Rhinos get regional
Last time out. Rochester (8-2-3, 34 points) hosted Richmond and Montreal and thrilled fans with a pair of exciting (and, at times, excruciating) 1-0 overtime wins in a mini-homestand last week. Everybody who hopped on the We Hate Dan Stebbins bandwagon can now jump right the hell off because the Rhinos forward came up with a goal and an assist (as did red-hot Lenin Steenkamp).
The Richmond Kickers (7-5-3, 35), who hadn't lost since dropping a 2-0 game at home on June 9, did their best impression of Rochester in an extremely defensive battle on the 4th of July. Goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale did his best to deny every Rhinos shot in regulation. Steenkamp sealed the deal just six minutes into extra time on a cheeky backheel from Stebbins.
Rochester 'keeper Pat Onstad single-handedly kept his team in the game on Saturday night when the suddenly sizzling Impact (5-2-5, 23) brought the smelly, smoky air of a wildfire and a familiar pair of forwards (Mauro Biello and Eduardo Sebrango) to Frontier. In one brilliant example of world-class goalkeeping, Onstad saved back-to-back point-blank strikes from both ex-Rhinos. As thrilling as that match was, whose decision was it to greenlight the similarly colored uniforms? My Nintendo offers a kit-clashing option when competing teams have similar uniforms --- why can't the A-League?
Next up. The Rhinos will see action four times in the next eight days. They'll be in Montreal for what we can only assume will be another home-job Canadian referee special on Wednesday, followed by a home-and-home series against Toronto (4-3-8, 20) this weekend (home on Saturday, away on Sunday). The road match in Toronto was supposed to be preceded by the first leg of the hotly contested Lake Ontario Derby between supporters' groups the Stampede and the Ultras. But all bets are off due to the ongoing municipal workers' strike. (Hopefully Canada will be able to keep the stench of accumulating garbage within its borders, unlike that wildfire thing.)
Then, on Wednesday, July 17, the Rhinos host the eagerly anticipated third-round US Open Cup showdown against Tony Meola and the bottom-dwelling Kansas City Wizards (5-6-5, 21) of Major League Soccer at Webster Municipal Stadium (which is akin to using the word "international" when referring to our airport). Should Rochester advance, they'll face the winner of the Chicago (MLS)-Milwaukee (A) match. With the Chicago Fire as injury-depleted as any team The Score has ever seen, and the Rampage en fuego, we're pulling for a rematch with Milwaukee, the team that broke the Rhinos' ridiculously long home winning streak on May 31.
Scoring problems? Aside from Biello and Sebrango, other ex-Rhinos had no problem finding the back of the net last week. John Wolyniec scored the lone goal in Milwaukee's road defeat of mighty Charleston (it was the Battery's first loss in 11 matches, dating back to the 2-1 overtime loss to Rochester back in May). Steve Butcher had one in Toronto's 3-2 loss to Cincinnati, and was denied the opportunity to hit the winner two evenings later when he was taken out less than halfway through a 0-0 draw against Richmond. With defenses concentrating on striker Nikola Budalic (a three-time selection to the Team of the Week with seven goals), Butcher just might turn into an unstoppable scoring monster.
Former Rhinos aren't the only A-League players finding it easy to score. Canandaigua Academy grad Andy Guastaferro netted his second in two games as Charlotte fell 3-2 to Hampton Roads, and Seattle's Brian Ching, another three-time selection to the Team of the Week, added two more last weekend. He has scored seven in his last eight appearances after missing two games with a hamstring injury.
Bonus point blues. Only three A-League teams have failed to earn a bonus point during the 2002 campaign. Two of them (Calgary and Indiana) are in last place in their respective divisions. The other is first-place Rochester.
It was only a matter of time. Pittsburgh finally released coach-GM Kai Haaskivi on Monday, following a 3-1 loss to Charlotte that dropped the Riverhounds to a dismal 3-4-11 record with just one win in eight June matches. Assistant coach Tim Carter assumes responsibility for this train wreck, whose season isn't likely to get much better, as the team's remaining matches include road trips to Rochester, Minnesota, Milwaukee, and Atlanta.