did well afterwards."
The change to a 4-4-1-1 also put pressure on Mendoza to distribute from his role in between midfield and the lone forward. While the second-year Rhino has been utilized primarily as a winger, Lilley thought he adjusted well to the new duties.
"We weren't really getting anything in wide areas and I thought Kenardo would have a little bit more space," Lilley said about the shift. "I thought Johnny did a real good job in the middle, he sprung Kenardo and Dixon on a few occasions. Kenardo, Dixon, and Johnny can all play all of those attacking positions so I just didn't like the way it was going and it seemed to help us."
Despite producing a consistent attacking threat at the end of the second half, Rochester was frustratingly unable to force Travis Worra to make many saves. In the first half the Rhinos had 9 shots but only 3 on goal. Richmond had two total shots, both of which forced Miller into action.
Shortly after the second half kicked off, Rochester had the breakthrough. Alex Dixon dished the ball out wide for Forbes who danced on the ball and almost coughed up possession. Instead he knocked a pass in to Dixon's feet, who fell but still managed to hit the return pass into space for Forbes while seated on the ground.
Forbes easily rounded Worra and coolly dispatched his shot to the far post to give Rochester the lead five minutes into the half. The goal was just the Jamaican's second despite playing a regular role in the team's attack.
Just three minutes later, the Rhinos conceded an unfortunate own goal. Richmond's loanee Jared Jeffrey hit a corner kick into the middle that glanced off Dixon's head before hitting the side of Mike Garzi's head. The ball bounced agonizingly out of Brandon Miller's reach and equalized the game in the 53rd minute.
Coach Lilley seemed to shrug off the importance of the own goal while admitting that the corner was poorly defended. "I'll have to see it on the tape but we didn't deal with the corner and there was a crazy ricochet. It's disappointing but to me that didn't cost us the game. Regardless, the chances we left on the table were more responsible today for us not getting three points." Lilley later followed up, "It wasn't our best game but it's tough to be too disappointed. I knew this would be a tough game."
Despite finishing the game tied, Lilley seemed optimistic about the number of chances that Rochester created. The team ended the game with 14 shots to Richmond's 5. "It was better. It wasn't our best game but it was a better performance than last week," Lilley said.
Forbes echoed that positive sentiment. "It's good to get a lot of chances but maybe next week we can work on some finishing in the practice and we can finish better next game. It's good that the team is creating chances, that's a good sign for us going into playoffs."
Speaking of the postseason, Lilley said that he's already thinking about playoff seeding and team momentum going in. "There are teams that are in position to challenge us for first overall so we need to pick up wins to secure our position for the playoffs but also it's gonna help us prepare for the playoffs."
"I thought there were a lot of goals in it for us today," Lilley concluded, "you've just gotta be able to bury some of those chances." It's a safe bet that the Rhinos will do some shooting drills in practice, coach joked, "We'll definitely try to do some extra finishing this week."
Those drills will come in handy before Rochester hosts Wilmington on Saturday at 7:05PM. The Hammerheads are coming off an impressive 4-2 win at home over New York Red Bulls II while the Rhinos will want a statement game in Sahlen's Stadium before the playoff push.