Coming on the back of a decisive victory in the Third Round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night, the Rochester Rhinos traveled up to Montreal for a second league contest against the Impact's reserve side. The Saturday afternoon contest against FC Montreal was business as usual for the Rhinos as they defeated the hosts and Christian Volesky scored yet again against the Quebec side.
Rochester was ascendant early in the match, dictating play to FC Montreal. Sofiane Tergou sent an accurate cross into the area in the 17th minute and Steevan dos Santos met the ball seven yards from goal. However, the Cabo Verdean's header flew right to Montreal goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, with whom he then collided and required medical attention. Two minutes later Kenardo Forbes served in a corner kick that Joe Farrell sent on frame. The powerful header beat Crepeau but was cleared off the line by Montreal's defense.
A frustrating chance went begging on a 38th minute cross from Tergou. The French-born midfielder received an eye-catching backheel pass from left back Bradley Kamdem, who drew both Montreal defenders, before curling service towards the penalty spot. Volesky jumped too early for a header, dos Santos was a foot away with his attempted redirection, and Ryan James mistimed his far post run. If any of those three Rochester players had made a slightly different run, Tergou's cross might have gotten the connection it deserved.
"He was very good in the first half," Bob Lilley said after the game about Sofiane Tergou. Where ever we play him we're going to give him freedom. Even though he started on the left, he's going to find the ball and we started to find him in the gaps. He and Bradley caused problems on the left hand side. He's a good soccer player."
"Today was his best performance in the league in terms of dealing with the pace. He won tackles, it was the first time he started to win some physical challenges. He held onto the ball in tight spots where in some of the other games he got pushed off the ball. He found gaps but he was also able to play well in traffic today. That's important, our league is physical and it's fast-paced. You've got to be able to adapt to that physical nature of the game and I thought today he coped with it very well."
The breakthrough for the visitors came just before the halftime from the foot of Christian Volesky. Dubbed the "Montreal Killer" by the game's commentary team of Joey Alfieri and Sofiane Benzaza, Volesky got behind the home team's defense and beat Maxime Crepeau to score his eighth goal in six games against them.
Coach Lilley was pleased with the defensive work of Dominic Samuel but also with his contributions to the attack, such as his ball up to Volesky for the opening goal. "Dom Samuel recovered the ball higher up the pitch and he put the ball in over the defender's shoulder. Christian had timed his run perfectly to get in behind." Volesky picked up Samuel's pass in the right hand channel and cut in to drive at the Montreal goal. As Crepeau came off his line, Volesky coolly dispatched a right footed shot into the gap at the near post to give Rochester the lead in the 45th minute.
Not to be outdone, Steevan dos Santos made a clever run inside the area to score a goal of his own just after halftime. Bradley Kamdem had played the ball to Tergou on a throw-in and made a run into the channel for a return pass. Kamdem then smartly hit a short cross low to the near post with his first touch to find dos Santos.
To his credit, dos Santos ducked in behind Thomas Meilleur-Giguere before darting in front of the defender to latch onto Kamdem's pinpoint service. Dos Santos flicked the ball in at the near post with his right foot for his first goal from the run of play in the 2016 USL season in the 50th minute.
"It was great movement from Steevan, that was a really great goal," Lilley said of the team's second goal. "It was good composure from Bradley. It was a sharp pass but a measured pass by Bradley rather than a missile across the face of goal. I think he sensed that Steevan could get in front of his man. The timing was perfect, he arrived at the near post and the ball was on the money. To me it was a really well-executed goal."
When asked if dos Santos would be banging goals in regularly now that his drought from open play had ended, Lilley redirected the attention. "Well, Steevan can score goals. If he's going to score and if Christian is going to score, a lot is going to depend on us continuing to give them service and getting the ball to them in the box." Coach Lilley then added, "It's nice when both of them get on the score sheet."
I asked Lilley about Volesky continuing his run of form against Montreal, netting his eighth goal. Rochester's coach started by mentioning that the forward was one of six players who started on Wednesday night in the U.S. Open Cup. "You've got to remember Christian played 80 minutes the other night."
"We thought about bringing him off the bench because he played on Wednesday but it was Montreal so we thought we would get him on and give him as much of an opportunity as we could to hopefully get another goal."
Lilley was concerned about the team's drop-off in the final twenty minutes but was overall pleased with the improvement over a recent string of disappointing results in the league. Rochester had drawn at home to Charlotte Independence, lost on the road at Orlando City B, and equalized late at home against Bethlehem Steel.
"It was better. From the game at Orlando, against Bethlehem Steel we made strides. I thought we were a little bit better this week," coach explained. "On the road, you've got to play well or you're not going to get the full 3 points. It was an important 3 points for us."
Rochester's first league win since May 6 lifts the team to a 5-2-3 record. The Rhinos next play Toronto FC II on the road on June 11 at 7:30PM.