Photo courtesy akoPhoto/Rochester Rhinos
With one more regular-season win in 2017 than 2016, the Rochester Rhinos maintained their high standard to earn a fourth consecutive trip to the USL Cup Playoffs with a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive year. For the second consecutive year, however, the side then fell to the eventual USL Cup champions in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Rhinos made a rampaging run to earn home advantage in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals with three consecutive victories. The club's continued success was led by another strong defensive performance, with goalkeeper Tomas Gomez winning his second straight USL Golden Glove for the lowest goals-against average on the season. The Rhinos conceded just 28 goals during the season, the second-fewest in the USL.
Record: 14-7-11, 53pts
Place: Fourth in the Eastern Conference
Goals For: 36
Goals Against: 28
USL Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (W 2-1 AET vs. Charlotte Independence), Eastern Conference Semi-finals (L 1-0 vs. Louisville City FC)
2017 leaders: Jochen Graf (10 goals), Christiano Francois (6 assists), Tomas Gomez (40 saves)
Defense was a huge part of the Rhinos success yet again, with just 28 goals conceded all year, and Gomez in goal had a goals-against average of just 0.73 including the postseason, managing 40 saves, showing that the defense led by Joe Farrell and Ryan Felix in front of Gomez was working hard to keep things tight. That is not to say that the Rhinos couldn’t get work done at the other end of the park, scoring 36 goals as new addition Jochen Graf led the team with 10 goals. Midfielders Wal Fall and Kenardo Forbes also maintained their level of production, steady hands at the center of the Rhinos' ship.
Things were good for the Rhinos, but could have been better if the club had managed to find a stronger level of consistency. While the side lost only seven games, it was also only able to claim consecutive wins three times in the year, closing out the season with three straight wins to seal fourth place. With 11 draws, the Rhinos just couldn’t manage a big run which would have pushed them up to the top of the Eastern Conference and vying for a higher seed, and better matchup than Louisville City FC in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
A good square ball in the penalty area found Darius Madison who still had some work to do, but created just enough space despite being surrounded by three Charlotte Independence defenders to hit an impressively placed shot, chipping it over the defenders and out of the reach of the goalkeeper.
Rhinos goalkeeper Tomas Gomez pulled off one of the best saves of the USL Cup Playoffs with a diving stop to deny Louisville City FC's Brian Ownby from long range at Slugger Field.