Part of what makes SB Nation and the USL community so cool is that I have a huge network of people that talk about the teams Bethlehem plays. It helps me figure out other teams, which in turn helps me figure out how to tell you, lovely reader, about how these games should play out. This year I’m going to be a bit more liberal with giving my friends a chance to talk on this forum. The easiest way to do that is with “3 Questions” type threads. Below I talk to my podcast co-host and resident upstate New Yorker Brendan Doherty of The Bent Musket before Rochester play Bethlehem on Saturday. Enjoy and be on the lookout for these every week.
1.) Evan: We played Notre Dame (the University of, that is) pretty much specifically to get prepared for the Rhinos play style. For those who are unaware, how does Rochester like to play?
Brendan: When USL Hall of Fame member and Rochester Rhinos head coach Bob Lilley is drawing up this match in his head, I’m pretty sure the ideal result is a 1-0 win. Rochester had a 4-3-8 (W-L-T) record on the road in 2016, and only conceded more than one goal on three occasions away from home in USL play. That’s a roundabout way of saying Rochester will clog up the midfield, defend resolutely, and pick out chances on the break.
Only two teams in the 2016 USL season conceded fewer total goals than Rochester: New York Red Bulls II and Rio Grande Valley Toros. For those who don’t know, the Rhinos conceded a ridiculous 15 goals in 28 regular season matches en route to the USL treble in 2015. The next best defensive teams in USL that year conceded 28 (Charleston), 31 (Sacramento), and 31 goals (LA Galaxy II) respectively.
tl;dr – There will not be many goals in Rochester Rhinos games.
2.) Evan: Rochester lost Christian Volesky and Steevan Dos Santos in the offseason, who was brought in to replace those guys and what was the reasoning behind those two leaving somewhat unceremoniously?
Brendan: The two leading goalscorers for the Rhinos over the past two seasons were Christian Volesky and Steevan Humberto Fortes “Duba” dos Santos. Across the regular season and playoffs in 2015 and 2016, Volesky scored 20 goals and dos Santos tallied 21 times. Standard operating procedure for Rochester is to sign players to two-year contracts (usually a one-year deal with a team option for the second) and then hope they sign in a different league or at least a different conference; that’s not happened with this strike partnership, however. The only current Rochester players who are returning after that second year are Mike Garzi and Kenardo Forbes in midfield.
In terms of replacing that consistent goal production, Lilley has a number of options at his disposal. I’ve written that if rookie winger Jalen Brown can round out his game, he’ll be an all-star at the USL level. Darius Madison is a forward with a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove who can be effective both chasing long balls and as a poacher in the area. Recent signing Jochen Graf played as a withdrawn forward in preseason and, along with former Wilmington Hammerheads FC midfielder Stefan Defregger, could act as a link between the deeper midfield players and the lone striker depending on the defensive solidity of the midfield.
At the moment however, the best I can say is the Rhinos will replace the goal threat of Volesky and dos Santos with a committee of attackers until the team’s best XI emerges.
3.) Evan: Rochester is the USL affiliate of the New England Revolution, hence why we're having this discussion where we are. That being said, how is that relationship and is having more ex-Union guys than you've ever had Revs players a horrible thing? It has to feel a bit awkward.
Brendan: The affiliation agreement between the New England Revolution and the Rochester Rhinos in which several players come over to Western New York from Foxborough has not lived up to its billing. For whatever reasons, the Revolution did not bother to send a single player to Rochester in 2016 to play for the Rhinos. Three players met the team on the road for a single game before returning to New England and a goalkeeper played for Richmond on loan from the Revs against the Rhinos last year.
The confluence of former players from the greater-Philadelphia-Union-affiliate-program-umbrella, as I wrote earlier this week, is definitely relevant to Saturday’s match. Philly local Joe Farrell, who scored a brace against Bethlehem last year, and the aforementioned Madison, who was probably as close as any player to earning a contract offer from the Union, will be fired up and should be in the lineup.
The Rhinos are not expecting any players from the Revolution for Saturday’s match in Pennsylvania.
4.) Evan: Any quick hits about how the Rhinos play and who to look out for?
The team will probably send out a counter attacking 4-5-1 formation.
(right to left): Tomas Gomez; Jordan Dover, Joe Farrell, Ryan Felix, Bradley Kamdem; Ryan James, Wal Fall, Kenardo Forbes, Mike Garzi, Jalen Brown; Darius Madison
Ryan James settled in at right wing back last year but Lilley has said he likes the Canadian’s foot speed and his improved tactical awareness in the attack. Christiano Francois, a one-time member of Philadelphia’s youth system, is probably the quickest player on the team. He’s not yet been listed on the team’s roster page on the USL website, so there may be a bureaucratic hang-up (or someone in Tampa is behind on their data entry).
Lilley will look to spring quickly on the break and third-year playmaker Kenardo Forbes can pick out the perfectly weighted passes into the paths of willing runners.
Towering German defensive-minded Rhino Wal Fall started his Rochester career as a center back but his range and tackling ability made him the first-choice central midfielder in 2016. Whether he plays in midfield or if Lilley switches to a 5-player back line, Fall will be instrumental in breaking up Bethlehem attacking sequences.
Thanks to Brendan for answering my questions, follow him on Twitter here and go check out my thoughts on his questions on The Bent Musket here.