Saturday evening the Rhinos didn't score, but for the sixth time on their seven game road trip, they didn't give up a goal either. So, the Rhinos were more than happy to kiss their sisters and return home to open PaeTec Park with a 5-0-2 record, tops in the USL 1st Division.
The Rhinos opened the match with a couple of regular starters back home in Rochester. Nate Craft didn't make the trip due to a stomach bug that hasn't gone away in over a week and playmaking midfielder Juninho DaSilva was shelved by a groin injury picked up during the week. The Craft illness created a spot in the starting lineup for Jason Perry. Perry started in central defense with Kenney Bertz. Scott Palguta moved to the left back spot and Frankie SanFilippo started at his normal right back position. Captain Scott Vallow got his seventh straight start in goal. The midfield minus Juninho was the same as the starting group in Vancouver with Aaran Lines, Greg Howes, Johnny Menyongar, and John Ball starting for the Rhinos. Up top, the normal starting duo of reigning USL 1st Division Player of the Week Matthew Delicate playing along with Charles Gbeke.
The Rhinos started the match controlling much of the early play. Delicate had a very good look turned away by Mariners' keeper Matthew Nelson in the first 10 minutes. A few minutes later, John Ball got in behind the defense, but the play was blown dead on an offside call.
As the first half wore on, Virginia Beach upped the pressure on the Rhinos. Ex-Rhino Greg Simmonds forced Scott Vallow to make a great save tipping a shot just over the crossbar at around the half hour mark.
As the first half came to a close, the match was scoreless and the match had been pretty even for the most part. The one area where the Mariners had a big statistical advantage was in corner kicks as they led five to one in that category after the first half.
The second half didn't seem to have the same energy as the first half. The two goalkeepers combined to make a combined five saves in the first half, but were only called upon to make one save in the second half (Nelson was called upon to make the save).
The Rhinos made three second half roster moves with Danny Kramer and Ricky Lewis entering the match after 65 minutes for Matthew Delicate and Aaran Lines. Connolly Edozien came in ten minutes later to relieve Charles Gbeke up top.
- 6 shutouts, and only one goal allowed, in seven road matches to start the season is something that this team should take even more pride in than the fact that they are 5-0-2 and in first place after the road trip. With all the changes in the defensive part of this team and the relative inexperience of the group, the defensive strength of this team is the bigger surprise to me than the team's stellar record at this point.
- Getting a result in what was the third trap game on this road trip. The first trap game was the match in Toronto against a team that they expected to handle easily. The second trap game was the match in Portland before the match up with 2nd place Vancouver. And then there was this game, the last match before the home opener and the debut of PaeTec Park. Coach Calloway had his team focused and they did well to get a result against a pretty solid Virginia Beach squad.
- Ex-Rhinos Pato Aguilera and Craig Demmin were available, but didn't get in the match for the Mariners. A lot of Rhino fans would like to see both of these players next Saturday, but it looks like that may not happen.
- Not scoring a goal for the second straight match is not a good sign heading into the home opener where everyone will want the fireworks to be more than just the post-game pyrotechnics. Hopefully the extra juice for the PaeTec Park opener will be the spark the Rhinos offense needs to get back on track.
- 2438 fans on a Saturday night? With new ownership and a solid team, Virginia Beach is my front-runner, along with Miami FC, for the most underappreciated USL 1st Division team.
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.