Harrisburg City Islanders have developed an organic rivalry with the Rochester Rhinos. Of the numerous games the two teams have contested in recent years, the Rhinos 2011 home playoff exit and U.S. Open Cup road win against stand out.
Bill Becher's Harrisburg team stayed true to form and battled hard physically throughout the match. The visitors actually started the match on the front foot but the Rhinos soon settled into their passing rhythm.
The opening goal sequence started when Harrisburg defender Liam Doyle attempted to head a ball clear. The loose ball fell to Ryan James cutting in from the right wing who headed to Christian Volesky's feet. Volesky was able to trap the ball and turn to find Kenardo Forbes streaking in behind Harrisburg's Dante Leverock.
Forbes ran onto the ball and chipped with his right foot over the on-rushing Nick Noble to give Rochester the lead in the 23rd minute.
"If you make the runs in and your teammates see you, you're going to get chances and that's what happened," said Forbes after the game. "As soon as Volesky plays through for me, I saw the keeper coming so I saw that I could just take the one touch to hit it over." Forbes said that he could probably have taken two touches or tried to dribble around the goalkeeper but that he "didn't want to take that chance when I could just chip him and it would be an easy goal."
Forbes was stationed on the left wing for much of the first half but had the freedom to roam. Instead of playing the 4-4-1-1 we've seen a few times this season, the return of Tony Walls allowed head coach Bob Lilley to effectively tweak the formation.
Rochester's second goal, just before the hour-mark, was a play that Harrisburg goalkeeper Nick Noble will never want to see on replay. After driving into the corner, Forbes dropped the ball back to Tony Walls just outside the corner of the 18-yard box. Walls curled right-footed service into the box but missed Christian Volesky at the near post. Nick Noble came off his line and made contact with his left glove but only pushed the ball onto the chest of Ryan James.
The rookie, whose poor back pass led to FC Montreal's goal last week, found himself with the ball at his foot 6 yards in front of an empty net. James made no mistake from close range as he powered his left-footed volley home in the 60th minute to give Rochester an insurance goal.
That padded scoreline came in handy when Harrisburg pushed hard at the end of the second half. Using all of his allotted substitutions, Harrisburg coach Bill Becher introduced five forwards and made things interesting for Rochester's defense.
Second half substitute Paul Wilson took a shot from 25 yards that deflected off Rochester defender Joe Farrell. Speedy forward Craig Foster raced into the box, picked up the loose ball, and rounded Adam Grinwis. From a tight angle, Foster's shot bounced into the back of the net after Grinwis got a hand on the ball.
The final minutes of the game were characterized by rather unsporting behavior from the Harrisburg players. Jamie Thomas, who had previously been booked, followed through hard on Sean Totsch on the sideline at midfield and received his marching orders. Several Harrisburg players were involved in heavy challenges and altercations off the ball. The referee, content to end the game as much as officiate it, decided not to adjudicate any of the off-the-ball incidents and appeared relieved to blow the final whistle after five minutes of stoppage time.
Kenardo Forbes commented on the physical nature of the Harrisburg comeback and shrugged it off as part and parcel of the team's style. "They got physical because they were down and that's the only way to get back a goal," Forbes said after the game. "They had to put the pressure on and play aggressive. That's their game-plan against us; that's the only way they could get a result against us. They tried to do what they had to do but they came up short."
The team played an asymmetrical lineup with Ryan James playing as a traditional winger but Forbes cutting inside from the left. Mike Garzi and Sean Totsch were the holding midfielders but Totsch often filled in on the left flank when Forbes was attacking. Tony Walls was the farthest forward of the three central midfielders but often filled in on the wings or as cover.
Forbes also described his duties in the team's formation against Harrisburg. "My role was to stay inside the left channel and let the left back overlap. Bradley, he's really good going forward, reminds me a lot of Obasi. Coach was telling me I should just stick inside and leave the space open for Bradley."
"I got more freedom with Bradley because he's good offensively," he continued. "He's really good going forward so that's a good game-plan for us moving on.
Bob Lilley told me after the game that he was very pleased with the contributions from left back Bradley Kamdem in his first start with the team. "I think Bradley did a great job of getting higher up the pitch. Onua was a little bit more of a dribbler but Bradley can get all the way to the way to the endline and a lot of times he'll get in behind around the corner."
With Tony Walls back with the team and Kamdem fully fit to play 90 minutes, Lilley said that he has more options at his disposal. "It does give us a little bit more versatility to look at an opponent and decide how we want to play." Forbes excelled against Harrisburg with his role but Ryan James also performed well.
James saw the goal-scoring play develop on the left wing and knew he had to make a run to the far post. "If you're one of the four attacking guys, especially, you gotta make the secondary crashing runs. Because even if the ball is intended for someone else, it might get all the way through and you gotta be ready at the back post." The winger paused before adding, "It's just your willingness to score."
The rookie out of Bowling Green University told me after the game that he was thankful for his teammates providing the service and making the other runs to open up space for him. "If you're always making that run, something lucky might happen. That's exactly what happened, something lucky; the goalie dropped it. It came right to me and I was there ready to pick it up."
Ryan James laughed about what he had expected his first professional goal to be. "Everyone always imagines the crazy goals, you're scoring a bicycle or you do something like a chip over the goalie." While his goal wasn't spectacular on its own, the context of winning the game at home for his team gave special meaning to James.
The Rhinos defeated Harrisburg City Islanders 2-1 on Saturday and will face Charleston Battery on Friday, May 6 in Rochester. The team is now 3-1-1 on the season and 2-0-0 at home.