May 3, 2006
So this is uncomfortable. How can someone write a preview for a match against a team that has played just one match, who may or may not feature the service of the most decorated and recognizable star in the history of the league, and whose roster is comprised largely of players completely unfamiliar to fans of MLS/USL-D1? The answer: You don't. You make a silly prediction, based on a hunch wrapped in a gut feeling shrouded by a sixth sense. Rochester loses if Romário plays, and draws if he doesn't. And the rumor mill says he's playing.
Let's talk Puerto Rico, which doesn't exactly have much of a storied history against the Rhinos. But there is some history to talk about, and most of it isn't good. Who'da thunk Rochester would have fared better against the Islanders with Theo Zagar between the pipes and Pat "the Lump" Ercoli at the reigns, compared to the current Vallow-Calloway version? Probably nobody, which is why I'm bringing it up.
During Ercoli's reign, Rochester outscored Puerto Rico 6-1. Under Calloway's leadership, the Rhinos have scored exactly the same number of goals as their Caribbean rivals (six apiece). Zagar pitched a shutout both times he faced Puerto Rico as a Rhinos goalkeeper. Vallow saw six goals fly past his head in his four starts against the Islanders (one was a penalty kick).
It gets worse when Rochester is on the road. When facing Puerto Rico at Frontier Field, the Rhinos tallied eight goals in just three matches -- a far cry from the four (in four matches) they earned when playing the Islanders at the Loob. Rochester hasn't played well on the road, regardless of their opponent. In their last five road matches, the Rhinos have managed a woeful three goals, and one of them was scored by the other team (see: 9/23 playoff in Richmond).
Rochester and Puerto Rico have each scored 17 goals in their last ten games, but the latter's defense has been a bit stingier. Aided by a late-season surge, Puerto Rico came within one silly extra-time goal from closing the 2005 season with three straight shutouts. They've allowed 11 strikes in their last ten matches, to Rochester's 14.
In May starts, Scott Vallow has a record of 3-0-6 and a GAA of 1.45. His counterpart, Dan Kennedy (last season's Rookie of the Year), was 2-1-1 against the Rhinos in 2005. Vallow is 4-3-3 with a 1.70 GAA in his last ten road starts, compared to Kennedy's 7-1-2 and 1.10 GAA at home.
New faces: On Puerto Rico's backline, you'll likely see Thomas John Queeley (from North Carolina State) starting alongside holdovers Marco Vélez, Alexis Rivera and Luis Zuleta. In the midfield, Villanova grad Jonathan Lopuski and Kormac Valdebenito (Universidad Católica) joins Alejandro González and former Rhino Noah Delgado. Up top, Ottawa's Alen Marcina pairs with All-League Second Teamer Petter Villegas.
Ideally, last week's red card recipients -- Mauricio Segovia and Caleb Norkus -- won't find their way to the pitch, though you never know in the wacky world of USL-D1. Notable departures for the Islanders include Sebastian Rozental (Columbus), Mauricio Salles (Montreal), Chris Gores (Charleston), Drew McAthy (Portland), and Corey Woolfolk (Vancouver).
Speaking of Woolfolk, here's the new edition of Stupid Stats of the Week (cue wacky music): There have been 19 goals scored in the seven meetings between Rochester and Puerto Rico, and Woolfolk had a hand in four of them (two goals as a Rhino; a goal and an assist as a foe). Of Woolfolk's three tallies, each was a game-winner. In fact, there has only been one non-draw between the two clubs where Woolfolk has played more than five minutes and hasn't scored the winning goal.
Woolfolk isn't the only player who has shuttled between the two clubs and found themselves on the scoreboard against their former/future team. Of the Islanders' six goals during the run of play, only one didn't involve a player who has, at some point, has worn the green and gold: Juninho has two assists against Rochester, as does Noah Delgado.
Bonus Stupid Stats of the Week: Rochester has played 13 matches over last two Mays, and six of them have been against Puerto Rico. The Rhinos are 1-1-6 when playing Sundays on the road over the last two seasons.
Crazy from the Heat: In their May 29, 2004 match against the Rochester at the Loob, Islanders midfielder Javier Novarini received his third red card of the young season (it was only his seventh appearance). It was his last effort for Puerto Rico, but it speaks volumes of the club's general thuggery. They had seven ejections in 2004, nine in 2005, and two already in 2006. As a comparison, Rochester had a total of six over the same two-year period. That's the way they roll down there in the 787, so be careful.
Prediction: A 2-2 draw, and at least one red card (put your money on Juninho). Not having Bolaños is going to hurt, especially against these two clubs and their South American-style of fútbol.