ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The Eastern Conference’s first-place Rochester Rhinos were given a scare by the last-place Wilmington Hammerheads FC but managed to record a 2-1 win at Sahlen’s Stadium. Grant Van de Casteele scored the game-winning goal for the Rhinos in the final 10 minutes of the match.
Rochester opened the scoring in the 26th minute when Kenardo Forbes finished a cross from fellow midfielder Alex Dixon. The Hammerheads drew level in the 59th minute when substitute Justin Moose finished Qudus Lawal's cross with a free header from the penalty spot. Then nine minutes from time, center back Van de Casteele finished a loose ball with his head in the Hammerheads penalty area from eight yards out.
Rochester created the first chance of the match in the early going as the Rhinos tried to take an early advantage over the Hammerheads. Rochester built out of the back in the fourth minute until captain Tony Walls found the run of striker Steevan dos Santos with a ball in behind Wilmington's back four. Dos Santos caught up to Walls pass in the visitor's penalty area, but saw his finishing attempt trickle just past the far post.
The Rochester Rhinos opened the scoring in the 26th minute after an early tactical change in which Rhinos head coach Bob Lilley switched Jonny Mendoza out to the left flank and moved Dixon into the center of the park as a withdrawn forward underneath striker dos Santos. As Rochester built out of the back, Mendoza received the ball in time and space just inside his half of the field. With his head up Mendoza was able to pick out the run of Dixon, and play him in behind the back four of Wilmington Hammerheads FC. Dixon picked up the ball in stride and dribbled through the box to the end line where he was closed down by the attention of Wilmington center back Brian Ackley. Dixon centered the ball across the top of the six yard box, and found the run of Forbes who got in behind Hammerheads left back Fran Martinez. Forbes kept his composure and finished past Hammerheads goalkeeper Andre Rawls with his first touch for his fourth goal of the season.
Wilmington had the next two chances of the match in its search to find an immediate equalizer. In the 31st minute Hammerheads star midfielder Sunny Jane was able to chase down a loose ball in the left corner. After Rhinos right back Pat McMahon closed down Sunny, Sunny turned away from the end line and dropped the ball to midfielder Ross Tomaselli at the top left corner of the box. Tomaselli centered the ball to Will Heaney at the top of the defense, but Heany could not put his effort on target. Two minutes later Heaney took a free kick from 25 yards out on the angle, but it was easily handled by Rochester Rhinos goalkeeper Brandon Miller.
The Rhinos tried to double their advantage in stoppage time. Van de Casteele played a simple ball over the top of the Hammerheads back four from the midfield stripe that dos Santos was able to run onto, and pick up at the top of the box. Dos Santos tried to chip a shot up and over Rawls, but Wilmington's goalkeeper was able to recover and make the save as the Rhinos entered halftime with a 1-0 lead.
The two sides traded chances in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The visitors had the first opportunity in the 51st minute when their front runner Lawal received the ball with time and space on the penalty spot. Lawal took a shot, but was quickly closed down by Van de Casteele who deflected the effort over the end line for a corner kick that ultimately came to nothing. Three minutes later Rochester responded with a shot from 23 yards out by left back Julian Ringhof that Rawls was forced to parry away with a diving save at the near post.
Wilmington Hammerheads FC found the equalizer in the 59th minute. Rochester's outside backs were pushed up into the attacking half of the field when the Hammerheads cleared the ball out of their half and down the left touch line. Rhinos center back Vasilis Apostolopoulos was first to the ball, but failed to deal with it, and set Lawal loose down the touchline. Van de Casteele was drawn out of the middle of the pitch in an attempt to deal with Lawal, and no one from Rochester was able to recover to pick up the run of Wilmington substitute Moose from right midfield. Lawal served the ball into the box, and Moose finished a free header into the upper left corner of Miller's net to level the score at one. It was the third consecutive match that the Rhinos gave up an equalizer to their opponent.
Play opened up after the equalizer as both teams had chances to find a winner. Dixon received the ball off of his chest at the top of the box for the home side and dribbled into the right side of the Hammerheads penalty area for Rochester in the 63rd minute. Dixon made it all the way to the end line before he cut the ball back and popped a pass up in the air for center midfielder Michael Garzi at the top of the penalty area. Garzi laid off a header to Forbes to his right, but the Jamaican's half volley was struck right at Rawls. Sunny responded for Wilmington three minutes later when he picked up a ball forty yards out, and made a dangerous run at an unbalanced Rhinos defensive shape. Sunny ultimately dribbled all the way to the top of the Rhinos box and took a shot, but Miller was able to dive to his left to make the save. Rochester had another good look in the 72nd minute when Walls dribbled to the end line on the right side of the Hammerheads penalty area before playing a ball on the ground to the near post. Dixon was first to Walls service, and tried to finish with a cheeky back heel, but just missed the target.
The Rhinos scored the match winning goal in the 81st minute. Wilmington was able to clear a Rochester corner kick, but the home side locked the Hammerheads into their own box, and served the ball right back into the penalty area. Rochester substitute Timi Mulgrew was first to the loose ball on the right side of Wilmington's penalty area, and he was able to drop the ball to Forbes at the top right corner of the Hammerheads' box. Forbes served the ball back into the crowded goal box where Wilmington's goalkeeper Rawls was not able to box the service away because he was fairly challenged by the Rhinos dos Santos. Van de Casteele was first to the loose ball in the penalty area, and headed the bouncing ball into an empty net from eight yards out.