Jeff DiVeronica • Staff writer • Democrat and Chronicle

September 27, 2009

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The Rhinos couldn’t protect a 2-0 lead in last year’s decisive second game of their semifinal playoff series in Puerto Rico, losing the series 3-2 in overtime.

So what makes them think they have a chance protecting a 2-1 lead tonight at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in Game 2 of the USL First Division quarterfinal?

For starters, experience.

Coach Darren Tilley’s players say they learned from last season, when Puerto Rico scored twice in the first 35 minutes to draw even in the aggregate-goal series.

Plus, there’s the soccer adage about how it’s tougher to play with a two-goal lead compared to one. Mathematically, it makes no sense but mentally it might.

«It forces us to go down there and play,» said Scott Vallow, Rochester’s veteran goalkeeper. «Maybe with a 2-0 advantage you go down there too complacent. Plus, if it was 2-0 we’d hear all the déjà vu (talk about last year).»

The sixth-seeded Rhinos (12-9-10) will still hear that and read that because No. 3 Puerto Rico (15-8-8), with its usually water-logged and choppy field, is one of the toughest places to play in the USL. The field is also 20 yards shorter and about 10 yards narrower than the pitch at Marina Auto Stadium.

«Not a lot of teams get a lot of joy down there,» Tilley said.

The Islanders are 11-1-3 at home this season, including a 0-0 tie with the Rhinos on April 24 and a 2-0 win on Sept. 6. Despite the loss three weeks ago, Rochester came away encouraged because it had three good chances in a scoreless first half, including a penalty kick Errol McFarlane failed to convert. Puerto Rico’s first goal also came on a long shot that goalie Tim Melia let slip through his hands.

«We can’t relax,» Rhinos player/assistant coach Brent Sancho said. But Rochester has a few other reasons to be confident:

Fatigue factor: While Puerto Rico might be the USL’s deepest squad, it will be playing for the fourth time in eight days. At some point, it would seem that’ll catch up with the Islanders, who also are in the CONCACAF Champions League.

  • No Arrieta: They’ll also have to play without their top-scorer, Cristian Arrieta. He’s suspended as a result of Friday’s seventh-minute red card against John Ball for what the Rhinos veteran described as a head butt in the penalty area.

    Arrieta (10 goals), the 2008 USL Defender of the Year, is a go-to player on restarts from 2008 league MVP Jonny Steele.

    Puerto Rico definitely has the type of swagger Rhinos championship teams did from 1998-2001, but reigning USL Goalkeeper of the Year, Bill Gaudette, is also battling a hip-flexor injury.

  • Road warriors: At 8-5-2, Rochester had the best road record in the USL this year. Its biggest win of the season was at Portland, 2-1, on Sept. 3 when it stopped the top-seeded Timbers’ 24-match unbeaten streak. Tilley and his players admit they play better, particularly on defense, on the road.

    They’d also be wise to employ some of the histrionics that the Islanders did in Game 1 while trying to chew time off the clock.

    «We won the first half,» Sancho said of Game 1, «there’s a second half to go. Whoever they put in there will do a job for them. But whatever happened before, during the (regular) season, the playoffs are a completely different game.»

    JDIVERON@DemocratandChronicle.com

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    Edwin Jusino
    Director Ejecutivo de FutbolBoricua.net. Actualmente estudiante de Historia de las Américas en programa combinado Maestría/PhD de la Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, Recinto Metropolitano. Lleva más de una década cubriendo el fútbol de Puerto Rico. Actualmente está trabajando su disertación doctoral sobre el pasado presidente de la FPF, el Dr. Roberto Monroig. Hincha del Club Atlético de Madrid y de la Selección Nacional de Fútbol de Puerto Rico. Puede contactarle via twitter o Instagram en @erjusinoa