The Rhinos went into Titan Stadium at Cal State Fullerton hoping to take a point away from the L.A. Blues. Instead of settling for a draw, the team exploded out of the half time break and notched two quick goals in the first 11 minutes of the second half. Despite defending heavily, Rochester remained dangerous on counter attacks and continued to press for a third goal when they had possession. This victory moves the team to 2-0 on the early season, which Jeff DiVeronica revealed on Twitter is the first time the Rhinos have accomplished this feat since 2006. Not only that, but the Rhinos picked up 6 points on the road from one of the pre-season favorites in USL-Pro.
The Los Angeles play-by-play analyst Marc Serber (@SoccerSerber) was fantastic throughout the match. But onto the actual game..
The Rhinos lined up in the same 4-5-1/4-4-1-1 with Tam McManus playing in the hole. Kristian Nicht started behind a back line of Jack Traynor, Troy Roberts, George Kyriazis, and Quavas Kirk. J.C. Banks and Danny Earls again started on the wings, while Tyler Rosenlund and Drew Cost combined in the center of midfield. Graciano Brito was the lone man up top.
Kirk was determined to be fit after coming off with a knock late in the first match, but the 32 old year Greek central defender replaced the injured Tyler Bellamy for his first league start as a Rhino.
Los Angeles started in the same formation they played last week, a 4-5-1 that transitions to a 4-3-3. Starting from the goalkeeper, the Blues’ starters were: Jose Miranda; Sunyhung Cho, Carlos Borja, Ebrima Jatta, Bryan Burke; Erlys Garcia, Irving Garcia, Ricky Waddell; George Davis IV, Brian Farber, and Matt Fondy.
From my hurried match preview, I was right about Cho, Borja, Jatta, Burke, both Garcias, Waddell and Farber starting the match. Cuban Jose Miranda (who defected in 2008 with teammate Erlys Garcia) replaced Amir Abedzadeh in goal. Matt Fondy got the nod up top in place of Cheunyong Park because head coach Naimo said he was a hungrier striker and 2011 USL-Pro Second Team forward with Dayton Dutch Lions George David IV replaced Israel Sesay.
The beginning of the match was rather boring, with both teams playing it safe and testing out the waters. Around the 30 minute mark, goalkeeper Kristian Nicht fell awkwardly after grabbing a ball out of the air. The trainer ran on to the field to access the player, but Nicht was deemed to be okay and he played through his knock for the rest of the game.
There was a substitution for each team at halftime as Andrew Hoxie entered for Brito and Farber made way for Israel Sesay. Both teams maintained their shape, but this meant that the game prediction from my preview post could not come true as Farber left the game.
Just five minutes after being introduced by head coach Jesse Myers, Andrew Hoxie found the back of the net from a long shot. The official, Jesus Cisneros, decided to let play continue on two contentious tackles and Drew Cost moved the ball to Hoxie who let fly from 25 yards out. Defenders backed away from Hoxie who gladly accepted the time to space to power the ball into the top corner to the goalkeeper’s right.
Not long after, Hoxie put a powerful header on frame. Jose Mirando did well to block the effort, but the L.A. Blues’ defense could not clear the ball. Tam McManus recovered possession on the right side of the box and a quick cross found J.C. Banks at the far post. The 2011 Rhinos Rookie of the Year could not have missed the net and put Rochester up 2-0 in the 56th minute. My favorite statistic in soccer right now: when J.C. Banks get’s on the score sheet with either a goal or an assist, the Rhinos have a perfect record of 7-0-0. [Correction, now the team is 8-0-0]
Naimo introduced Luis Gonzalez for Erlys Garcia at the midpoint of the second half and switched to a 4-4-2, with Davis and Sesay becoming wide midfielders.
Then Ricky Waddell hit a nice shot with his left and Nicht was lucky to see the ball sail just high and wide of his net. The Blues came close again with a short cross to the near post finding Irving Garcia, who put his shot off the woodwork. Waddell had a free kick 22 yards out, which he slammed it under the Rhinos’ wall but Nicht got down well to block the shot out for a corner kick. This was during a period of intense pressure by L.A. Blues. They had a number of corner kicks as well as two free kicks from promising positions.
15 minutes from time, however, the Rhinos looked composed in the attacking third on a designed corner kick routine that went just wide. The team showed that they were interested in doing more than just defending until the final whistle.
As the Blues pushed forward in the 78th minute, the game really opened up when the Rhinos counterattacked with the pace of Earls, Hoxie, McManus, and Banks.
Michael Tanke, the second year midfielder out of the University of Rhode Island, entered the game for J.C. Banks. Head coach Jesse Myers wanted Tanke to help seal up shop in the last ten minutes of the game. Tanke was introduced because he offers a strong defensive component that isn’t currently part of the attack-minded Banks’ repertoire.
Jatta exited for Cheonyung Park and Naimo switched the formation to an all out attacking 3-4-3. Scottish veteran Alan Russell also entered the game late in the midfield an attempt to break through on the scoreboard.
Conor Chinn subbed on for Tam McManus to play the last minute of regulation and stoppage time. Chinn was almost immediately involved in the play, as he did well to hold up play in the corner before drawing a hard late tackle from L.A. defender Carlos Borja, who was cautioned.
George Kyriazis played very well on his first start for the team. He has positioned himself well, organized his defense with Troy Roberts, and has made several key interventions. Not to be outdone, Kristian Nicht has also looked outstanding. Nicht’s best trait so far this season has been coming to collect deep crosses and balls into the box. His tall frame allows him to easily rise above the L.A. forwards, but coming down from those heights onto shaky knees has proven to be a nervous ordeal for the German goalkeeper.
Kristian Nicht and the Rhinos’ defense shored up a second consecutive clean sheet on the road. Both Nicht and McManus are proving to be very influential additions to the squad.
Last week Jesse Myers entered himself into Rhinos’ trivia by becoming the first head coach to win in his club debut. Tonight, obviously, he became the first coach to win his first two matches.
The Rhinos face Los Angeles once more this season, at Sahlen’s Stadium on July 27th. While the match is in Rochester, it also gives the Blues time for their new-look team to develop the chemistry that was clearly lacking after failing to find the net in two successive home games in which they created numerous chances.
Rochester’s next opponent is the Dayton Dutch Lions, who struggled through the 2011 USL-Pro season. The game is in Ohio, but road trips haven’t proven to be a problem for the Rhinos yet.
It may only be two games into the season, but this Rhinos squad looks like they are the real deal. Who else is ready to bring some silverware back to Rochester?