This past Friday, the Rochester Rhinos traveled north to face Toronto FC II and the team brought a point back over the border with them. In their second game of the 2017 USL season, the Rhinos failed to generate the same attacking fervor they did against Bethlehem Steel FC that sparked excitement in the fanbase.
Despite failing to score at the Ontario Soccer Centre, Rochester remains undefeated after two games. Only three other teams in the Eastern Conference of the USL are undefeated: Saint Louis FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies, and Louisville City FC. Saint Louis FC is leading the conference behind the blistering goal-scoring pace of former two-year Rhinos forward Christian Volesky.
In its third consecutive road game to start the season, Rochester will travel to Charleston to play the USL-stalwart Battery. As two of the oldest clubs in the league, the Rhinos and the Battery form part of the Old Guard Shield. Supporters of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds reached out to fans of Rochester, Charleston, the Richmond Kickers, and Harrisburg City Islanders over the offseason to organize the independent, supprter-led award.
The Old Guard Shield’s website hosts a table to track games contested between the five constituent teams. Pittsburgh currently sits atop the truncated table due to a late-winner against Charleston mid-week. That stinging loss at home will be on the minds of Battery players as they host the Rhinos on Saturday.
Rochester Rhinos head coach Bob Lilley usually speaks very highly of the Battery and their longtime coach Mike Anhaeuser and that respect should be reflected in Lilley’s lineup on Saturday. Charleston can defend as well as any team in the east when they’re on their day but also have dangerous attacking midfielders like Maikel Chang and a powerful center forward in Atlanta United FC loanee Romario Williams.
USL’s partnership with Opta Sports allows us utilize statistics to looking back before looking ahead to the Rhinos’ next match.
In both of Rochester’s two matches in USL, the team has dramatically surpassed its host in key defensive statistics. Against Bethlehem, the Rhinos managed 32 clearances (to BSFC’s 5) and against Toronto 26 (compared to 13). In the season opener Rochester was credited with a whopping 44 interceptions (Bethlehem had 12) while the team had 30 interceptions against Toronto (TFC II had 26).
Unsurprisingly Lilley’s Rochester clogs up passing lanes and breaks down opposition attacks with their eyes closed. While this compact defensive setup is second-nature to Rochester, the same may be true of the Battery.
On the road against a rather poor Charlotte Independence side, the Battery conceded possession (62.4% in favor of Charlotte) but registered 29 interceptions to Charlotte’s 8 and 26 clearances to Charlotte’s 10. Charleston was less dominant in its home win against Cincinnati and stoppage-time loss at home to Corey Hertzog (and Pittsburgh) but have the defensive pedigree led by returning centerbacks Forrest Lasso and Taylor Mueller to handle most opposition attacks.
Don’t expect many goals in this contest.
Rochester’s best possibility of generating meaningful attacks will depend on the performance of deep playmaker Kenardo Forbes. Through the limited sample size of this season’s two matches, it appears the team lives and dies on the performances of Forbes.
In the match against Bethlehem, Forbes had 90.6% passing accuracy (79.5% in the opponent’s half), made 8 interceptions, 1 clearance, and lost 1 of 6 total duels, conceding 0 fouls. Toronto’s match showed a very different performance for the club captain: 82.9% passing accuracy, 70.8% passing accuracy in the opponent’s half, 2 interceptions, 0 clearances, and lost 7 of 8 total duels, conceding 3 fouls.
Perhaps frustrated with his team’s lack of penetration, Forbes drove forward himself and attempt to fashion individual chances: unsuccessfully. Kenardo’s touchmap across the two games reflects a more forward-oriented approach in Toronto but despite creating 7 chances and serving 9 crosses, the third-year midfielder produced nothing for the visitors.
It may seem unfair to pinpoint Forbes as the cause of Rochester’s listless showing in Toronto, but the other side of that coin is that the Jamaican playmaker was integral to nearly every good team performance across the 2016 season. If Forbes plays similarly to his match against Bethlehem (or much of his Rochester career), the Rhinos have a chance to snatch a result on the road in Charleston.
Rochester Rhinos kick off their third match of the 2017 USL campaign against Charleston Battery at 7:00PM on Saturday evening. The match will be broadcast on the league’s YouTube channel.