The Rochester Rhinos started about as strong a team as head coach Jesse Myers could line up. Despite 7 players in the starting lineup returning from last season, the team couldn’t get the offense organized during the first half against Syracuse University. Not to worry, though, as the Rhinos rallied with a couple of two-goal bursts to sink 4 past the Central New York college.
Grading the Rhinos’ Starters:
Between the pipes, second-year German goalkeeper Kristian Nicht provided leadership from the back. Throughout the game you could hear Nicht calmly dishing out advice and reminders to his defense in addition to looking sharp when he was called into action.
Troy Roberts looked like Troy Roberts on Friday afternoon. What can I say about Roberts that we don’t already know? He looks fully fit and ready to carry the Rhinos into another successful season.
Unfortunately George Kyriazis seemed to struggle once or twice against Syracuse. The Orange’s number 10, Tony Asante, fooled the Greek veteran on a couple of occasions and won a dangerous free kick outside the area off him. Kyriazis didn’t have his best day at the office and was subbed off at halftime.
Lucas Fernandez began last year behind Quavas Kirk in the pecking order, but with the former u-17 US international gone, Fernandez started on Friday. The Argentine right back was active throughout the first half but was often not on the same page as the players around him or he tried to do too much going forward instead of passing the ball on.
Disclaimer: Tyler Polak and Chris Estridge look very similar and are both natural left backs.
With that said, I’m pretty sure it was the younger Polak (on loan from the NE Revs) who started the match against Syracuse. The 20 year old full back played well and looked to fit in well at a position that the Rhinos struggled to fill all of last season.
There was a lot to like about the Rhinos midfield on Friday.
Michael Tanke started in defensive midfield and put in the necessary work in that role. Despite his vertical disadvantage in aerial challenges, Tanke is the type of player coaches love; one who never gives up on a play or his team. That grit showed through on a couple occasions even though the match was a preseason friendly.
Partnering Tanke in the center of midfield was recent signing Lance “Sunshine” Rozeboom. Rozeboom’s duties on the field were unclear in the opening sequences of the game. Last year midfielder Tyler Rosenlund seemed to run into deep forward Tam McManus but Rozeboom grew into his box-to-box support role as the game went on.
Yet again, the men on the flanks for the Rhinos will earn a lot of fans this season.
Irish midfielder Danny Earls started the game on the left wing but had a somewhat quiet first half. Earls swapped sides with 22 year old winger Gabe Latigue.
Latigue is another player on loan from the Revolution and impressed me more than any other player on the Rhinos against Syracuse. Within the first ten minutes of the game, Latigue was gesturing to his teammates to calm down on the ball and maintain their composure faced with a very quick team from CNY.
Returning forward Tam McManus was frustrated much of the game on Friday. It was a familiar sight for Rhinos’ fans who saw McManus not live up to his pedigree in 2012. For all the skill and promise his CV suggested, Tam finished the season with only 1 goal and 2 assists in 21 games last season. Perhaps with improved players on the field around him, McManus will realize his potential.
One such player is former Orlando City striker Matt Luzunaris. Luzunaris was more than just a big body for the Rhinos; he ran down long balls and was able to connect quick passes with his teammates. Hopefully Luzunaris will convert strong performances into goals during the regular season.
Rhinos’ First Two Goals:
Latigue created two goals in quick succession from the left wing in the second half. He played a ball through the air to McManus, who took the ball off his chest with his back to goal. The Scottish veteran forward then laid the ball off to midfielder Rozeboom on a silver platter and the former D.C. United man curled his shot into the far post with his right instep for 1-0.
Not more than a few minutes later, Latigue played a cross from the left channel to find McManus at the far post. Tam made no mistake with his head from close range and put the Rhinos up 2-0.
Bevvy of Rochester Substitutions:
Around 20 minutes into the second half, Jesse Myers made a slew of substitutions for the Rhinos. Bilal Duckett replaced Lucas Fernandez. Matt Horth came on for Tam McManus. Kristian Nicht gave the gloves over to Brandon Miller. Michael Tanke made way for Josh Faga. Matt Luzunaris came off for Kendell McFayden. Lance Rozeboom subbed off for Chris Estridge. Because of the changes, Tyler Polak moved to left midfield as Estridge took over as left back and Gabe Latigue shifted to the right wing as Danny Earls operated centrally.
The game slowed down half-way through the second period but the Rhinos controlled possession. Shortly after, Gabe Latigue made his way for the bench (to a well-deserved standing ovation from myself and my girlfriend despite the cold) and Kendell McFayden played on the right side. A player, I have no idea who he was, came into the match and played the withdrawn forward role.
Rochester Seals the Victory:
Syracuse central defender Brandon Albert was called for a handball late in the game. Danny Earls stepped up and executed a cute chipped shot to the left side as goalkeeper Alex Bono dove the other way.
During a ten minute spurt, Kendell McFayden was very active coming inside from the right wing. He had two shots from range; one was miles wide and one was just inches over the crossbar. In the dying seconds of the match, Kendell brought down a long ball near the sideline and beat the Syracuse left back to draw a foul. Danny Earls stood over the deadball as Rochester players backed the box despite holding a 3-0 advantage.
Earls played a drifting ball into the area from the free kick. As the service was coming down between the penalty spot and the six-yard box, Tyler Polak redirected the flight of the ball past a hapless Bono to underline the Rhinos dominance in the second half.
General Notes on the Match:
As I mentioned above, Gabe Latigue was the best player on the field for me. He was active both physically and verbally. The winger clearly demonstrated how and when to take his chances and rarely turned the ball over, valuable for a young player. Though it pains me to see J.C. Banks sitting idly on the bench recovering from his ACL injury, Latigue can go a long way towards filling his shoes in the first part of the season.
Bilal Duckett also impressed me playing right back in the second half. Duckett looked good playing for a mediocre Harrisburg side last year and has the ability to play well for the Rhinos defense on loan from the Revs.
Another impressive young player lined up for the opposition on Friday. Syracuse attacking midfield maestro Stefan Stamoulacatos popped up in a number of positions for the Orange and always looked dangerous with the ball at his foot. Even though his free kicks didn’t inspire rave reviews, it was clear to see why this dynamic player his earned multiple call-ups to US youth national team camps with goalkeeper Alex Bono.