What to Make of the Rhinos’ 4-0 Loss at Home to Charleston

I’ve purposely waited to write this post because I was too upset Saturday night when I got home after the game.  It’s hard not to blame everyone for the disgrace that was the team’s performance against Charleston but I’ll try to make sense of that disaster.

Team MVP J.C. Banks and fellow starters Tyler Rosenlund and Tam McManus were all ineligible to play against Charleston.  Any team in the world would stutter with the loss of three players from its starting XI, but in that case of the Rhinos not all of these players should have been starters.  Head coach Jesse Myers has continued to select Rosenlund and McManus together despite the fact that they occupy the same space on the field and try to operate in the same manner.  The loss of Rosenlund or McManus to suspension should have been a blessing in disguise because it allowed the team to play a 4-4-2.  Unfortunately it didn’t play out that way on the field.

Jesse Myers had 7 days to figure out his starting line-up and instruct the team during training sessions.  Despite this amount of time, Myers sent out a team that looked lost and  lacked out sort of direction.  In the seven games the team has played since signing Kendell McFayden, the speedster has been on the field with Andrew Hoxie for 149 minutes total for an average of 21.3 minutes per appearance or 23.65% of the 630 minutes before the game against Charleston.  Hoxie is a great technical player who can create a foot of separation from his mark outside the box or nod a ball onto a teammate.  McFayden is a quick player who can chase a ball down anywhere on the field.  Neither of these players tends to stay centrally as a target forward.  The failure to select Isaac Kissi from the start was just the first of many mistakes Jesse Myers made on the night.

Myers had the chance to line up a balanced 4-4-2 but failed to send out the correct players.  The experiment of playing Danny Earls in the center of midfield has not been nearly as successful as Myers must think it has been.  Putting Earls in the middle effectively neuters any meaningful attacking potential from the left side.  Chris Estridge is a solid two-way midfielder but Danny Earls was a much more dangerous player on the outside.  Myers chose to play Earls in the center alongside Drew Cost.  Both players like to spread the point of attack and offer an outlet to recycle possession when an attack breaks down.  In this regard they are very similar players in center midfield because they try to provide a calming presence and to deliver accurate passes from deep.  If the two players do almost the exact same things on the field, why play them in the same position at the same time?

Neither of the central midfielders selected by Jesse Myers is particularly adept at regaining possession.  Surely the two players can tackle the ball away from an opposition player, but that is neither’s primary skill is winning the ball.  Michael Tanke was healthy and sat on the bench the entire game.  Tanke is quite good at harrying the other team and dispossessing opposition attackers.  The team clearly needed somebody to perform that task last night but Myers saw fit to allow the other team to maraud the field and constantly attack our defense without respite.  Tanke would have provided some much-needed relief to George Kyriazis and Troy Roberts who were under pressure nearly the entire match.

Kristian Nicht, who has been remarkably solid for the Rhinos in his first year in North American soccer, had his worst game of the season against Charleston.  He came off his line to punch a ball clear but missed his target, allowing Charleston to tap home an easy goal.  On another goal in the first half Nicht failed to catch a shot that subsequently bobbled around the 18 yard box before a Charleston player blasted it in the back of the net.  Seeing Nicht laying on the ground reaching for the ball just out of his grasp made me almost as sick as seeing Gio dos Santos’s goal against Tim Howard in the 2011 Gold Cup Final.

On Saturday against the Battery, Rochester lined up in a 4-4-2 that looked something this…

After getting blown up in the first half 3-0, Myers decided to make some changes.  The coach brought on two more strikers.  The formation then looked more like this:

You could call this a 4-2-3-1, but it was really just a 4-2-4.  Myers’s answer to lacking direction and purpose going forward was to play 4 strikers on the field at the same time.  I doubt the team has ever trained a line up with all of the team’s 4 forwards playing together.  It was no wonder that a team that was already out of sync playing in a normal lineup in the first half was completely lost playing in that monstrosity of a formation.

Myers’s inexperience as a head coach shown through in spades against Charleston.  He didn’t adequately prepare his team, he picked the wrong starting lineup, and his second half substitutions stank of desperation.  At least Jesse Myers wrote himself into the Rochester Rhinos’ history books.  He coached (or rather, didn’t) the team into their worst home loss in club history.  In the previous 16 years of professional soccer in Rochester, the Rhinos had never lost 4-0 at home before.

The only positive to take away from the weekend is that the Rhinos shored up a playoff spot, 17th year in a row, due to results elsewhere in the league.  If the Rhinos win by a comfortable margin next weekend at home against Pittsburgh they can hold off the Charleston, Richmond and Wilmington to claim second place in the 2012 USL-Pro season.

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