My usual readers (if I have any) know that I like to do my match recaps by writing down the blow-by-blow of the whole match before looking at the bigger implications of what went down. Unfortunately, that style doesn't particularly fit for Tuesday night's match between Harrisburg and Rochester. Rochester scored off of a free kick in the 25th minute, and the remainder of the match was mostly dominated by Harrisburg’s various unsuccessful attempts to get that goal back. Ropapa Mensah nearly found an equalizer on a breakaway in the first half, but a defender was able to slow him down and the shot was saved at the last second. When the teams came back after halftime, it felt like Rochester had said, “we've got the lead, go ahead and score a goal on us.” And try as they might, the City Islanders couldn't.
Let's look at some numbers here:
FINAL STATS: 1-0 ROC— Rochester Rhinos (@RochesterRhinos) August 9, 2017
SHOTS: 12 (5) - 6 (2) Harrisburg
POSS: 63-37 Harrisburg
CORNERS: 5-1 Harrisburg
FOULS: 17-14 Harrisburg#HARvROC
So it looks like things were going pretty well for Harrisburg. But let's roll it back to how things broke down after the first half.
HALFTIME STATS: 1-0 ROC— Rochester Rhinos (@RochesterRhinos) August 8, 2017
SHOTS: 6(3) - 4 (1) Harrisburg
POSS: 55-45% Harrisburg
CORNERS: 3-1 Harrisburg
FOULS: 9-8 Harrisburg#HARvROC
Look how much those numbers changed. How did shots and possession swing so far in Harrisburg’s direction? Basically the entire second half broke down into the same couple sequences of play. Harrisburg would push the ball forward, spend a lot of time passing it around the Rochester half, then either lose the ball on a turnover or after a so-so opportunity for a shot. Rochester would spring a quick counter or try a long pass, turn the ball back over themselves, and then the process would start again.
With Harrisburg's offensive struggles, Rochester knew their one goal lead was actually pretty secure. The Rhinos spent most of the second half with eight or nine players pulled back on defense. Players like Darius Madison (or Jochen Grof after he was subbed on) would occasionally make a run, but they usually didn't get far.
For Harrisburg’s part, they did spend the second half throwing everything forward in an attempt to find an equalizer. Center backs Travis Brent and Tiago Calvano were pulled forward for long chunks of play and they often set the offense in motion from very close to midfield. Harrisburg even tried a new tactic when Lee Nishanian was subbed on for Calvano in the 87th minute and he subsequently played as a sort of second striker for the remainder of the match. Unfortunately we didn't get many chances to see this talented center back in action offensively. That would have been interesting.
Rochester does deserve a lot of credit for their play on Tuesday. They were coming in on short rest just like Harrisburg and their squad was missing some typical starters, including starting goalkeeper Tomas Gomez. But backup keeper Dan Lynd played a solid match in his place, making five saves and not letting the high percentage of Harrisburg possession get him rattled.
So where do the City Islanders go from here as they prepare for Saturday's clash with Pittsburgh? Their defense has nothing to hang its head about, although they did give up the opening goal in their previous two matches off of set pieces. So obviously they should be working on defending those during practice this week.
The most basic answer is the City Islanders need to wake up their sluggish offense, but I am at a loss to say exactly how that could be done. If you look at the roster, you realize just how depleted Harrisburg is right now. There's at least five serious play makers who are off the field due to injury. They’re missing Aaron Wheeler, Pedro Ribeiro, Cardel Benbow, Mo Dabo, and Manolo Sanchez. Other players have done their part to step up in their absence, but even having one or two of those players just be able to come off the bench and make an impact could help brighten up the City Islander’s chances.
Compounding the injury problems facing the team, the crowded schedule has done no favors for Harrisburg. Fortunately, things are about to lighten up a little after this Saturday as the City Islanders will then only have two matches over the next three weeks. Hopefully that will give them the time they need to rest, reevaluate, and push for one of the last few playoff spots. Because if they can't start generating goals and generating points, they're going to run out of time to make it happen.
- The win over Harrisburg means Rochester gets to lift the inaugural Capelli Sport Hero Cup. They had it pretty well locked up after they scored the first goal. Harrisburg hadn't scored any away goals in Rochester, so they would have needed to score at least three goals during this match to overcome the tiebreakers.
- This was the second match where the Rhinos and the City Islanders wore specially designed Capelli Sport camouflage jerseys. The jerseys are being auctioned off after the match to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. The special jerseys offered a cool look for both sides, although they presented some difficulties for the color blind fans in attendance.