Disclaimer: I wrote this piece when I got home from the match Saturday night while I was still angry so it’s pretty critical of a lot of people.
Rochester Rhinos didn’t show up for the first half of Saturday’s game. Kristian Nicht definitely earned his paycheck by coming up huge when the game opened up in the second half. Looking at the tactical decisions, it seemed head coach Jesse Myers was managing the game from his armchair at home. Meanwhile Lucky Mkosana stole the show scoring his second goal against Rochester in as many games and setting up the winner for Drew Yates.
Rhinos lined up in a 4-5-1 formation with a few headscratchers. Because Drew Cost is still injured, Myers tried to use Earls in that playmaking midfield role. You may remember Earls dropping deep in the center to receive the ball in the match against Philadelphia. On paper this made a bit of sense but more importantly it allowed Michael Tanke to operate as a ball winner. Tanke was constantly closing down opponents and putting his body on the line to make hard tackles. This midfield tandem also freed up Tyler Rosenlund to push forward.
Because Earls moved into the center of the field, Quavas Kirk pushed up from defense to play right midfield. Argentine defender Lucas Fernandez stepped into the backline with Tyler Bellamy, Troy Roberts, and Jack Traynor. J.C. Banks was solid playing on the left side but Traynor’s fragility forced him to defend more than he was used to. Tam McManus started the game as a lone forward but didn’t get any service and was forced to drop deep to receive the ball in midfield.
Saturday night’s match was very disappointing. Rhinos were outplayed at home and didn’t do much to deserve anything from the match. Were it not for a handful of highlight reel saves by Kristian Nicht, Rochester would have suffered a much more embarrassing scoreline. Driving home with my girlfriend and two buddies, no one said much of anything. Someone remarked that none of us had seen the Rhinos win a league game this season because we were all still at our respective colleges when the team beat Charlotte in early May. In case it’s not apparent yet, this is unacceptable given how much talent this team has.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the performance against Harrisburg. I think the first name on that list, however, should be Jesse Myers. Tam McManus (5’7″) is a man of many talents, but he doesn’t fit the bill for an imposing target forward. Most teams in this league have a big man up top like Bright Dike (6’1″) at Los Angeles, Darryl Roberts (6’1″) in Charlotte, and Dennis Chin (6’3″) for defending champion Orlando. If McManus is playing as a lone striker, the midfield has to provide constant service into him; that did not happen on Saturday. Banks had to track back defensively and Kirk was still adjusting to the decision making process of a wide midfielder. Tyler Rosenlund was given a lot of responsibility to bridge the gap between the midfield and McManus but I thought he floundered his duty woefully.
Rosenlund has not impressed me in any of the matches I’ve attended or watched online this season. Despite this, Myers continues to pick the Canadian for the starting XI. Rosenlund has played 1292 minutes across all 15 games this season, second only to Troy Roberts. From what I can guess (based on my extensive experience playing Football Manager), Jesse Myers wanted Earls to receive the ball from defense and knock it around, Tanke to hassle the opposition and win the ball, and Rosenlund to be the extra guy in the area when the team went forward. It quickly became apparent that the players were not realizing this gameplan on the field but Myers did not change anything. Tanke fulfilled his role as best he could but Earls looked uncomfortable in the middle of the field and Rosenlund disappeared for large portions of the game.
The second half brought a few tactical tweaks, but too late. Harrisburg took the lead by isolating Jack Traynor. I’ve written it before and I will probably write it many more times before the season is over: Jack Traynor is a liability when he’s on the field for Rochester. Morgan Langley fooled Traynor and then beat him to the byline to cut the ball back in front of goal for Lucky Mkosana. In the first half, Tyler Bellamy was a calming force in the back and his communication to teammates rang around Sahlen’s Stadium. When the teams came out after the break, the back line didn’t look the same. Bellamy looked disinterested tracking his run and Roberts’s lack of pace was exposed several times.
