The Rochester Rhinos are now in the home stretch of the 2012 USL-Pro season. That’s not just a figure of speech; it’s also literally true. All five of the team’s remaining regular season games are at home in front of the several thousand faithful at Sahlen’s Stadium. Charleston Battery are idle this week so the Rhinos have a chance to reclaim second place and take hold of an automatic semifinal playoff berth.
On Friday, the Rhinos apparently added Houston Dynamo draft pick Karo Okiomah before the USL roster freeze date. This big forward from Austin, Texas, is not afraid to go at defenders and could display the tenacity and fearlessness up top that has been so sorely missing from the Rhinos this year. I wouldn’t expect him to start in his first eligible league match, but Okiomah could be an effective unknown for Pittsburgh to defend coming off the bench in the second half.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds come to town sitting in 10th place out of 11 teams. At home the Rhinos have recently gotten wins against both Antigua Barracuda FC and Dayton Dutch Lions when those two teams were in the bottom two. On paper, things are looking good for a confidence boosting Rochester win. But on the field, things might not be so simple.
Pittsburgh has no grand illusions about the way they play. They set up defensively and know they are going to absorb a lot of pressure, especially playing away at a top three team. This means that the Riverhounds will have no problem sitting back and putting men behind the ball. To score against this mentality, the Rhinos will have to be patient but more importantly they will have to recycle possession back out to a midfielder or the defenders while maintaining a high level of pressure.
Translated into play, this means that the Rhinos will need to play probing balls through the middle or out wide at diagonals to find seams through the tightly packed Pittsburgh defense. If the Rhinos try to overload one side or the other by either sending a fullback on an overlapping run or pinching central midfielders over, they leave themselves vulnerable on the counterattack. Instead, the team needs to look for openings across the field but remain disciplined in the back. A player like Drew Cost or Gustavo Zamudio, who can effortlessly spread the point of attack with accurate passes, is essential for this strategy. He will sit back while other players attack around him, (at the expense of sounding cliche) much like Xavi Hernández does for Barcelona or Andrea Pirlo just demonstrated with the Italian national team during the Euro tournament.
“Recycling possession” just refers to giving the ball back to your deep lying playmaker in the midfield (probably Drew Cost) when the opportunity to go to goal doesn’t readily present itself in order to look for another chance elsewhere. This prevents the team from pushing too hard on one side or from trying to work the ball through an area where there is clearly very little probability of producing a shot on goal.
Patient play does not mean a slow pace, however, as the forwards and both wingers will need to constantly be moving to open up space for their teammates. If a forward makes a run to the left side post, that opens up space for the right winger to run into in the box. Playing like this requires not only physical activity but a great deal of mental activity.
This style of play will put a a heavy load on the midfielder who stays just outside the top of the box. He will need to stay open and know where to play the ball before he receives a pass. If this player is not up to snuff, attempts to recycle the ball may result in turnovers to the opposition, whose center forward will then run at the Rhinos defense.
Pittsburgh is coming off the back of five straight losses; the Riverhounds haven’t won since June 22. This team is very beatable but the Rhinos need to play with intelligence and patience; neither one of which has been on ample display so far this season. The Riverhounds (road:1-7-2) have only earned 5 points of the road from ten games but the Rhinos (home:3-2-2) haven’t exactly turned Sahlen’s Stadium into a fortress either. Rochester needs to perform well on Saturday to build confidence before hosting current second placed team Charleston Battery and defending champions Orlando City in coming weeks.