The Rochester Rhinos cannot figure out how to beat the Charlotte Independence. In Rochester last year the teams played to a scoreless draw and the Independence handed the eventual champions their only loss of the season in Charlotte.
On Saturday night the Rhinos struggled in the final third and tied the Independence 0-0 in the first of two meetings in 2016.
Rochester head coach Bob Lilley opted to field a more traditional 4-4-2 against Charlotte and started the same back line that conceded two goals against Charleston the week before. With the extra week to build chemistry, the central partnership of rookie Joe Farrell and 23-year old German journeyman Wal Fall was much improved.
With Tony Walls out of town for personal reasons, Kenardo Forbes and Ryan James played on the wings with Sean Totsch partnering Mike Garzi in the middle of the field for Rochester. Totsch has the technical ability to pull off pinpoint passes and Garzi has the engine to drive attacks forward but the two more defensive-minded midfielders were unable to pull the strings in the final third for the home side.
Team leading scorer Christian Volesky started up top alongside Steevan Humberto Fortes "Duba" dos Santos for the second week in a row. The pair did well to hold up the ball and link with Rochester's midfield but neither won plaudits inside the Charlotte penalty area.
The best chance for Rochester came in the 56th minute when a low pass from the right channel found Duba's feet near the endline. Duba turned in the area and flashed a hard cross in front of the goalmouth towards Volesky. The second-year forward wrestled with his defender and stretched to get a foot onto the service but was only able to push the ball wide of Cody Mizzell's goal.
Through an hour, the two teams combined for just a single shot on goal. The 65th minute introduction of Jorge Herrera for Charlotte changed the complexion of the game and opened up the contest. Herrera played dangerous through balls to his forwards but also made dangerous runs himself.
One of Charlotte's most threatening runs started with a one-two that sent Herrera through Rochester's defense. Adam Grinwis rushed off his line to force Herrera well wide of the goal and the defense recovered to block forward Brian Brown's shot out for a corner kick in the 76th minute.
Both of Rochester's recently signed midfielders, Michel Guilavogui and Sofiane Tergou, made their debuts off the bench late in the game but were unable to affect the scoreline. The Guinean and French attacking midfielders both showed flashes of skill and should see more minutes going forward.
The 0-0 result maintains Rochester's undefeated record at home but also means that the Rhinos have never beaten Charlotte Independence in the USL regular season. The only other active team that the Rhinos have played in the regular season without beating is Sacramento Republic FC.
Rochester goalkeeper Grinwis spoke to media after the game about the growth of the back four and the importance of Joe Farrell on the team.
"We cleaned up a lot. We worked a lot this week in training on taking care of their runs. They're very good in transition, and making runs through the backline. We cleaned it up and the guys did really well. Credit the back four, they limited opportunities and made my job easier tonight," Grinwis admitted.
"It's great to have Joe on the team. He's aggressive, he's a perfect center back for the system that we're playing. Great in the air, very aggressive, but also very intelligent. He's a coach's kid and you can tell because he's very smart out there."
Coach Lilley echoed a lot of that praise for Farrell. "He's a competitor, he's hard-nosed. He reminds me a lot of Julian [Ringhof] last year. Good in the air, tough in the tackle, decent pair of feet."
"He's working hard. He's picked up a lot. We're still trying to blend him into what we want to do with playing out of the back. He's had a great start to the season and he continues to improve," Lilley added. Farrell will try to continue that trajectory in the team's midweek fixture before missing the league game next weekend while he walks in his college graduation.
"Obviously I wish I could be with the boys in Orlando but they're going to do just fine," Farrell said after the match but described his college graduation as a dream moment that he's "always wanted to do" and said that Coach Lilley "has been very understanding about the whole situation."
The Rhinos now hold a 4-1-2 (W-L-T) record in the USL and look towards a Second Round U.S. Open Cup match against Southie FC on Wednesday night before traveling to Florida to face Johnny Mendoza and Orlando City B on Sunday May 22 in USL action.