In 85+ degree heat on Saturday evening, the Rochester Rhinos hosted first-year team Bethlehem Steel FC. The reserve side of the Philadelphia Union traveled up to New York without regular starting goalkeeper, and 2015 USL Goalkeeper of the Year with the Rhinos, John McCarthy who went with the Union to face Colorado Rapids.
Bethlehem Steel came into the match with an even 3-3-3 record and the Rhinos held 4-2-2 record. The hosts exhibited the quiet confidence that a 20-game home undefeated record in the league instills.
After a disappointing loss on the road to Orlando City B last weekend and a potential trap game on Wednesday against Lansdowne Bhoys in the U.S. Open Cup, Rochester head coach Bob Lilley fielded a rotated Rhinos squad on Saturday night.
Rochester lined up in a 4-4-1-1 with Kenardo Forbes playing behind Steevan dos Santos in the attack. Sofiane Tergou partnered Mike Garzi while Marcos Ugarte and Ryan James manned the wings. Joe Farrell and Vasilis Apostolopoulos partnered in the center of defense with Jordan Becker coming in at left back and Sean Totsch starting on the right.
Two rookie defenders connected on a set piece early in the first half to give Rochester the lead. In just his third league start of the season, Jordan Becker served up a great free kick towards the far post that Joe Farrell was able to smash in off the woodwork for the game's first goal in the 13th minute.
Farrell was credited with his first goal of the season on May 6 at home against Charleston but didn't know much about that play, during which a flubbed clearance in the area bounced off of him. On Saturday night, his second league goal was much more definitive.
"It was a good ball from Jordan, it was a restart from about 35 out," Farrell said after the game. "I went to the back post and I just followed it all the way. I just made solid contact and it went in right off the post."
After the goal, Bethlehem Steel flexed its attacking muscle looking for the equalizer. In the 19th minute, a half-cleared corner kick led to a ball over the top for Ryan Richter to attack on the left of the Rochester's goal. Goalkeeper Adam Grinwis did well to rush off his line and block the attempted shot from Bethlehem's captain.
A couple minutes later, Gabe Gissie drove into the same area from open play and earned a penalty for the visitors. The pace of the former New England Revolution winger gave Sean Totsch a headache all night and he went down in the box after Totsch made contact from behind. Richter confidently stepped up and sent Grinwis the wrong way to tie the game from the spot in the 24th minute.
Rochester was building into a rhythm through the rest of the first half, which continued after the halftime break. Before the Rhinos could capitalize on their attacking possession, they were undone by poor set piece defending.
Bethlehem executed a very poor corner kick just before the hour mark but Rochester did not fully clear the chance. The ball came out to James Chambers on the right wing who had time to curl quality service into the area. Centerback Michael Daly was still advanced from the corner kick and rose above an unfocused Rhinos defense to connect with the cross. At the penalty spot, Daly wrong-footed Grinwis by sending his header back the way the service had come to give Bethlehem Steel the lead in the 58th minute.
For the next 36 minutes, it appeared that Rochester's undefeated run at home would end. When the Rhinos threw players into the attack, Bethlehem looked just as likely to score on the counter attack. To push the issue, Lilley introduced Christian Volesky, Asani Samuels, and Michel Guilavogui. Rochester's attacking contingent created several chances but were unable to beat Samir Badr in the Steel FC net.
Pushed to the end of six minutes of stoppage time, the teams had been allotted hydration breaks in both halves, multiple players combined to equalize against Bethlehem Steel. A chance was partially cleared by the visitors out to the wing where Rochester's substitute left back Bradley Kamdem powered a header back into the middle. Dos Santos challenged Badr in the center of the area and nodded the ball towards the goal.
Michael Daly attempted to clear off the line while his goalkeeper was stranded on the play but the ball ricocheted off of Farrell to bounce into the back of the net. Farrell's second goal on the night knotted the game at two with just seconds left. The Rhinos were a whisker away from losing a league game at home for the first time since August 10, 2014.
After the game Farrell talked about that undefeated streak in Rochester. "It's not weighing on us," he said, "But it's something that we're aware of and something that we strive to keep going."
"Every time we're on any pitch we want to get three points, but when we're here we're always gunning for the three points. Tonight we got one but we had to scratch and claw our way to that one. Coach is proud of us to fight back but he was pushing us to do better and try and get all three."
Bob Lilley mirrored that sentiment, "To battle back was important. It was important for us to get a result, even if it wasn't what we wanted."
Lilley admitted that Bethlehem's goal threw a wrench in his plans for the second half of the game. "I thought we started the second half well. I thought we were playing well and then they get the one restart. We've got to be able to defend the second phase better. It was a corner kick, we didn't clear it fully, and it came back in. We had bodies in there - it was a good player who made a good contact on his header but the fact that he's getting a free header and nobody's contesting that... I just think it's too soft a goal."
"We literally had to chase until the last minute or so of stoppage time to get it back. I think both goals against us were preventable today. We're going to have to tighten up if we want to get three points. Having said that, I just really liked our tenacity to bang and scrap and claw and to find that goal.
While disappointed to concede twice, Lilley put Saturday night's performance into perspective. "It's important to not get beat at home. Sometimes you've got to make it happen late. It's not a bad quality to have, it helped us win a championship last year."
Rochester Rhinos host amateur side Lansdowne Bhoys on Wednesday night in the U.S. Open Cup before traveling to Montreal in the league next weekend. Kickoff on Wednesday, June 1 is at 7:00PM at Rhinos Stadium.