Last night, the Rhinos entered the 2006 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup tournament in the 3rd round versus the New Hampshire Phantoms of the USL 2nd Division. Unfortunately, only the most hearty of Rhino fans came out to cheer on the boys as they took out the Phantoms 5-1 in front of an announced crowd of 5412. Although, the actual number of fans in the stadium was far less than that due to the rain that fell throughout the day and occasionally during the game.
Prior to the game, I spoke with Rhinos Executive Vice President Matthew Ford and one thing I brought up was how annoyed I got when MLS teams didn't take the Open Cup seriously. Well, that wasn't an issue with the Rhinos last evening. While Coach Laurie Calloway and Goalkeeping Coach Billy Andracki were suspended, the plan was obviously set in place beforehand to go all out versus New Hampshire and worry about the Miami FC game on Friday afterward.
The Rhinos starting lineup only had a few changes from last weekend's match up with Charleston. Charles Gbeke replaced Connally Edozien up top next to Matthew Delicate, Johnny Menyongar replaced Mike Ambersley in the midfield with Jonny Steele, John Ball, and Greg Howes, and Ricky Lewis replaced Nate Craft on defense with Kenney Bertz, Scott Palguta, and Frankie Sanfilippo. And once again, captain Scott Vallow started in goal for the Rhinos.
From the start of the match, the Rhinos exerted control over the visitors. The Rhinos controlled play and was generating the best chances right from the start. The Rhinos had a handful of quality chances early and finally broke through in the 12th minute. Johnny Menyongar played a ball in from the right side towards the top of the New Hampshire penalty area. The cross deflected off of a Phantom defender and went right to John Ball who deftly finished the play into the upper left corner of the goal from about twenty yards out.
The Rhinos had the first major breakdown of the evening in the 18th minute. The Rhinos had a throw in deep in their own half of the field and New Hampshire pushed a lot of players up and pressured the throw in. The ball eventually came to Almir Barbosa in the box. Barbosa then out muscled Kenney Bertz and blew a high shot past Scott Vallow to level the score at one.
In the 32nd minute the Rhinos took the lead for good. John Ball was the distributor this time as he played a ball in from the left side to Matthew Delicate who easily finished the play. Eight minutes later, Delicate set up Charles Gbeke in the penalty area for the Rhinos' third goal to make the score 3-1 Rochester at the half.
Coming out of half time, I was expecting the Rhinos to make some changes to try and keep some fresh legs for Friday's match versus Miami FC. But, there were no changes at halftime and the Rhinos kept up the pressure on New Hampshire. The Phantoms had a little bit more possession in the Rhinos' half of the field. But, early in the half, they weren't able to produce any serious scoring chances.
In the 73rd minute, Barbosa got one good look on goal. With the Rhinos pushing up, the Phantoms gained possession and sent a long ball to Barbosa. Barbosa was able to outrun Scott Palguta and get a screamer of a shot off that Vallow had to make a leaping save to push it over the crossbar.
The Rhinos made their first substitution of the game in the 76th minute when Matthew Delicate gave way to Connally Edozien. John Ball gave way to Aaran Lines, back from a glute strain, in the 84th minute.
Then, in the 86th minute the Rhinos the Rhinos were finally able to crack the New Hampshire defense. Connally Edozien was able to break through one on one with Phantoms goalkeeper Matt Parsons and chip the ball over Parsons and into the New Hampshire net before he was taken down by a defender. In the 89th minute, Rickey Lewis sent a cross into the box from the left side of the field and Aaran Lines finished the play with a sweet one time volley.
With the Rhinos winning 5-1, they will advance to the 4th round of the US Open Cup and host the New England Revolution on Wednesday, August 2nd. It will be interesting to see how seriously Steve Nicol takes the Rhinos this time around.
- John Ball was my Man of the Match. Not only did John get a goal and an assist, but he was also a force on the ball most of the night. It's good to see both John and Jonny Steele improve the outside midfield play and service into the forwards. Hopefully it continues tomorrow night versus Miami FC.
- The fans that did come out last night were great. My son and I spent the evening in Section 132 with the Stampede and had a great time. It's just too bad that the weather kept so many people away from a great soccer game.
- The players making the victory lap after the game. It was a nice touch for them to acknowledge the fans that came out under less than perfect conditions.
- All the fans that didn't show up last night. While the weather was less than perfect, this was a huge game with a match up versus the New England Revolution on the line. It's really too bad that so many season ticket holders opted to not use their tickets as opposed to coming out and supporting their team.
- It was surprising to see how lopsided the level of play was between the Rhinos and the Phantoms. Given how many lower division clubs have given teams fits so far this season in the Open Cup (FC Roma of Dallas has knocked out Miami FC and Chivas USA), I would have thought that the Rhinos wouldn't have been able to control the match the way that they did last evening.
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.