On Wednesday night, 3,561 people witnessed a hard-fought match between two hungry teams with very different track records in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The New York Red Bulls, who are seeking their first US Open Cup title, fielded a very strong lineup while the Rochester Rhinos, the 1999 champions, looked to maintain a 25-game unbeaten streak at home in all competitions. Despite the best efforts from Rhinos’ players, New York defeated its hosts 1-0 thanks to a 20th minute penalty kick from Sacha Kljestan in front of a large contingent of traveling support.
In the days leading up to the game, Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch told the media he was planning to send out a talented squad but his selection still turned a few heads. Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips, and Gonzalo Veron led New York’s attack while Dax McCarty, Sal Zizzo, Aurelien Collin, and Luis Robles also started.
Playing a new 5-2-3 formation, Rochester seemed to surprise the visitors in the opening minutes. Steevan dos Santos, Michel Guilavogui, and Christian Volesky took the game to New York but failed to put any substantive on Robles.
Veron, who has struggled for fitness since a dominating preseason, was the clear danger man for New York. His teammates looked to feed him the ball and the Argentine caused trouble whenever he cut in from the left wing. This play led to the game’s only goal.
Veron received a pass from midfield and attempted to make a diagonal run into the Rochester penalty area. Sean Totsch, playing in the center of the defense, tried to shield Veron off the ball. The forward cast the second-year Rhino aside and carried on. Vasilis Apostolopoulos then stepped in front of Veron and fouled him in the box for a penalty.
Rochester players, and fans, were not arguing whether Apostolopoulos fouled Veron, but rather that the attacker has fouled Totsch earlier in the play. Regardless, Kljestan stepped up and coolly dispatched his penalty in the 20th minute to give the Red Bulls the first half lead. It was his second career US Open Cup goal, after picking up his first in last year’s tournament.
After the goal, Rochester appeared disheartened and receded in the game. New York put together sustained periods of pressure and earned half a dozen corner kicks before halftime. The Rhinos attack had created openings but failed to convert them into real chances on goal.
Youngster Alex Muyl, who scored one of his team’s seven goals in the team’s blowout win in league play against New York City FC, replaced Shaun Wright-Phillips in the 23rd minute after the veteran winger picked up a knock. In the second half, electric dribbler Mike Grella entered the game for Bradley Wright-Phillips in the 67th minute but certainly didn’t have the impact his recent performances may have suggested. Red Bulls’ final change brought central defender Ronald Zubar on for forward Veron with ten minutes left to shore up the defense and protect the team’s narrow narrow lead.
As Rochester pushed players forward, including rookie center back Joe Farrell, who scored a scorcher on the road in Toronto in USL on the weekend, they were exposed in the back. Grella broke through clean on goal but goalkeeper Tomas Gomez, who made six saves on the night, didn’t back down. With Grella bearing down on goal, Gomez came off his line and didn’t make it easy for Grella. The former San Jose reserve goalkeeper stayed on his feet and did well to block Grella’s breakaway shot.
The home team’s best chance to equalize the game started with a Kenardo Forbes free kick. Forbes floated service into the mixer from the right channel. Robles came off his line to punch but couldn’t wade through the mass of bodies to make clean contact. The ball fell to Totsch, who hit a neat instep volley on frame. While the ball may have been destined for the top corner at the near post, choosing accuracy over power allowed New York’s Zubar to head the ball clear off the line while Robles was still out of position in the 84th minute.
The visiting Red Bulls held on for the 1-0 victory over Rochester and will advance in the Open Cup. The win was the Red Bulls’ first over the Rhinos after losing their only other meeting back in 2005 in Rochester, 3-1. To give fans how long its been since their last meeting, Sergio Galvan Rey scored for New York that day
After the game New York head coach Jesse Marsch told media about the motivation to perform well in this competition.
“From the inside the players really want to take this tournament seriously and go after it and win a trophy. And certainly as an organization, we do,” said Marsch who won four US Open Cup titles as a player. We’re an organization that still doesn’t have enough trophies in the trophy case, so we look at every tournament as a real chance to put one in there. We wanted to put a good team on the field.”
“I’ll give credit to Rochester because they made us earn it,” said Marsch, who was on the DC United team that beat the Rhinos in the Final in 1996. “They didn’t give much away. We didn’t have too many chances. They competed hard. They battled. And we’re lucky to get out of here with the win.
“These games are never easy. Obviously if we can score a second goal, then we make our lives a bit easier, he added. “This game means a lot to them as well as it means a lot to us. Certainly, every inch that we gained we had to fight for. I give them credit but in the end, it was good for us to get the lead early on because it meant that the game settled in a little bit more. We didn’t have to be panicky or desperate. Overall it was a pretty professional performance from a lot of our guys.”
Rochester head coach Bob Lilley also talked about the strength of New York’s lineup after the game.
“I thought we’d get some regular starters, but I didn’t necessarily think we’d get as many as we did. But I told our guys to be ready. In the locker room, I said, ‘Hey, they’re paying you respect now but now you need to show them you can play. Go out ready to compete.’ I think our guys did. I loved the way we started the game. I just don’t think we took enough advantage of those early stages to really get after them. And once they kind of settled into the game, they dictated the pace of play. It was hard to get enough of the ball to really put them under pressure.”
In the end, Lilley was proud of his team’s performance and he feels they can carry the experience into league play.
“We limited their chances more than most MLS sides and certainly we pushed them a little bit more than they’ve been pushed recently,” Lilley said. “We certainly got benefits out of it and I think the guys need to see how they measure up and where they maybe fell short a little bit. But I think they’ll learn from this game. And I also think they’ll take positives for sure, because I think the guys recognize they didn’t mess around with their lineup, they put out a very strong lineup. I think that says something.”
“I’m pretty happy overall with how they performed on the night,” Lilley concluded with a smile.
The loss for the Rhinos ends a six-game Open Cup winning streak at home and a 25-game undefeated run in all competitions in Rochester dating back to August 2014. By winning and moving on in the tournament, the Red Bulls earned a trip to play rivals Philadelphia Union in the Fifth Round on June 29.
FULL MATCH REPLAY
NY – Sacha Kljestan (PK) 20’
ROC – Vasilios Apostolopoulos (caution, foul) 19’
NY – Gideon Baah (caution, foul) 82’
NY – Sean Davis (caution, foul) 90+1’
Rochester: Tomas Gomez; Sean Totsch, Joseph Farrell, Vasilios Apostolopoulos, Marcos Ugarte, Brandon Beresford, Michel Guilavogui (Sofian Tergou 66’), Mike Garzi, Kenardo Forbes, Christian Volesky (Asani Samuels 66’), Steevan dos Santos