Jeff DiVeronica • Staff writer • Democrat and Chronicle

September 24, 2009

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The sixth-seeded Rhinos play No. 3 Puerto Rico in the playoffs for the second straight year and if last season taught Rochester anything it’s this:

The series can’t be won in tonight’s opener at Marina Auto Stadium.

Rochester learned that the hard way last October. It took a 2-0 lead in the aggregate-goal series after Game 1 at home, then saw the Islanders storm back a few days later in Puerto Rico, outscore them 3-0, and advance to the USL First Division title match.

The lesson?

No lead is safe at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium, where the Islanders are 19-4-7 the past two years.

«You always draw from experience,» Rhinos goalie Scott Vallow said when asked about last year. «I think we have a unique opportunity to set the tone (tonight) at our place by putting a little pressure on them going back to Puerto Rico (for Game 2 on Sunday).

«It didn’t work out for us last year, but we’re a different team. So are they.»

Rochester is more confident on the road. Its 8-5-2 record this year away from home was tops in the USL. The Rhinos tied 0-0 on April 24 and lost 2-0 on Sept. 6 at Puerto Rico. They still felt positive about the most recent matchup because they generated three good scoring chances during a 0-0 first half, including a failed penalty kick.

In six halves vs. Puerto Rico, they’ve held the Islanders scoreless in five. That includes playing a man short for the final 39 minutes of a 0-0 draw on July 10 in Rochester after defender Brent Sancho was given a questionable red card for a hard tackle.

«In the playoffs it’s all about taking your chances and getting a bit of fortune in referee’s decisions,» said Rhinos coach Darren Tilley, whose club was 3-8-7 against the six other playoff teams. «That’s no different than when I played.»

The Rhinos were unhappy with two key calls in Game 2 last year in Puerto Rico. They didn’t think officials were sure Fabrice Noel’s 11th-minute shot, which Vallow got a piece of and defender Danny Earls tried to clear, crossed the goal line. That cut the deficit in half.