Last time out. The Rhinos (16-3-7) split a pair of games with the Toronto Lynx (10-4-13) over the weekend. They dropped the road portion of the home-and-home series on Friday, losing 2-1. The Score is a little mystified by the decision not to start Hamisi Amani-Dove and the red-hot Greg Simmonds in that match, especially since Rochester has gone 5-1-0 since sticking with that forward combo. (To add insult to injury, Stoian Mladenov was subbed out, defying The Score's edict that the Rhinos are merely a lousy .500 team without him going the distance.) And we won't even mention the replacing-a-forward-with-a-defender-when-you're-down-2-to-0 thing. Reparations were made the following night, when Rochester dominated the Lynx 2-0 at Frontier, with Amani-Dove and Simmonds starting and Mladenov playing a full 90 (now who could have seen that coming?). Those three players combined for two goals and two assists over the weekend.
On Monday, Rochester squared off against Kansas City in a friendly that had the potential to be rather unfriendly. The Wizards, as you might recall, are the side that knocked the Rhinos out of the US Open Cup last month (in addition to knocking a few other things). Kansas City brought only eight players (four starters) from their own roster, leaving their fancy-pants stars at home and replacing them with what amounted to an MLS developmental squad full of guys who had never even met each other, let alone played together as a team. As you might imagine, it was a pretty uneventful match, especially for one that saw five yellow and one red card handed out to teams only 48 hours removed from being hit with various suspensions from the US Soccer Federation for their Cup brawl. For the record, the Rhinos couldn't do a thing until Simmonds, Amani-Dove, and Mladenov were brought in off the bench. They accounted for two goals and an assist. Anybody notice a trend here?
Next up. This is it --- the last two matches of the regular season, and they're both at home. On Friday, Rochester takes on the Charlotte Eagles (9-4-14) and local boy Andy Guastaferro, while Sunday finds archrival Minnesota Thunder (13-5-8) rolling into town. Charlotte is fighting to steal the last playoff spot from Toronto, while Minnesota is deadlocked with Milwaukee for the top spot in the Central Division. Since it seems like the Rhinos' coaching staff always does the opposite of what The Score suggests, we're really hoping Amani-Dove and Simmonds don't start, and that Mladenov gets yanked at halftime.
The Bonus Point problem. This might finally be the year the Rhinos' lack of scoring costs them in the standings. Right now, Rochester's record is one game better than Montreal's, but they're even in the points column because the Impact has a bunch of bonus points (you get them by scoring three or more goals in a match --- something Rochester has managed just one time this season, compared to Seattle's 14).
The difference between finishing first and second in the division is pretty severe. The winners get a first-round playoff bye and the opportunity to host the all-important second leg of the second-round tie, while the runners-up may be seeded as low as #5 and on the road for the second leg of every playoff round to which they might advance.
Here's why hosting the second leg is such a big deal: If the aggregate score is even after the two 90-minute regulation periods, the two teams will immediately play a pair of "golden goal" overtimes and then, if still tied, go to penalty kicks. You don't want that to happen on the road (let alone Canada --- see below).
Blame Canada. The Rhinos have lost five road matches this year, and four of those losses have occurred in Canada. We know the Rhinos have all kinds of problems when they travel to Toronto or Montreal (combined, they're 1-2-10 over the last three seasons), but do other A-League sides have similar trouble winning in those cities? Not really. Charleston and those doormats from Cincinnati each captured road wins in both Montreal and Toronto this year, while Richmond managed to come home with a win and a draw.
We've lost the Boot. The Toronto Ultras trounced our Stampede 7-2 in the second leg of the second annual Lake Ontario Derby this past Saturday, meaning the boys from the Great White North won on a 9-3 aggregate and got to take the coveted Vallow Boot trophy across the border. The hotly contested derby pits the supporters groups for the Lynx and the Rhinos against each other.
Up, up, and away. Fans of the A-League thought it was pretty cool when 2001 Hershey 'keeper Jon Busch took over the #1 spot from Tom Presthus in Columbus, and that Portland's scoring machine McKinley Tennyson was informed he'd be "called up" to Los Angeles when the Timbers' season ended. Lars Hirschfeld makes them look like a couple of pikers. He went from the lowly Calgary Storm to Tottenham Hotspur in England's Premier League, and now that backup Neil Sullivan is out for two months, Hirschfeld is #2 to the one and only Kasey Keller.