Rhinos clinch #4 seed and home playoff game with 2-1 win in finale
The Rochester Rhinos defeated New York Red Bulls II 2-1 in a match between the last two USL Champions to claim the #4 seed in the USL Conference. The Rhinos will face the Charlotte Independence in the USL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals next Saturday, October 21st at 6:05PM. Rochester defeated Charlotte 3-1 in the #4 vs. #5 match last year here at Capelli Sport Stadium.
The Rhinos needed to win Saturday night or depend on a Charlotte Independence draw/loss to the Charleston Battery in order to secure home-field advantage for the USL Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Luckily, they got both as Charlotte would lose in Charleston 1-0.
With nothing but a win in mind, the often defensive-minded Rhinos would begin the match pressing high, and generating much of the attack down the right wing. It didn’t take more than 5 minutes for the Rhinos to generate chances, as Jochen Graf played a nice one-two with Ray Lee, curling a blast from the left corner of the box that forced NYRB II goalkeeper Rafael Diaz to step to his right to make the save.
Rochester kept pressing and earned a free kick from 33 yards that Wal Fall would put on frame, but his effort was easily corralled by Diaz.
After a defensive error, Red Bulls II leading scorer Stefano Bonomo found himself open at the top of the box, but his shot wasn’t cleanly hit and went comfortably wide of the target.
Rochester would respond by pushing hard over the next 15 minutes and eventually would be rewarded for their efforts. In the 25th-minute, Christiano Francois would target Wal Fall on the back post as he was wrestled down to the turf, but no foul was given. Soon after, Kenardo Forbes’ corner led to a deflected shot that was nearly put away by a Joe Farrell flying scissor-kick.
In the 33rd minute, Francois did what he did best all match - charging down the right wing, beating his defender and curling in a cross. This delivery traveled just over the head of Jochen Graf.
It would only be two minutes later that Graf would get his goal. Francois’ whipped cross found him sprinting towards the near post to head home his team-leading 10th goal of the season. Francois would finish the regular season as the team-leader in assists with 6 in just 12 matches, as he missed nearly 4 months of the season due to eye surgery.
However, Rochester’s lead would last only two minutes, as NYRB II earned a dangerous free kick just 30 yards from goal. Florian Valot would head home Vincent Bezecourt’s curling chance from 6 yards to draw the match level at 1.
The Rhinos would nearly fall behind in the 55th minute, as Junior Flemmings found himself open at the corner of the 6 yard-box but steered his far-post shot off-target.
Less than a minute later, the Francois to Graf connection nearly paid off a second time from the right wing. Graf’s header missed just wide of the near post, finding the side-netting.
The match-winning goal came from the captain Kenardo Forbes in the 68th-minute. Forbes and Graf would put together a fantastic piece of interplay, with Graf dishing the ball off to Forbes just as the goalkeeper was sliding in, allowing the captain to tap the ball into the empty net to give the Rhinos a 2-1 advantage.
Graf nearly made it 3-1 just 4 minutes later. Jordan Dover hit a perfect far post cross, but his headed effort trickled slowly towards the far corner, hitting the post and rolling on the line before being gathered by the keeper - fooling most of the crowd at Capelli Sport Stadium.
The Rhinos looked like they sealed the match after the Red Bulls were called for a handball in the box directly off a corner in the 82nd minute. With regular penalty kick taker Wal Fall already substituted, Graf would step up and take the honors, but Red Bull keeper Rafael Diaz made the save to his right to keep the match wide open.
The Rhinos would continue to push for a third goal. Substitute Julian Buescher; acquired on loan from D.C. United earlier in the year, would take a fizzing free kick that required Diaz to punch clear.
NYRB II would have their chances to draw level very late in the match. Adam Najem would get a great open look inside the box, but his goal-bound effort was headed clear by Ryan Felix. After a few nervy minutes, the referee blew the final whistle, sending the crowd at Capelli Sport Stadium into a frenzy.