Rhinos title defense ends in PKs at Red Bulls II
Rhinos in the defense of their USL championship on the road on Friday night, defeat of any kind was going to be hard to swallow.
Having the end of the road come via a 5-4 defeat in a penalty shootout, after the side had taken the lead in overtime against the No. 1-seed New York Red Bulls II, only for Brandon Allen’s 119th-minute equalizer to leave the game tied 3-3 after 120 minutes, could have been about as disappointing as it could get.
For Coach Bob Lilley, though, the effort his side put into its Eastern Conference Semifinal at Red Bull Arena was still a source of pride, even if the defeat stung.
“I told someone that I didn't think it would be zero-zero,” said Lilley after the game. “Unfortunately we fell a little bit short, but it doesn’t take away what they did tonight and the last 20 games.”
After the two teams had played to 0-0 draws in both of their meetings at Red Bull Arena during the regular season, another tense, taught battle was expected in the rematch of last season’s postseason contest at this stage. Instead, the game was an open and entertaining one, as the Rhinos looked to take the game to the hosts early on.
The approach allowed Rochester to win possession higher up the field, and look to spring forward quickly when it did. While New York took the lead against the run of play through Derrick Etienne Jr., the Rhinos hit back only two minutes later as a quick piece of thinking by Christian Volesky caught the Red Bulls II’s defense asleep on a free kick just outside the penalty area, and Steevan Dos Santos obliged with a sharp finish to make it 1-1 midway through the half.
The Rhinos had to respond again after New York regained the lead late in the first half, and did so impressively as Dos Santos notched his second of the game – and four postseason goal against New York in two games – with a well-placed header from Ryan James’ cross.
Then, in overtime, Wal Fall’s second goal of the postseason appeared to have struck a decisive blow, as he headed home Kenardo Forbes’ corner kick in the 110th minute. It wasn’t to be, however, as the Red Bulls II earned a last-gasp penalty kick that Brandon Allen converted to send the game to a shootout.
“It’s tough to give up the lead when you get yourself finally ahead,” said Lilley. “The Red Bulls kept battling and they caused a lot of problems. They deserved credit.”
Of all the cruelties, the shootout miss of Dos Santos was the hardest. With the teams tied 3-3 after three rounds, the Cape Verde forward shot over the crossbar to open the fourth. New York’s Dan Metzger and Konrad Plewa were clinical with their shots, and the Rhinos were out.
“Sometimes the game is cruel,” said Lilley “Tonight it was cruel to lose 5-4 on penalties.”