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The Process Continues, Rhinos Play to Scoreless Preseason Draw

In their second match of the 2017 preseason campaign, the Rhinos played to a 0-0 result against Syracuse University. Despite a lack of headline-grabbing goals, Rochester’s coaching staff was quietly confident about the progress in constructing the team’s roster.

MLS: 2017 Portraits
Liam Callahan was one of the new faces in Rochester’s preseason camp against his alma mater on Sunday afternoon
USA TODAY Sports

Despite the sun shining down on proceedings, Sunday afternoon’s preseason match against Syracuse University was marked by bitterly cold weather. The scrimmage had been rescheduled from the previous day when the Rochester area was forecasted to receive an early March snowstorm. Though the snow had been removed from the playing surface, the otherwise wintry conditions added cause for concern every time players clattered into each other for a tackle.

Though there were some new faces on the field for Rochester, the size of the training camp rostered was down from the previous week’s game against Canisius. At that game, a group of contracted players watched their prospective teammates from the stands. But against Syracuse all the players sat together on the team bench.

The Rhinos trotted out a similar formation with two central midfielders sitting back and a forward dropping deep into midfield to win possession. Against Canisius, Bob Lilley called the setup a 4-4-2 but for most of the game against Syracuse the team looked like more of a 4-2-3-1. Despite holding a clear advantage in possession, Lilley was not thrilled with organizational cues given by the team’s sole returning center back Joe Farrell.

In the first half the team lined up (right to left):

Tomas Gomez;
Jordan Dover, Todd Pratzner, Joe Farrell, Ray Lee;
Mike Garzi, Ryan James;
?_?, Rayane Boukemia, Antonio Correia;
Jochen Graf

I did not catch a name for the winger on the far side of the field but he did not stand out in either a positive or negative light and coach Lilley apparently did not have a reason to scream his name. Attacking midfielder Felix DeBona replaced Boukemia in the middle of the first half.

Signed forward Antonio Correia lined up on the left wing and tormented Syracuse’s fullback in the first half. Correia showed pace down the line but also close control of the ball when he drove inside towards the goal. With both Correia and Madison already under contract before the team started preseason games, Lilley has different plans in mind for the two forwards who play distinct styles up top. This should bode well for the coach’s ability to switch systems by swapping strikers depending on circumstances of each match.

Wholesale changes for the second half resulted in the following lineup:

Dan Lynd;
Bradley Kamdem, Craig Nitti, Ryan Felix, Liam Callahan;
Wal Fall, Brandon Beresford;
Christiano Francois, “Brett”, Enzo Guiliani;
Darius Madison

The withdrawn forward, or central attacking midfielder, called Brett received a lot of instructions from the sidelines and often interchanged with Enzo Guiliani on the left wing. Natural left back Bradley Kamdem lined up on the right side presumably to relay information to French-speaking winger Christiano Francois. Lilley relied on Kamdem and Sofiane Tergou to communicate with fellow Francophone Michel Guilavogui in 2016.

Lilley spent a good deal of time explaining to Francois (sometimes directly and sometimes through Kamdem) when to make runs down the sideline and when to cut inside. The diminutive former Richmond Kickers forward exhibited a refreshing technical skill to maintain possession under pressure from multiple Syracuse players throughout the second half.

Darius Madison has shown himself to be a receptive listener to all criticism and pointers from coach Lilley. Against Syracuse, Lilley took Madison aside for a brief one-on-one lesson and the former Kitsap Pumas striker appeared to toughen up after his coach criticized him for going to ground too softly. Madison’s strong work-ethic on the field and his charismatic demeanor off the field could turn out to be a winning formula for Rochester’s front line.

Assistant coach Mark Pulisic spoke to media after the scrimmage and spoke highly of some of the new names in camp. Left back Liam Callahan probably recognized some of his opponents on Sunday as the former Syracuse University captain suited up for Rochester. Callahan, who hails from Amherst, N.Y. outside Buffalo, was an All-American and twice named All-New York State first team selection for Sweet Home High School. He was drafted by Colorado Rapids with the 24th overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

Another newcomer in the backline was center back Craig Nitti, who brings great USL experience. Nitti played for Vancouver Whitecaps 2 in 2015 and Orlando City B in 2016. Orlando declined the option on his contract in November and looked comfortable for Rochester in the second half.

The mysterious Brett may be Brett Jankouskas who played the past two seasons with Harrisburg City Islanders. Jankouskas played for PA Classics as a youth, the Pennsylvania club that Mark Pulisic coached before moving to Germany with his son Christian. Jankouskas scored for Harrisburg against Rochester in the Open Cup in 2015 before the Rhinos earned an extra time victory despite seeing a player sent off in the first half. If the deep-lying forward player in question is Jankouskas, his presence in camp makes a lot of sense. If, on the other hand, the player is another Brett, his performances and the attention from the coaching staff indicate he’ll be sticking around for more of preseason in Rochester and reveal his true identity soon enough.

Pulisic answered some questions after the Syracuse scrimmage while Lilley accompanied the players into the locker rooms. “We’re not too concerned with the results right now but we’re ahead of where we were last weekend against Canisius,” Pulisic said. “We’re just looking at some different players; we’re bringing in a few different players this week, guys that will give us a different feel than last week.”

“This is a process,” he said regarding constructing the team’s roster. “We were happy today that we made some positive strides throughout this past week in training and it showed today, there were some good things to take from the game.”

Pulisic handled the first of the inevitable questions about Rochester’s weather well enough. “It’s the middle of winter - okay, maybe not the middle of winter - but it’s still cold. Guys are doing the best they can to try and stay warm. But I don’t think it affected much as far as how the game went,” Rochester’s assistant coach responded when asked if players shied away from tackles in the freezing temperatures.

Similar to Lilley, Pulisic embodied the patient approach to putting the correct pieces in place. “I think we’re still four weeks away from the opener so we have time to still look at guys. There are some roster spots available. We’ll make some decisions today and some guys will leave but we have more players coming in next week,” he said. “We won’t have our final roster set probably for another two or three weeks.”

The Rhinos open the 2017 USL season on the road at Bethlehem Steel FC on Saturday, April 1.