17 wins, 0 losses, 0 draws.
The Rochester Rhinos all-time record against amateur teams in the U.S. Open Cup is one of the more impressive notes in American soccer’s cult favorite competition. The 8W-15L-5D record against MLS sides is less remarkable but more relevant after Rochester’s Third Round win over GPS Omens.
Veteran head coach Bob Lilley spoke to media in his characteristic dour manner after his side took a 3-0 win in the Second Round of the U.S. Open Cup over FC Motown on May 17. His team was perhaps fortunate to score on two goalkeeping errors in the opening minutes and Lilley was not pleased with the workrate on the night.
“There're guys that got minutes tonight that played like it was a Sunday league game,” Lilley said tersely on May 17. “We walked through that game. There was nothing dynamic going forward and we're too easy to play against.”
Regardless of the competition and the opponent, “The standard has to be higher. You can't play that poorly.” Lilley appeared to intimate that his side didn’t show proper respect to FC Motown: “Motown; you need to respect everyone and for me –” Lilley started to say before changing tracks to focus on his players under-performing.
Rochester then had two tough USL games before the Third Round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. It’s not out of the question that Rochester’s coaching staff would have preferred an NPSL or PDL side, if not a full professional team, after a disappointing performance against an amateur side in the Second Round.
Lilley worked during a busy two-week stretch in the second half of May to convince his players to raise their level over the FC Motown performance. After Rochester’s first cup match, the team stumbled to a 1-1 draw with Richmond Kickers and played well to defeat Tampa Bay Rowdies 1-0, both at home.
With heavy rotation for the Third Round cup match, Lilley put the onus on fringe players to prove their quality on a different stage. Rookie winger Jalen Brown and 25-year old Samuel Edoung-Biyo, who initially attended an open tryout in December, both took their coach’s instructions to heart.
Brown scored early in the second half after cutting inside from the left flank onto his favored right foot. GPS Omens equalized from the foot of Keith Caldwell, the older brother on Revolution homegrown midfielder Scott, on a 55th minute free kick. Rochester could not find the breakthrough before regulation expired as GPS Omens defended ardently.
The former Xavier University Musketeer came to life in extra time as Brown played consistent service to the six-yard box and got his own shots on frame. Substitute forward Edoung-Biyo failed to connect on a few a decent crosses but finally prevailed in stoppage time of extra time.
Edoung-Biyo, affectionately called Sammy by club staff, beat his defender to the swift service from Brown and directed the ball in from close range. While the play might not be featured on SportsCenter Top Ten, the goal reflected the implementation of elements from training and the personal commitment from both Brown and Edoung-Biyo.
“Throughout the game, they kept putting good crosses in and I kept going behind the man,” Edoung-Biyo told media after scoring the late match-winner against GPS Omens. “Coach just kept telling me eventually to slash in front of the defender so you can get in front of the ball, because they kept intercepting.”
“And that one, I just kinda changed my run from the back post to the first post and got to the ball before he did.”
“The idea there is that if I make the slashing run to the front post and I drag the defender, even if I don't get a touch on it, eventually somebody else should be getting to the back post,” Edoung-Biyo, who coaches for the local U.S. Soccer Development Academy club Empire United, explained after the match.
“I kept making the run to the back post instead of slashing in front. And he kept winning them because I didn't make the run in front of him to drag him with me.”
“As a striker, you want to finish the opportunities you get. And I guess, it kind of just speaks to resilience. I had three good opportunities that I should have finished. I just kept working and kept looking for it and eventually I got it in the back of the net.”
“The gameplan was just to put balls in dangerous areas,” Jalen Brown said after the GPS Omens game on Wednesday night. “We were trying to go for the game; we didn't want to go to PKs. The best thing to do is to get the ball in the box, and that's what we did.”
“With the shot count at 21 to seven I think we deserved a goal. But at the same time, it was the last minute of the game. There was a bit of relief that we didn't have to go to pens because when it's penalty kicks, anybody can win.”
“I think we took the game and put it in our own hands.”
As Rochester moves on to the Fourth Round of the cup, the Rhinos will travel to Providence, Rhode Island, to play the New England Revolution on June 14.
New England and Rochester have met on six occasions in the Open Cup and the Rhinos hold an ignoble 0W-4L-2D, splitting the pair of penalty shootouts. In 2014 the Revolution hosted Rochester at Brown University in a 2-1 win and Babacar Diallo was sent off late for the Rhinos. The year before, New England coasted to a 5-1 win in a lightning delayed Fifth Round match.
New England beat Rochester 4-2 in 2007 on the road, 5-4 on penalties after a scoreless draw in Rochester in 2006, and 2-1 in 2003 from Lusitano Stadium in Ludlow, Massachusetts.
The Rhinos prevailed in a penalty shootout over New England in 2004 after a 1-1 draw in Ludlow.
While there is a lot of soccer to be played for both teams until June 14, the meeting of one-time affiliation partners is too juicy to put on the back burner. Rochester will work on absorbing pressure in training and may look to rest key players in the intervening league matches. The Revolution will have to decide how much rotation is enough to ensure a result in the cup without derailing any momentum in MLS.
At least this year we won’t be worrying about loaned players getting cup-tied or recalled to play against their teammates.