If anyone was concerned that a 7 game road trip to open the 2006 USL 1st Division season would put the Rhinos into an early season hole, they shouldn't be concerned any longer. Less than 48 hours after the Rhinos handed expansion side Miami FC their first ever loss, the Rhinos were able to go into Puerto Rico and get a 1-0 win over the Islanders.
The starting lineup for the Rhinos had only one change over the season opener. Defender Frankie SanFilippo picked up a knee contusion versus Miami and was replaced with Ricky Lewis at right back. The other 10 starters remained the same with Vallow in net, Nate Craft, Scott Palguta, and Kenney Bertz joining Lewis in back, Bonseu, Ball, Menyongar, and Juninho made up the midfield and Delicate and Gbeke were the strike tandem up top.
The Rhinos came out strong versus the Islanders and forced Puerto Rico goalkeeper Danny Kennedy and his goalposts to come up big on a handful of good chances in the first half. Given the heat and the fact that the home side that was well rested, it was nice to see that the Rhinos could come out really strong and looking to take 6 points home from the opening weekend on the road.
The one downside to the first half was that the Islanders and their fans were all over Juninho. Obviously neither the team nor their fans were happy with the way that Juninho left the Islanders and landed with the Rhinos last season. Thankfully, Juninho was able to escape the half in one piece.
Matthew Delicate was a little beat up after the opener and he gave way to Connolly Edozien eleven minutes into the second half. And some fireworks came soon after the sub was made.
In the 58th minute, Islanders forward Alen Marcina was booked when he fouled Juninho and apparently threw a punch at the Rhinos midfielder. Apparently home town officiating isn't limited to areas north of the US border.
Ten minutes later, the Rhino's fortunes would change. John Ball, Connolly Edozien, and an Islanders defender were all going after a ball rolling through the penalty area. Apparently the Islanders defender got the touch on the ball and it rolled past a stunned Dan Kennedy to give the Rhinos a 1-0 lead. It's ironic that after the Rhinos failed to finish so many good chances, that the Rhinos finally scored off an ugly play such as that.
After the goal, Puerto Rico applied a little bit more pressure. But, the Rhinos defense did a solid job of killing the game and closing out the 1-0 win. Danny Kramer came on for Juninho and Jason Perry came on for T-Bone Bonseu with about a minute left in the match in time killing moves.
- The Rhinos defense was solid for a second straight game. The loss of Frankie SanFilippo could have been an issue, but Ricky Lewis stepped up strong and it was a seamless transition. With all the defensive turnover from last season, this team has to have a ton of confidence after the opening weekend with getting two wins, two clean sheets, and not having to rely on Scott Vallow too much to boot.
- Playing a rested home team that had already played 3 league matches, it was nice to see the Rhinos look like they were already in midseason form. There were a lot of roster changes in the offseason and it is nice to see that the team is coming together quicker than I really expected.
- For the first 45 minutes, the Rhinos luck was all bad. Dan Kennedy was strong in net for the Islanders. But, a goalkeeper's best friend, the goalposts, came up huge as well. Thankfully, this wasn't one of those matches were the bad luck takes a toll on the team that is just missing out on the chances and they are the ones that give up the heartbreaker.
- I expected the rough treatment that Juninho got from the Islanders. But, that doesn't make it any better. It will be interesting to see if they try and go with the same sort of tactics when they visit PaeTec Park on August 26th.
- Hopefully the punch that was thrown at Juninho was caught on video and the league does something about it. But, I'm not keeping my hopes up on that front.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Rochester Rhinos or SoccerSam.com. Feel free to send any comments or complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org. James promises to read (but not to respond) to all of them.