I did not watch Friday night’s game but I followed the twitter feeds about the match that quickly got out of hand. As the top seed in the National Division, Rochester Rhinos secured the right to host Harrisburg City Islanders for the divisional final play-off encounter. Rochester’s usual passing style of play was abruptly and systematically interrupted by hard tackles and chippy plays off the ball.
Almost from the outset the officiating crew could not handle the aggression of the Harrisburg City Islanders. I’m not going to criticize the refereeing too much, only that the 4 officials were very poor. Players look to the referee for consistency. The early calls a referee makes set the tone for the rest of the game as players learn what they can and can’t get away with, and what kind of tackles constitute a foul or a card or a sending off. That was the failure of the referee. The ref missed some rather vicious tackles which left the Rhinos with a sense of injustice and emboldened the City Islanders to play negative Nigel De Jong style soccer.
And then there was the injury to Isaac Kissi. A Harrisburg player went in on Kissi hard. Kissi went down with a knock. The tackle itself warranted a card. But then a second Harrisburg player crouched down in an ailing Kissi’s face and proceeded to yell obscenities at him on the ground. In the fracas which followed, Tony Donatelli was sent off (possible godsend in disguise), along with a Harrisburg player who neither delivered the tackle or verbally abused Kissi.
Another red card to Harrisburg meant that the Rhinos played the entire second half up a man. Despite having the advantage, Rochester couldn’t fully make up the 2 goal deficit they found themselves in early. Rhinos could not establish any kind of rhythm to their game and paid the price.
A National Division regular season title is nice, but the league title would have been better. This is a team that has the talent to make in all the way and plays attractive soccer, as well. I hate to look ahead already, but the squad assembled in Rochester this season is very young (youngest in club history) and I think they’ll come back hungrier next year. In the back, Troy Roberts and Quavas Kirk have the experience of playing at the highest level of soccer in America despite only being 27 and 23 respectively. Tyler Bellamy, a rock in central defense, is also only 23 years old, too. If the Rhinos can keep hold of this squad they’ll be a force next season, in whichever league they find themselves playing (USL or NASL).
Perhaps we could shed Donatelli for an actual right winger. Or maybe Max Ferdinand and Brad Stisser will really develop over the off-season and indoor season.
Goodbye to the Rochester Rhinos’ 2011 USL Pro season; it’s been real.