06/04/2012 2:14 PM
The Rochester Rhinos suffered their first home loss of the season 1:0 to the Richmond Kickers, Orlando City lost their first match of the season 3:1 in Wilmington, Jose Cuevas scored the only goal in a 1:0 victory over the Dutch Lions to send the Battery into second place, and Richmond drew 1:1 with the City Islanders in a monsoon in Harrisburg during a USL PRO weekend that reshaped the league table.
To Rochester Rhinos head coach Jesse Myer’s credit, he is trying to develop his side’s attacking ideas and make them a more dynamic team. Rochester looked more like a prototypical home team than they did on May 5th against Charlotte or May 18th against the Dutch Lions. They edged Richmond in possession, outshot them twelve to five, and took seven corners to the Kicker’s one. Wingers JC Banks and Danny Earls served dangerous balls into the box while left back Michael Zaher and the right back platoon of Quavas Kirk and Lucas Fernandez pushed forward into the attack. The Rhinos created more chances than they did in any other match to date, but now it’s down to finding a way to finish them.
Attacking play is always more pleasing on the eye, but it definitely comes with risks. Overlapping backs put more pressure on the opposition’s defensive shape, but they also leave more gaps in the back. Richmond’s Nozomi Hiroyama and Luke Vercollone exploited one such gap in the fifth minute when they scored the only goal of the match. The Rhinos were criticized for their style of play when they went 6-0 with only seven goals scored to start the season. Now that they have committed to a more attacking philosophy, they are very much a work in progress with a lot of potential who will go through some growing pains.
The Rhinos team that started 6-0 was dedicated to keeping their shape defensively and playing with a high work rate. They took the odd chance on the counter attack and always found a way to nick a goal. Whenever things broke down their goalkeeper was always there to bail them out with a timely save. That description also sums up how Richmond and their manager Leigh Cowlisahw, Myer’s boss with the Kickers for a time while he was an assistant there, beat them on Saturday night.
It was a big weekend for the Richmond Kickers. They entered the weekend in the sixth and final playoff spot in the USL PRO table, but ended it in fourth after earning a difficult 1:1 draw in Harrisburg on Friday night and then a 1:0 win in Rochester on Saturday night.
Back-to-back matches away aren’t highly regarded for a number of reasons, but this weekend’s schedule deprived Rochester fans of getting a look at one of the league’s top scorers – Chris Agorsor. Last month he scored four goals in as many days with braces against the Aegean Hawks (USASA) in the Second Round of the U.S. Open Cup and Wilmington, but he only made a cameo appearance in the second half on Saturday night after playing the full match the night before in Harrisburg.
Richmond Kickers goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale announced that this would be his final season before the first kick of the 2012 season. Over the weekend he faced 24 shots and 12 corner kicks, but he made 19 saves and only conceded one goal while keeping a clean sheet in Sahlen’s Stadium. He’s the biggest reason that his team jumped from sixth to fourth in the table.
Richmond midfielder Stanley Nyazamba had one assist and two fouls in 156 minutes over the weekend. In Rochester on Saturday night he was a technical player who was able to slow down the game and control it when he was in possession of the ball, but he never seemed to get caught in possession. He kept everyone involved in the attack when he was in possession of the ball with simple passes, and he made quality runs off the ball when he was not in possession. When Rochester had the ball he was a hard working cog in the Kickers well organized defensive shape. Statistics in soccer, at least the ones that are distributed to the public, really do not even begin to summarize a player’s overall impact on the match.
The Rochester Rhinos are only 1-1-1 at home this season, but they are not alone in their struggles to make their home stadium a fortress. The top four teams in the USL PRO table (Orlando City, Charleston, Rochester, Richmond) are 8-5-4 at home this year while they are 15-2-5 away.
Rochester’s attacking play through their chains on the flanks was more mature than it was in their first two home matches, but they still need to develop the ability to get in behind their opponent’s back four. The ability to stretch out their opponent would give the midfield and forward Tom MacManus more time and space to orchestrate the attack.
Charleston moved into second place in the USL PRO table with a difficult away win at the bottom of the table Dutch Lions. The Battery’s attacking midfielder Jose Cuevas scored the only goal of the match, and he now has four goals and three assists in his first USL PRO season. The Battery still have a match in hand over top of the table Orlando City and could overcome their two point deficit when that match is resolved.
Wilmington redefined their season with a 3:1 victory over visiting Orlando City in Legion Stadium on Saturday night. Striker Corey Hertzog, a Penn State product who spent time with the New York Red Bull, had two goals and an assist off of a long throw in. He had a hand in all three goals that the Hammerheads scored in the match. They opened the season with a 4:1 loss to City in the Citrus Bowl, crashed out of the U.S. Open Cup 4:0 to Cal FC (USASA) at home and lost 3:1 away to Richmond to find themselves outside of the last playoff spot in the USL PRO table. Wilmington’s victory over City moved them back into the final playoff spot and set up a very important back-to-back road trip to Rochester and Harrisburg next weekend.
City is still top of the table and the defending USL PRO Cup champions, but the warning signs had been there for the past month. They started out their defense in dominant form with a 3-0-1 record, eight goals scored, only one goal conceded, and three clean sheets in April. While they posted a 4-0-1 record in May their goal differential was only plus two with ten goals scored and eight goals conceded. City only kept one clean sheet in May. Charleston is at Orlando City on Saturday night and the top spot in the USL PRO table is very much in play.
Orlando’s surprise opponent in last year’s final, the City Islanders, have been flying under the radar again this season. They are currently in fifth place in the table, but they have a match in hand over second place Charleston, and two matches in hand over City, third place Rochester, and fourth place Richmond. The City Islanders have a 1-0-3 record in the four matches they have played against teams currently in playoff spots in the USL PRO table, and they have kept four clean sheets in their eight USL PRO matches. Billy Becher’s club could move into fourth place in the table if they can take maximum points from their matches in hand.
The weekend’s results opened up some gaps in the USL PRO table. Orlando City, Charleston, and Rochester are separated by three points at the top of the table. Six points back Richmond, the City Islanders, Wilmington, and the LA Blues are separated by three points. Los Angeles is one point behind Wilmington for the last playoff spot. Rochester needs a win against Wilmington at home to avoid the start of a slide down the table that will leave them in a five team competition for four playoff spots.
Every team in the table still has over half their matches left to play, so anyone could climb into the playoff hunt. Charlotte and Pittsburgh both are looking for signature wins to jump start their campaigns. The Eagles next chance comes at Richmond on Saturday night.
While the table is currently turned against them, right now the Dutch Lions and Charlotte have legitimate bids to win national headlines by progressing to the U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinals while Antigua has the chance to write international headlines when their national team, of which several Antigua Barracudas FC players are members, face off against a heavily favored USMNT side in a CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier this week.