While Wilmington may appear an easy opponent on paper, the teams' previous meeting ended in a draw in North Carolina. I had a conversation with Marissa Blackman of the Hammerheads blog Sideline Shindig to break down what to expect going into Saturday's contest.
You might think a 1st vs 12th match-up would be easy to predict but Rochester hasn't had many emphatic performances. With the exception of games against MLS reserve teams and the home game against Louisville, the Rhinos have only scored two goals once in a win (at Pittsburgh early in the season).
When the teams met in May, Wilmington was on a terrible run of form but still managed to rise to the occasion and earn a 1-1 draw at home against Rochester. This time around, the Rhinos are on a 1-1-2 run and Wilmington just enjoyed its biggest win of the season against the Red Bulls.
Even though the Hammerheads are in last place in the Eastern Conference of the USL, the team still has a chance to make the playoffs with 7 games remaining. There are 21 points to play for and Wilmington is currently 16 points behind Pittsburgh in 6th. The visitors know that they must get a result in Rochester to build the momentum into a serious late-season playoff push.
The Bent Musket (TBM): Which players have been bright spots for the team despite sitting bottom of the east?
Sideline Shindig (SS): Looking at the whole season, Paul Nicholson and Tom Parratt have really stood out to me. I've seen many moments when they made smart, quick moved that helped the Hammerheads maintain possession. Paul Nicholson often uses some very impressive footwork in 1v1 situations. Andre Rawls has also pulled off some amazing saves.
TBM: The team won just its 3rd game of the season after losing 4 in a row, what changed in the NYRB game? Why is the team so good against NY?
SS: All season, the problem has been scoring goals. Especially during this later half of the season, the Hammerheads have not made a practice of giving away easy goals, and there have been several times when the Hammerheads lost by just one goal. In an effort to remedy this problem, there has been a wide array of forward played throughout the season.The combination of Stefan Drefregger, Qudus Lawal, and Brain Ackley up front produced goals, and that was exactly what the team had been lacking.
The first time the Hammerheads defeated the Red Bulls, New York simply played poorly. Although the Hammerheads were playing several NYCFC loans that day, I think anyone could've beaten that particular Red Bulls squad. By the second time, the Hammerheads met with the Red Bulls, New York had greatly improved. The two clubs were even for most of the game. They both forced two saves and had close numbers of shots. New York scored the only goal of the game in the 71st minute.
TBM: Last time the team's met, they played to a 1-1 draw even though Wilmington had lost four straight in depressing fashion. Will the NYRB result be enough to spur the team to a victory against a Rochester side with just 5 points from 4 games?
SS: Yes. The 4-2 victory at home was a huge morale boost for the team. After Saturday's game, the players expressed that they view the club's remaining games as an eight game season and are focused on earning the best possible record for these matches. Rochester is still a formidable opponent, but the Hammerheads can certainly challenge the table leading team.
The match kicks off at 7:05PM from Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester as the Rhinos look to maintain their position at the to of the table and build momentum going into the postseason.