The Rochester Rhinos defeated the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1:0 in Highmark Stadium on Saturday, May 17th. Alex Dixon scored the game winning goal unassisted in the 40th minute for the Rhinos, and Rochester used a collective defensive effort to earn their fourth shutout of the season. The Rhinos are now unbeaten in their last seven USL PRO matches, and are currently on a 3 – 0 – 4 run of form. The result moves the Rhinos into fourth place in the USL PRO table on 13 points with three Saturday night matches still to be reported.
On Saturday night the Rhinos used the same strategy that allowed them to enter the match unbeaten in their last four matches away from Sahlen's Stadium. Rhinos head coach Bob Lilley fielded a team that produced a well organized defensive shape that allowed the visiting side to settle into the first fifteen minutes of the match. The Rochester Rhinos started the match with rookie John McCarthy in goal, and the quartet of left back Onua Thomas Obasi, right back Pat McMahon, and center backs Kyle Hoffer and Tony Walls in front of him. Lilley's starting defensive unit had yielded only one goal in their first 270 minutes playing together this season.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds entered the match on the bottom of the USL PRO table with three points from their first six matches. The Hounds 0 – 3 – 3 record was deceiving as Pittsburgh only entered the match with a minus four goal differential in their three losses. The home side used a patient possession oriented style of play to open the match.
The weather conditions had the greatest influence on the first half of play in Pittsburgh. The temperature at Highmark Stadium was 46 degrees at kickoff with a 20 mile per hour wind at the Riverhounds back. The difficult playing conditions produced an opening 15 minutes that lacked a chance on goal.
The focal point of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds attack during the first half of the match was striker Jose Angulo. Angulo was USL PRO co-leading scorer with 15 goals last season when he won the 2013 USL PRO Most Valuable Player Award. Angulo had two goals in his first four matches of the 2014 season entering Saturday night, and he was an attacking catalyst for the home side. He was able to find pockets of space in front of the Rochester back four, and put the Rhinos under pressure with some clever touches. Angulo was able to create some shots from distance and win a couple of corner kicks for Pittsburgh, but Rochester was able to keep him off the score sheet through a disciplined team effort.
The rain began to fall after the 15 minute mark to further exacerbating the difficult playing conditions. The wet, slick artificial playing surface at Highmark Stadium opened up play for both teams due to mistakes in possession that resulted in turnovers and end-to-end action action.
Pittsburgh had the first chance of the match in the 19th minute. A Rochester Rhinos turnover in their own defensive half created a counterattack for the Riverhounds. Defensive midfielder Anthony Obodai was fouled about 30 yards out from the Rhinos goal. However, the head referee played the advantage and Pittsburgh attacking midfielder Rob Vincent cracked an uncontested shot on goal from the top left corner of the Rhinos penalty area. Rochester goalkeeper McCarthy was able to dive to his right to parry the ball away for a corner kick. Riverhounds 2013 All-USL PRO selection Matthew Dallman took the ensuing corner kick, and McCarthy punched the service away to safety from inside his six yard box.
The visiting side would create the next two chances of the match. In the 26th minute Rochester keeper McCarthy punted the ball to Rolfe in the target position of Lilley's 1-4-3-3 tactical package. Rolfe played a knock down header to the feet of Rhinos attacking midfielder Jonny Mendoza. Mendoza struck an opportunistic volley from distance, but it was right at the Riverhounds goalkeeper Michael Lisch.
Four minutes later McCarthy hit another punt – this time a side winder that he under the prevailing wind in his face – and the service found the feet of Rolfe after two bounces. Rolfe laid the ball back to Banks on the right flank, and Banks switched the ball out to Alex Dixon on the left flank through Mendoza. Dixon drove towards the Riverhounds penalty area before he blistered the ball towards goal, but Lisch was able to dive to his left and hold the ball.
The Rochester Rhinos scored the only goal of the match in the 40th minute. After the Pittsburgh Riverhounds cleared a Rhinos corner kick, Rochester played the ball right back into the home side's penalty area. Pittsburgh's goalkeeper Michael Lisch came off of his goal line to try to deal with the long ball into the top of the six yard box. Lisch had to navigate around Rhinos striker Colin Rolfe before he could challenge Rochester center back Tony Walls for the ball. Walls stood his ground as Lisch tried to punch the ball away. Head referee judged no foul had been committed as Lisch fell to the turf and he allowed play to continue. Rolfe had an opportunity to volley the ball into the empty net, but attacking midfielder Alex Dixon was there to clean up the loose ball and finish it into the upper left corner of the Riverhounds goal.
Rochester entered half time with a one to nil lead. It was the seventh time this season that the Rhinos had scored the opening goal of the match, and the fifth time that they took a lead into half time.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds head coach Justin Evans made only one change at half time. Joseph Ngwenya left the match and striker Collins John replaced him. John began his career in Holland with FC Twente where he scored 11 goals in 35 appearances. After his successful professional debut with Twente, John moved to England where he scored 20 goals in 92 appearances with Fulham. The MLS veteran (Chicago Fire) is playing his first season in USL PRO with Pittsburgh. He already had two goals and one assist in only 115 minutes entering the match.
John had his first chance of the match in the 53rd minute. The Riverhounds served a ball into the Rochester penalty area. John was able to initiate contact and create separation from Rhinos center back Kyle Hoffer. John used superior technique to turn with his first touch and strike a blistering volley. However, Rhinos veteran right back Pat McMahon was able to work across from his cover postilion to block John's shot with his chest.
As the match wore on Rochester's defensive shape continued to stifle Pittsburgh's ability to create quality chances. Angulo was able to hit a shot from distance in the 68th minute that failed to find the target. One minute later Dallman struck a free kick into the Rhinos wall from 23 yards out after Mendoza was booked for bringing down Angulo. To further limit the Riverhounds chances Lilley replaced attacking midfielder Alex Dixon with center back Babacar Diallo, effectively shifting to a 1-5-4-1 formation in the 71st minute.
The Riverhounds got their last quality look on goal in the 76th minute. Substitute Seth C'deBaca played a diagonal ball from the right flank to the left flank that stretched the Rhinos defensive shape. Pittsburgh left midfielder Vincent played the ball out of the air into the path of left back Earls who was making an underlapping run. Earls whipped his left footed service into the box, and the Rhinos had to head the ball out of the six yard box. The clearance only went as far as Vincent who drove into the box with two touches before he took a shot that was blocked by a swarming Rochester defense.
Rochester dealt with a C'deBaca corner kick in the 90th minute and a Collins John free kick in stoppage time to close out the match and take all three points. The win was a significant step forward for the Rhinos who had held late leads in Dayton and Richmond, but gave up stoppage time goals to turn wins into draws in each match.
The result left the Rochester Rhinos unbeaten in their last seven matches. During their run of form the Rhinos have posted a 3 – 0 – 4 record with three goals against and four clean sheets. Rochester has also taken nine out of fifteen possible points during the run with a 2 – 0 – 3 record away from Sahlen's Stadium. Rookie goalkeeper John McCarthy, left back Onua Thomas Obasi, right back Pat McMahon, and center backs Tony Walls and Kyle Hoffer have now conceded only one goal and has four shut outs in 450 minutes played.
Rochester's next match will be on Friday, May 23rd 2014 at 7:35PM in Sahlen's Stadium against Sacramento Republic FC.