A week after Saint Louis FC's inaugural home match was spoiled by a late Pittsburgh Riverhounds goal, the young club now prepares to host another legacy team tonight as they face the Rochester Rhinos. STLFC is 1-1-1 on the young season, while the Rhinos have gone 2-0-2, having conceded only two goals in four matches.
Like Pittsburgh, the Rhinos have been a staple of the lower tier of the American soccer pyramid since the 1990s. Not only do they have a leg-up on STLFC in history, but they were also one of the first USL clubs to become affiliated with an MLS club, having partnered with the New England Revolution in 2013.
What Rochester players should StLFC fans keep their eye on during this match?
Tony Walls will be the glue in the center of midfield and almost every attack will start with Walls winning the ball. Alex Dixon and Christian Volesky both have two goals on the season and whichever one starts on Saturday will be chomping at the bit to get on the scoresheet again. Johnny Mendoza's service has been key in all four games the team has played so far this season.
So far the Rhinos are undefeated on the season, and have given up just two goals in four matches. What has been the key to the hot start and how good is this defense?
Rochester head coach Bob Lilley is known in USL circles for two things; his vociferous in-game persona and his playing rock-solid defense. The development of Walls, 2014 Team Defensive Player of the Year, into a two-way option in midfield has allowed Lilley to play two forwards up top which opens the field when Rochester attacks. All of Rochester's wide options are very quick so they can recover and provide defensive support when the team loses possession.
How do you expect the Rhinos to show on Saturday just 48 hours after their last match in Louisville?
This type of schedule congestion used to be much more common in the USL and the four-hour trip from Louisville is nothing compared to trips from the Carolinas to Orlando in previous years. Tactically, the short turn-around might actually reinforce Lilley's propensity for defensive organization and quick counter attacks. The five available substitutions in the USL will also help keep the Rhinos fresh despite the short rest between matches.
While Chicago Fire fans are still getting used to this affiliation with StLFC, Rochester and New England had one of the initial MLS-USL partnerships. How has the relationship been between the clubs and how have the Rhinos implemented loaned players into the roster and first team?
Rochester has had an interesting relationship with New England. While few teams have experienced anything similar to the Dom Dwyer phenomenon, the coaches in Rochester haven't always been impressed by the players loaned down. Over the two years of the arrangement, New England has cut all 8 players sent on loan after the season (though the Revolution later re-signed Donnie Smith) and only two players ever established themselves as starters week in, week out, since 2013.
This year, midfielder Tyler Rudy has been a late game substitute three times but forward Timi Mulgrew has yet to make his debut.
If Fire fans are in need of a soccer fix during this long, horrible layover; they can watch the STLFC-Rochester Rhinos match at 7:30 tonight on the Saint Louis FC Youtube page.