The Rochester Rhinos split a three-game road stand, 1-1-1, to start the 2016 USL season. Since that time, the defending champions have gone undefeated at home, 3-0-1. This weekend, the Rhinos took their combined 4-1-2 record to central Florida on Sunday to face Orlando City B.
Orlando City boasted several MLS players on loan in the starting lineup, including Rochester native Hadji Barry up top. After impressing on Wednesday night in Rochester's 7-0 demolition of Southie FC in the U.S. Open Cup, Sofiane Tergou earned his first start in league play. The team was without 2015 club captain Tony Walls again and his absence was felt as Mike Garzi and Sean Totsch struggled to contain Orlando's attacking runs through midfield.
The only goal of the first half grew out of a sloppy touch in midfield from Totsch. The second-year holding midfielder had a heavy foot as he received a short pass in the center circle which allowed Pierre da Silva to steal the ball. Totsch attempted to recover but he could only foul da Silva who was still able to play a pass forward for Barry. Barry easily got in behind Rochester's defense and curled a low shot to the far post with his right foot to beat Adam Grinwis in the 41st minute.
The Rhinos came out of the halftime break rejuvenated but the personnel were unchanged. As Rochester pushed forward in search of the equalizer, they left gaps between the midfield and defense and left themselves vulnerable for a counter attack. Barry, taken 13th overall in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Central Florida, struck again for the hosts to stun the Rhinos.
Orlando attacked down the left flank and got the ball to the feet of Hadji Barry from a throw-in. Barry took on German center back Wal Fall one-on-one, created space, and curled a low shot to the far post from 19 yards out. The Guinean-born striker doubled Orlando's lead in the 56th minute and created a mountain for Rochester to climb in the second half on the road.
Rochester head coach Bob Lilley rolled the dice and made multiple substitutes at once. The Rhinos brought on Asani Samuels, Marcos Ugarte, Ryan James, and Michel Guilavogui in the 64th minute. Throwing men into the attack, the forwards combined well on several occasions.
Late in the game, Rochester worked the ball to dos Santos who took a heavy shot from the top of the Orlando area. Goalkeeper Mark Ridgers did well to dive to his right and make the save but then fouled Kenardo Forbes as the Jamaican midfielder collected the loose ball. Dos Santos stepped up from the penalty spot and scored his first goal of the 2016 season to cut the deficit in half.
Though Rochester players frantically tried to move the ball forward, Orlando was able to see out a 2-1 win at home. The result is Rochester's second loss on the season and moves them to 4-2-2 in the league.
I spoke to coach Lilley after the game, the frustration noticeable in his voice: "I don't think we were ready," he said. "Orlando's got talented players and I just don't think we respected them enough as a group."
"We were thoroughly outplayed in the first half," he continued. "We just weren't ready for a tough USL match. In this league, nobody's easy. We can't take teams lightly at home, let alone on the road. "
Lilley did reserve praise for his goalkeeper, Adam Grinwis. "He was the only one who was ready to play, and he had so much work to do, but Adam had a good game or it would have been more. Adam played well in goal, he made some good saves, kept the scoreline close enough that maybe we scratch our back in it."
I asked coach Lilley if the big result in Wednesday night's cup match affected the team's mentality tonight but he rejected that suggestion. "I just think that our team needs to take responsibility, we all need to take responsibility that there's work to be done."
Aside from the goalkeeper, Lilley was not thrilled with the effort displayed by his team in Orlando. "We lacked any pressure on the ball in the middle third; our midfielders struggled from the outset. I think dos Santos put in a good shift up front in terms of his work rate but I think a lot of guys' work rates did not meet the standard that we expect."
Lilley and Rochester are known for staunch defense and the performance in the back on Sunday night was rather poor. "They were trying to play high line at times with no pressure on the ball," coach Lilley explained. "If your back four is standing flat-footed and you have someone with Hadji Barry's pace or other players they inserted, and good passers in the midfield, they will get behind you. And that happened far too many times in the first half."
Orlando City B didn't play a league match for 15 days before Sunday night's encounter and the team is not eligible to participate in the U.S. Open Cup. Because the MLS side played at home on Saturday night, there were several players available for OCB. Tyler Turner, Richie Laryea, Hadji Barry, Devron Garcia, and Conor Donovan are started against the Rhinos. Lilley did not blame those conditions or attempt to diffuse responsibility, "No excuses; we were outclassed on the night."
"We can't have the majority of guys not ready to play and expect things to go well," Lilley said.
"Tactics can't win you games if the energy's not there."
Head coach Bob Lilley will be expecting a much higher energy level when Rochester hosts Bethlehem Steel on Saturday May 28 at 6:05PM from Rhinos Stadium.