A very young attack-minded New York Red Bulls II team hosted the traditionally defensive Rochester Rhinos on Sunday afternoon. Despite the best efforts of Brandon Allen and Derick Etienne for New York and Rochester's Steevan dos Santos and Kenardo Forbes, the match ended scoreless. From a sunny Red Bull Arena, the goalkeepers came out on top for both teams.
Rochester's goalkeeper Tomas Gomez got his first start against NYRB and certainly did enough to earn consideration for next week's home opener. On the other side, starter Ryan Meara left the game after appearing to tweak his groin while racing out of his box to win a clearance. 24 year old Rafael Diaz entered the game in the 12th minute to replace the injured Meara.
The Rhinos lined up in a slightly altered 4-4-2 with dos Santos starting up top alongside Christian Volesky and Kenardo Forbes sliding out to right midfield. Forbes made up for his lack of defensive positioning with an ever-present flurry of attacking activity. Sean Totsch and Mike Garzi combined well in the center of midfield to break up a lot of New York's passing moves while covering for gaps left by Rochester's wingers.
Rochester's tenacity in defensive midfield forced the Red Bulls to play long balls over the top, which amounted to very little for the hosts. Vasili Apostolopoulos was dominant in the air, winning a strong majority of his aerial challenges on the day. Joe Farrell has continued to develop his partnership with the imposing Greek center back and the two dealt with most of what New York tried to create.
Without a Revolution loanee at either full back position, Rochester head coach Bob Lilley started Dom Samuels at right back and Jordan Becker on the left. While the two full backs covered their defensive responsibilities well, neither appeared to have much chemistry with the wingers in front of them in the team's third game of the season.
While Forbes did well to replicate his playmaking from the right wing instead of centrally, his service from dead balls left much to be desired. After Volesky won a free kick just outside the New York penalty area, Forbes wasted the opportunity with a dreadful effort that sailed yards over the goal in the 19th minute.
The best chance of the first half for Rochester started with Totsch driving up the middle of the field. Totsch played a ball into the path of Ugarte on the left flank and the winger's low service found dos Santos crashing the near post. Rochester's Cabo Verdean forward let the ball roll between his legs before hitting a shot with his left heel. Diaz made the strong save on what would have been a highlight reel goal in the 26th minute.
In the 39th minute Stefano Bonomo nearly put the home team ahead but saw his shot bounce off the far post. Brandon Allen curled an incisive pass into the path of Bonomo and Apostolopoulos got his feet tangled up as he tried to intercept the ball. Bonomo's low, hard shot hit the frame and the Rhinos were able to clear.
Throughout the second half, Gomez parried shots behind and came off his line to punch promising service out of danger. Not to limit himself to shot-stopping, Gomez even won a footrace against Derick Etienne to snuff out an intended through ball in his area. Bob Lilley spoke highly of Gomez after the game "I thought he was really solid today." The Rochester coach also told me that the rotation against New York was always on the cards. "We have two good goalies, we always do. Last year Grinwis was good, too. We like to have depth in that position in case of injuries. We had three road games, Grinwis got the first two and Tomas got the start today."
As the clock wound up, the Rhinos began to pressure New York harder. Lilley introduced Revolution loanee Michael Gamble at left wing, Asani Samuels up top, and Ryan James in central midfield. Gamble struggled at first but was involved in Rochester's clearest attacking opportunity in the 84th minute.
Gamble received the ball just outside the penalty area and looked for a shooting lane before laying the ball off to Samuels. The Jamaican-born forward saw his compatriot streaking in wide of the far post and played a solid pass into the path of Forbes.
Forbes elected to take a shot to the near post and Diaz made a strong save. Dos Santos had made a run centrally, expecting a far post shot, and was unable to get to the appetizing rebound the New York's goalkeeper gave up.
In stoppage time, 17-year-old New York right back Mason Deeds engaged dos Santos while jostling for position on a throw-in deep in Rochester's half. After a bit of shoving back and forth, dos Santos stepped into Deeds, directing his shoulder into his opponent's ribs.
Deeds crumbled to the field, checked to make sure the referee is looking at him, and grabbed his face. The referee, Jaime Herrera, had already whistled for a foul and walked towards Red Bulls coach John Wolyniec who was yelling vociferously at him. While Deeds was still prone on the ground, New York's Cheikh M'Baye also toppled to the ground, rolled around melodramatically, and grabbed his face.
In the midst of the theatrical fracas, Herrera showed a red card to dos Santos. In his first match back from serving a three-game suspension, dos Santos will now be suspended for Rochester's home opener on April 23.
The Rhinos ended the game with 10 players but the game ended scoreless. All things considered, a point on the road against the best offense in the Eastern Conference is a good result. Considering the season is just four weeks old and considering how much Red Bulls II regulars were with the MLS side in Colorado this weekend complicates that view.
After three games on the road to open the 2016 USL season, the Rhinos have four points and hold a 1-1-1 record.
The team hosts FC Montreal at 5:05PM on Saturday, April 23 from Rhinos Stadium.