The Rhinos came into Saturday's match looking for their third win on the road in 2016 while Red Bulls II tried to win its first-ever game against Rochester. Unfortunately for both sides in that regard, the game ended scoreless. Rochester controlled much of the play, especially in the second half, and did well to limit a potentially high-flying Red Bulls attack.
The Baby Bulls put 4 goals past Wilmington last weekend and brought a six-game unbeaten run into Red Bull Arena to face the Rhinos. Rochester on the other hand had just 2 wins in its last 7 USL matches leading into Saturday's encounter.
Tomas Gomez started in goal for the Rhinos and made a number of saves while taking too hard knocks from Red Bulls attackers. Head coach Bob Lilley elected to start his team with three center backs and speedy wingbacks in support roles. Rochester's defense was anchored by sweeper Sean Totsch with rookie Joe Farrell and German journeyman Wal Fall on either side of him. Ryan James took up the wingback role on the right side while Marcos Ugarte manned the left wing.
With team captain Mike Garzi getting married this weekend, the Rochester Rhinos had to switch things up in midfield yet again. Kenardo Forbes sat deepest in midfield, pulling the strings in front of the back line. Brandon Beresford played on right side of the three-man midfield with Sofiane Tergou on the left. Tergou got forward well and exchanged passes with the forwards while Beresford played more conservatively in the attacking third. Christian Volesky partnered Steevan dos Santos up top for the visitors and both will feel like they could have been sharper around the opposition area.
In the 19th minute, Christian Volesky received the ball just inside the New York half with just one defender in front of him. Volesky attempted to trip up the remaining defender but settled for making a yard of space to take a shot from 18 yards out. Perhaps with heavy legs from running half the length of the field, Volesky didn't make clean contact on the ball and his scuffed shot was easily collected.
In the 25th minute, Volesky again received the ball from midfield in a promising position. Running diagonally across the field, Volesky put the ball between Damien Perrinelle's legs but his low shot is blocked well by Ryan Meara. In the 37th minute, Sofiane Tergou whipped a ball towards the near post towards dos Santos. The big forward attempted to play a delicate flick on goal but he was beaten to the ball by a New York defender.
Rochester's forward partnership misplayed an otherwise dangerous 2-v-1 situation. Dos Santos received a pass just inside New York's half and saw Volesky running through the center of the field to his right. Instead of playing the ball into space for Volesky to surge onto, the pass from dos Santos was between Volesky and New York's Tim Schmoll. Volesky reached for the ball was unable to retain possession under the challenge from Schmoll in the 40th minute.
The only half-chance of the first 45 minutes for the host came right before halftime. Derrick Etienne, Jr. played a slicing ball over the top for Junior Flemmings. The pass found Flemmings ghosting in behind Ugarte on Rochester left side and Wal Fall struggled to close down the quick Jamaican attacking midfielder. Flemmings strode in the Rochester area but his shot across the face of goal was well wide of Gomez's far post.
New York showed some promise on the counter attack early in the second half but the best chance came from Rochester. Devon Williams was booked for a hard challenge on Rochester midfielder Sofiane Tergou and Forbes stepped up to take the free kick. From the left channel, Forbes hit right-footed service that curled past everyone in the box and flew past Meara into the back of the net in the 56th minute. While Rochester players began to celebrate, the center official consulted with the Assistant Referee who had flagged for offside on the play. As best as I can tell, the AR flagged for a Rochester player who impact the play without touching the ball and without blocking Meara's sight of the ball.
In the 62nd minute Flemmings made a diagonal run inside from the right wing. Wal Fall timed his sliding challenge won and won the ball cleanly. The referee saw an infraction, however, and gave New York a free kick just wide of the Rochester box. In an apparent sign of poetic justice, New York's Brandon Allen wasted the promising opportunity by failing to beat the wall.
Regardless of the veracity of those two calls, the Rhinos continued to control the match. A short time later, dos Santos played a one-two with Volesky just outside the New York box. Volesky was fouled on the edge of the area and dos Santos was then fouled a yard behind and the referee elected to call the second infringement.
From 19 yards out, Forbes struck his free kick around the defensive wall and forced Meara to make a save. Meara did well to get his body behind the ball and punched with both hands in the 68th minute. The ball was loose in the Red Bulls' area for a moment but no Rochester players were in position to pick up the rebound.
Late-game substitute Michel Guilavogui did well to carry the ball forward to the New York end-line. The Guinean attacker turned to play a low pass towards dos Santos. The big forward stretched to control the ball and was able to get an off-balanced shot off but the effort was tame and cleared by New York.
In the final minute of regulation, Rochester saw a chance to break after New York pushed players forward on a corner kick. Dos Santos helped the ball into the channel from just in front of the Rhinos' box and took an elbow to the face for his troubles. Guilavogui raced up the field and played Asani Samuels into space. Samuels drew a defender wide before trying to center a pass to Guilavogui near the penalty spot. The pass was too inaccurate and New York was able to clear.
Deep into four minutes of stoppage time, Marcos Ugarte took a clear elbow to face in front of Rochester's bench but the referee signaled for a throw in despite the blood flowing from Ugarte's face. The wingback was off the field receiving treatment on his ultimately broken nose when the official called an end to the game.
"It was a good game for us," Rochester Rhinos head coach Bob Lilley said after the game. "But it would have nice for us to get a goal."
"There have been games where we've been quite good defensively but then maybe didn't create enough. I thought we were able to manage the game and create in dangerous spots. It's not like we had 20 shots but I thought we were dangerous when we went forward. I thought we had the most of possession and I thought we limited their chances to longer shots and we stayed pretty resolute in the back throughout the game."
A veteran coach, Lilley chose his words carefully when talking about the officiating. Lilley told me that Marcos Ugarte suffered a broken nose at the end of the game and that Steevan dos Santos was taking late and hard challenges throughout. "It was tough, but the guys kept their focus. We were still looking to win it at the end."
"We've played them three times here, once last year and now twice this year and it's been 0-0, 0-0, and 0-0," Lilley laughed. "There were two good teams out there today. There's no doubt that they're gonna be a playoff team and that's our ambition, to keep getting better for the playoffs."
With Mike Garzi celebrating his wedding this weekend, the Rochester coaching staff had to shuffle the deck and see what came up. "Some different guys got a chance to step up and they did. I was happy with how we performed today," Lilley said.
Rochester's coach also had praise for the committed fans that drove down from Rochester for the match in New Jersey on Saturday. "There weren't a lot of people in the stadium but ours were loud. It was nice to see," Lilley said of the traveling support. "Some of the fan clubs came down which was great to see. They were loud all game. It created some energy down here."
"I think we played to win from start to finish. I'm happy with how we played today. Now obviously we thought we were gonna get three points, we had every intention all week of trying to get three here. It just didn't happen for us today but I think it's something for us to build on.