Match: Harrisburg City Islanders at Rochester Rhinos
Date: Saturday, July 8th
Time: 6:05 p.m. Eastern, 5:05 p.m. Central, 3:05 p.m. Pacific, 10:05 p.m. UTC
Venue: Capelli Sport Stadium (Rochester, NY)
How Rochester will look: Rochester just played a 0-0 draw against Saint Louis FC on Wednesday night. The clean sheet for goalkeeper Tomas Gomez was his sixth of the season, which moves him into first place in the Eastern Conference. The Rhinos always seem to have excellent goalkeepers (more on that later) and Gomez has been a brick wall this season against everyone but Charleston.
The most important factor for Saturday’s match is that Rochester will be at home. Capelli Sport Stadium (as it’s currently known) has been a fortress for the Rhinos. In the past three seasons, they’ve lost a grand total of three USL matches there. Rochester did lose their most recent home match (against Orlando City B), but seeing them drop two in a row at home would be basically unprecedented.
How Harrisburg will look: Don’t look now, but Harrisburg is on a two game winning streak. If they can manage to take points in Rochester, then they’ll be able to come back to FNB Field for a three game home stand with more momentum than they’ve had all season.
They used almost the same lineup for the last two matches, and don’t expect that to change too much. Rasheed Olabiyi will probably be out after he was subbed out of the Toronto FC II match following a blow to the head. Jaime Thomas will also be missing as he serves a suspension for yellow card accumulation. Maybe look for Cardel Benbow to get a start in his place. If there’s any other changes, they’ll be to the defense that allowed three goals to the offensively challenged TFC II. Expect to see Lee Nishanian back in the starting XI.
This will also be something of a homecoming for current City Islanders Brandon Miller and Jonny Mendoza. They both played for Rochester back in 2015.
What to expect: Saturday’s match will be the first of the newly introduced Capelli Sport Hero Cup. It’s a natural fit since Capelli provides the kits for both teams, as well as the naming rights to Rochester’s Stadium. It’ll be interesting to see if the new cup leads to a deeper rivalry between these longstanding USL sides.
Perhaps returning home will help the Rhinos break out of their current funk. Their defense has been solid but the offensive opportunities have been minimal. Players like Wal Fall and Jochen Graf have been taking plenty of shots, but not many are finding the back of the net. Perhaps that’s why they haven’t scored more than one goal in a match since the end of April.
If Rochester has a weakness at home, it’s that they’ve tended to start off slow there this season. Harrisburg’s best chance will be to attack early before Rochester gets settled in. In fact, if the City Islanders expect to get any points during Saturday’s match, they need to score first. Excluding their scoreless draws, they’ve lost all seven matches this season where they’ve allowed their opponents to score the first goal.
Harrisburg will most likely hitch their fortunes to the improved play of reigning USL Player of the Week Pedro Ribeiro. He’s finally settling into his role as Harrisburg’s main target up top and he has gotten two goals and an assist in the last two wins. If he can continue to play well he’ll draw more attention in the offensive third, which should open up more space and scoring opportunities for other City Islanders such as Paul Wilson and Jake Bond.
PREDICTION: Harrisburg is playing some of their best ball of the season, but you just can’t go into Rochester expecting a win. But I predict that Harrisburg plays tough and gets a point out of a 1-1 draw.