07/05/2012 11:32 AM
Coaching decisions seldom work out as splendidly as Rhinos head coach Jesse Myers decision to give striker Kendall McFayden his first start of the season on Wednesday night. Myer’s was rewarded with a lead in the third minute and a goal against the run of play in the 18th minute that set the Rhinos on the way to their second win in three matches.
McFayden’s first goal displayed how prolific a strike partnership he could form with forward Tam McManus. Myers has charged McManus with playing as a withdrawn forward in the space between the opposition’s defensive line and their midfield. In the first 15 matches of the season opponents have been able to press that space and have not given him any time on the ball. Within the first three minutes of the match McFayden’s pace gave McManus time and space. McManus rewarded him with a picture perfect through ball for the opening goal.
After the Rhinos opening goal Antigua began to stretch out the Rhinos defensive shape. A couple of timely tackles from center back Troy Roberts and a couple of timely saves from goalkeeper Kristian Nicht kept Antigua out, but this was a key stretch in the match where the Rhinos two defensive lynch pins stepped up once again.
Roberts is one of five Rhinos defenders to win All-League honors (2010, 2011) and one of three to win honors multiple times. The other four are Scott Schweitzer (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003), Craig Demmin (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002), Rene Rivas (1996), and Scott Palguta (2008). Throw Kalin Bankov (mostly for what he accomplished stepping in for Demmin on the 2001 A-League Championship team) and Carlos Mendes (mostly for what he accomplished after he left Rochester for MLS) and that’s a list of the best defenders to play in Rochester. The order can be sorted out another day, but what’s significant is that Roberts is on the list.
McFayden’s second goal was an example of how important it is to have a counter-attacking threat in your side. Antigua had a majority of the possession and all of the chances in the minutes leading up to his goal. Winger JC Banks found some space on the right flank and played a long ball over the top to McFayden. Pace up top makes the game easier to play.
That’s not to diminish the contribution McFayden made to the Rhinos victory. Plenty of players in the league have pace. McFayden combined his with an efficient first touch and clinical finishing. His willingness to challenge balls in the air with his surprising vertical leap turned defensive clearances into 50/50 balls, and his willingness to chase down lost causes forced international keeper Melvin James into a back pass foul. There’s a lot in McFayden’s game to be excited about.
JC Banks assisted McFayden on the game winning goal. It was his league leading seventh assist and moved him into third place in USL PRO in points (15). Two of his four goals and five of his seven assists have been on either game tying or game winning goals. He’s appeared on the score sheet nine times this season and the Rhinos are 7-1-1 when he does. They are 1-3-3 when he does not. Jose Cuevas (8G-3A) and Nikki Patterson (8G-2A) have been a dynamic duo for Charleston this season, but no one has been more valuable to his team than Banks.
Peter Byers strike in the 29th minute was a goal built out of power and precision. He won a 50/50 ball from Rhinos midfielder Micahel Tanke 40 yards out, took one touch, and then hit a screamer on goal. His shot from 35 yards out had the pace to beat Krisitan Nicht and the accuracy to go over a 6’5” goalkeeper and under an eight foot cross bar. Byers is an Antigua and Barbuda international who scored the only goal in his country’s 3:1 loss to the United States Men’s National Team last month. He was worth the $5 to watch him play live on Wednesday night.
Give credit to Coach Myers for redefining his defensive shape at half time. It has been a source of concern in recent matches and has resulted in dropped points (like the late collapse in Harrisburg) and cardiac finishes (like the 3-2 come from behind win in Richmond). Myers did not allow Byers strike to become the start of something bigger. Instead Danny Earls, Roberts, Tyler Bellamy, and Lucas Fernandez operated like a cohesive unit in the back with Tyler Rosenlund and Tanke screening the back four in midfield.
The result was a second half where the Rhinos outshot Antigua nine to one, had five corners to their three, and Nicht did not have to make a save. Rochester started the match 16 points ahead of Antigua in the table, and in the second half it looked like it.
Over the past two weeks Isaac Kissi has returned from a season long injury, McFayden has emerged as a starter, Quavas Kirk has moved from right back to the wing, and Banks has emerged as a legitimate USL PRO MVP candidate. The Rhinos have developed an entirely new set of attacking options, and now they have to figure out how to use them all.
Underneath the Rhinos attacking trio Fernandez has settled in as the starting right back, Danny Earls has played three positions, Drew Cost has returned from injury, and Michael Tanke has found a starting role as the Rhinos enforcer in midfield. The only real consistency has been Nicht, Roberts, Rosenlund, and McManus.
Andrew Hoxie’s first goal could be described as a simple tap in, but the second was a sublime finish perfectly chipped over the head of Antiguan international keeper James after a superior first touch to control Kissi’s pass.
Kissi had two assists in 1,756 minutes in his first two years in Rochester. This season he already has two assists in 117 minutes. His through ball to Banks for the game winning goal in Richmond was a pass born out of unselfishness, and his vision to set up the pass to Hoxie on Wednesday night for his second goal was almost as good as the finish. Combine Kissi’s newfound playmaking ability with the emergence of McFayden, and it creates the possibility that the two may be able to play together in the Rhinos attack.
It looks like the Rhinos are suddenly a lot better, but this is going to take some time to sort out. They have a month and a half before the USL PRO playoffs start, and they might be perfectly positioned for a playoff run.