Myers handed Kendell McFayden his home debut, introducing the Buffalo native in the 55th minute. Fernandez left the field and Kirk moved back to his natural right back position. Banks switched to the right to allow McFayden played on the left side, but the former FC Buffalo player spent much of his time on the field standing still in line with Harrisburg’s defenders without making runs or moving to receive the ball.
When Myers replaced Traynor with Isaac Kissi, he showed his intentions to get back into the game. Kissi went up top and became an immediate presence while Earls slotted into the left back position. Earls pushed up consistently and, in doing so, neglected his defensive responsibilities. Rochester’s Ghanaian front man was a solid target and even had a couple headed clearances on set pieces.
I’m not a huge fan of Andrew Hoxie but he made an impact after entering for McManus in the 75th minute. Hoxie combined well with Kissi and Banks on a number of plays and had a scorching shot just wide of the post late in the game. As encouraging as Hoxie’s play was, the team suffered from a lack of shape. Whatever the formation was supposed to be, during the last 25 minutes of the game the Rhinos had three center forwards on the field together, a winger playing in defense, and only one wide player in midfield. In order to prevent a predictable attack (always playing the ball through J.C. Banks on the right side), Danny Earls started to push higher and higher up the field leaving a gaping hole in Rochester’s defense.
It was this gap that Lucky Mkosana penetrated before playing a ball back into the area for Drew Yates to latch onto in the 83rd minute. Kristian Nicht was beaten for a second time when his defense left an attacking player wide open inside the box again. After the second goal, Nicht was visibly and audibly irate. And for good reason. The Rhinos were beaten in every area of the field and every aspect of the game by an inferior team. With the exception of left defense, this Rochester squad has the players to challenge any team in this league. Instead, the Rhinos are allowing teams to stroll into Sahlen’s Stadium and run them ragged.
Gustavo Zamudio made a cameo appearance for the last nine minutes of the game. Kirk came out and Tanke moved to right back to allow Zamudio to operate in central midfield. Despite not being on the field long, the Chilean did well to receive the ball in tight spaces and spread the play out. He had composure on the ball and a creative flair that made the end of the game bearable to watch. It confounds me why Zamudio doesn’t start games and has only played a total of 224 minutes over 10 games this season. He seems to me to be a like-for-like replacement for the injured Drew Cost, which would have allowed the team to maintain it’s shape without playing anyone out of position.
J.C. Banks snagged a goal back for the home team (a neat ball over the top from Danny Earls that Banks buried from close range) and raised the hopes of another late surge, but the team not only had to battle Harrisburg but also referee John Douglas. Mr. Douglas apparently was not aware that shirt-pulling is a foul in soccer. USL has yet again dropped the ball on simple things. Everyone knew that Harrisburg-Rochester was going to be a physical chippy affair but awarded the match to an almost negligently incompetent official.
The referee routinely avoided using his whistle. In the first half he missed about an even number of fouls against each team. The second half was not the same story, however. As the game got more and more aggressive, a hallmark of Harrisburg’s style of play, the referee refused to intervene. There were a number of scuffles and a few bouts of shoving. Michael Tanke retaliated on a Harrisburg player after one of the few occasions when the ref actually called a foul. Everyone in my section could hear the expletives coming out of Tanke’s mouth and he went after an opposition player but there was no card on the play.
Two of Rochester’s three yellow cards were for dissent. Banks got a caution for arguing a linesman’s offside call in the 75th minute. At the end of the game the officials announced four minutes of stoppage time. During the allotted period, Harrisburg had a series of short corner routines that ate up more than a minute of time while the play was dead. Shockingly once the Rhinos got possession up field on a throw-in, the center referee blew his whistle after only 3 minutes and 27 seconds worth of stoppage time. This caused an already upset Kristian Nicht to sprint from his goal down to Mr. Douglas to give him a piece of his mind. I couldn’t tell if Nicht was yelling in English or German (or both), but it was very loud and clearly angry. Voicing his frustration for thoroughly terrible refereeing earned Nicht a yellow card after the final whistle.
This match will soon be up on USLnation.com and I implore any of you to give the second half a watch to witness a horrible officiating performance by the referee and poor management by Rochester head coach Jesse Myers.