Tuesday night the Rochester Rhinos found out that Brooklyn Italians of the National Premier Soccer League would be the team to travel to town for their Second Round U.S. Open Cup match. On Wednesday they found out what is on stake during that game; a trip to PPL Park in Chester, PA, to face off against the Philadelphia Union of MLS
The Italians made the journey up to Portland, Maine, to play GDS Portland Phoenix of the Premier Development League. I wrote a bit of a history of the two teams in this post a couple weeks back. Portland Phoenix defeated Vermont Voltage at home 2-1 last Saturday May 12 in their only league match so far this PDL season. Brooklyn Italians came into the cup match-off riding a three game win streak in NPSL action which saw them claim victories over FC New York at home, Mass United away and Rhode Island Reds away. In those three matches the Italians outscored their opponents 7-2 and forward Jakeem Johnson found the net in each game.
I have a report of Brooklyn Italians’ victory on thecup.us that you can read here. Their lineup was, starting at goalkeeper: Nathan Stockie, Kirk-Dean Scarlett, Andrew
Cormack, Patrick Ouckama, Ben Graver, Arthur Kulkov, Christian
Camacho, Nathaniel Simons (out in 76 for Elliot Kane), Christian
Turizo, Oscar Castillo (out in 62 for Moriken Sangary), Jameel Johnson
(out in 62 for Jumol Harewood).
I also interviewed Brooklyn Italian’s head coach Lucio Russo on Wednesday. He told me he lined up his team in a 4-2-3-1 and that he had done his homework on his opponent. ” I knew who was coaching Portland and I knew what type of game we were in for. Portland is physical, and were more worried about knocking us around instead of playing. They spread us out and constantly dumped the ball in the box. Our defense matched their physicality and we were able to take advantage of our set pieces.”
When asked if perhaps his opponents had taken a win at home for granted or if he was worried about the 6 hour travel, Russo responded, “Our opponents did not underestimate us, they pressed us from the very beginning. Portland was not napping, its just being at the right place at the right time… We traveled by bus, but we came up a day before. I’m accustomed to long trips and I know how to prepare. “
Even though Brooklyn Italians have earned the right to be confident winning on the road and amassing a 3-0 record in NPSL action, Russo told me they were still very much the underdogs going into next Tuesday’s game at Sahlen’s Stadium.
“Rochester is a Pro team, it does not matter if you go there a day before or the same day. We are going to play professionals, their work is our hobby. Confidence is irrelevant when you play a professional team… If Rochester has not conceded a goal against any of their Pro opponents, what chances would you give an Amateur club? I don’t plan on playing an open game, but who knows. It would be interesting if we did score against the Rhinos, six consecutive shut outs is pretty impressive. We have a deep roster, I will bring a squad that can hopefully put on a good show. ”
This rational view of their chances doesn’t prevent a bit of dreaming on the part of the Brooklyn Italians’ organization, who won the U.S. Open Cup twice and made it to two other finals in the amateur era. ”For the Brooklyn Italian members the Lamar Hunt Cup is the most prestigious tournament in the US. The club is already appreciative of participating in such a tournament, but recognizes that to win it all would be almost impossible. But one can always dream.”
The extra week will give many of the Italians’ college players time to blend into the squad, as Russo said that “most of the college kids were not available [to practice] until May 1.” Brooklyn Italians’ goalkeeper Nathan Stockie made four saves last night and has earned rave reviews for his solid play in the league; it may take something special to light him up. Though he didn’t score against Portland, Jakeem Johnson is the team’s leading scorer and will look to get in behind Rochester’s defense. If the Rhinos try to take the foot off the pedal against Brooklyn Italians, they may find themselves red-faced in Sahlen’s Stadium in front of the Rochester faithful. However, a match against a lesser opponent (and I’m not talking about Dayton, lol) may be just what the Rhinos’ forwards need to strike a run of form and score multiple goals for only the second time this season.
Whatever happens on Tuesday, Rochester has the privilege of hosting one of the most storied amateur clubs in American soccer history. The players that experienced coach Lucio Russo brings with him will know what is on the table and how to play against a team like the Rhinos. It should be a memorable match and one to add to the club’s U.S. Open Cup history.