Jeff DiVeronica • Democrat and Chronicle • October 7, 2010
The Rhinos have been bounced from the playoffs the past two years by Puerto Rico, but a few factors make it more likely top-seeded Rochester won’t take strike three.
The first will ring true with realtors: Location, location, location.
The Rhinos took Game 1 leads of 2-0 and 2-1 at home each of the past two years, but collapsed in the second match both times in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. This year, though, Rochester (16-8-6) is the higher seed and as such chose to play the decisive second leg of the two-game, total-goal series at home on Saturday night.
Game 1 is tonight at No. 8 Puerto Rico.
«I’ve seen championships won both ways,» coach Bob Lilley said about the issue of whether to play Game 1 or 2 at home. «In a one-game situation, anything can happen, but in a two-game series generally the team playing better will (advance) most of the time.»
The Islanders were nearly unbeatable the past two years in Bayamon, going 19-4-7. This season, they’re only 7-5-3, which is Rochester’s road record. The Rhinos are 9-3-3 at home. Puerto Rico (9-11-10) is 2-6-7 on the road.
«Every game we play to win. Game 1 or 2? I don’t see why our minds should change,» defender Jonathan Greenfield said. «If we can win (Game 1) it’ll make it that much easier when we come home.»
Another factor: These Rhinos are also better defensively. They’re less likely to give up more than a goal or two. Rochester lost 3-0 in Game 2 in 2008 and 4-1 last year. This year, it has shut out half of its last 16 foes and allowed more than one goal just three times in that span. Of course, one was in Puerto Rico.
The Rhinos beat the Islanders 3-0 on June 26 in Rochester but Puerto Rico won 3-1 in Bayamon on July 24.
Still, the Rhinos were encouraged with their play and a late goal by Kendall Jagdeosingh made the score look worse than it was.
Tied at halftime, Rochester fell behind 2-1 on a 51st-minute penalty kick, the result of Aaron Pitchkolan’s red card.
«Even then, we had chances to equalize a man down,» Rhinos midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan said.
Forward Isaac Kissi hit the post with a shot and had at least two other good looks.
Coming off Saturday’s 2-1 win in St. Louis when he scored twice in the final 30 minutes, Kissi’s confidence is soaring.
«I’m looking forward to turning it up a notch since it’s playoff time,» said the club’s top scorer with eight goals (six goals in the past 13 games).
Much like the past two years, Puerto Rico coach Colin Clarke has juggled his lineup to keep players fresh for league play and Islanders matches in group play of the CONCACAF Champions League.
As a result, they’re only 3-4-5 since starting CONCACAF play.
Puerto Rico no longer has former league MVP Jonny Steele and Defender of the Year Cristian Arrieta but a solid cast remains, such as ex-Rhino Noah Delgado (2 goals, 2 assists), forwards Nicolas Addlery (6/4), Jagdeosingh (3/1) and Josh Hansen (4/3) and defenders Marco Velez, Nigel Henry and Scott Jones. Key additions have been ex-Rhino Chris Nurse and David Foley (8 goals), also an English import.
With a 50 percent chance of storms on Wednesday and today, the field at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium, where Rochester is only 3-6-2 all-time, could be even sloppier than usual. But, as Lilley has made his team believe all year, the Rhinos won’t make excuses.
«Either you’re good enough or you’re not,» Lilley said.