While the Riverdogz earned their first result at home, the team settled for a draw from a winning position against Erie Commodores.
Rochester came into Friday night’s contest holding a 1-3-1 record, but had suffered 2-1 losses in each of their previous home games. Erie traveled up to Western New York with a 1-2-1 record in league play and ended the night above the Riverdogz in the table by virtue of playing fewer games.
Head coach Matt Tantalo had to shuffle the deck a bit as Rochester’s squad depth is tested in the middle of the NPSL campaign. Regular right back Zikret Osmic moved over to the left side while former Rochester Rhinos forward Matt Luzunaris filled in as the right-sided full back.
Former Rochester Lancers (Major Indoor Soccer League) player Jayme Kapinos made his Riverdogz debut and played the full 90 minutes for Tantalo’s team. Though not fully fit, cult-favorite Isaac Kissi put in a solid shift up top. Playing as the lone forward, Kissi was able to both effectively run onto service over the top and hold onto balls played to his feet.
In the 19th minute, attacking midfielder Rafael Gamarra Godoi fashioned a chance for the home side. Kissi won a throw in deep in Erie’s territory and Godoi drove centrally from the throw on the left wing. Godoi picked his head up to see Gianluca Cuomo in space just outside the top of the 18-yard box and did well to pick him up.
Cuomo confidently buried his right footed instep shot to the far post to give the home team the lead. The central midfielder usually sits deep for the Riverdogz but has attacking potential and is now the team’s leading scorer with two goals on the season.
In addition to the assist, Godoi was active whether playing from the left wing or centrally in behind Kissi. In the 38th minute, the attacking midfielder collected a knocked down header from the center forward and played a clever diagonal ball to pick out the run of teammate Gary Boughton. The pass cut through Erie’s center backs but one of the visiting defenders was able to recover and clear the ball off Boughton’s foot before he could get a shot off.
Early in the second half, the match referee whistled for a bewildering penalty to put Erie right back in the game. An Erie attacker had the ball just inside the corner of Rochester’s 18-yard box and flicked the ball laterally to try to find a teammate’s run. From within a couple of feet, the ball flew up and bounced off the arm of Kapinos in a playing position.
Despite the short distance that the ball traveled, that Kapinos’s arm was in a natural playing position, and that the ball struck the arm rather than the arm striking the ball, the referee pointed to the spot. Billy Colton stepped up for Erie and, while Rochester goalkeeper Cameron Hogg dove to the correct side, blasted the penalty into the bottom corner to equalize in the 52nd minute.
The best chance for Rochester to reclaim the lead came in the 64th minute. Luzunaris took a throw inside Erie’s half towards Kissi, who turned two defenders and won a free kick 22 yards from goal. Cuomo whipped in right-footed service that fell on the top of the 6-yard box. Kissi was the target on the free kick but Erie’s goalkeeper dove out to punch the ball away. The opportunity wasn’t fully cleared but Rochester’s follow up shot was blocked by Erie’s defense as the goalkeeper was out of position.
After that attack fizzled out, Erie had strong periods of sustained pressure on Rochester’s defense. This trend was underlined when several Riverdogz players left the game with slight injuries. Depth was already rather stretched heading into the game and Tantalo’s team did well to hold onto the point at home. Notably goal-scorer Cuomo filled in as center back after starter Sam King went off the field.
“It’s a positive step for us. I thought in the first half we were more organized and more disciplined. I thought we had more of the play, we obviously had the goal. I thought the PK was a really tough call, but that’s soccer,” Rochester head coach Matt Tantalo said after the game. “We had some injuries in the second half and it was more of a gut check at the end, just trying to finish it out. We were on the back foot for most of the end. It’s a good point against a good team.”
Tantalo then praised the work rate of debutant Jayme Kapinos. “On his first match today, he did a nice job. He’s a good holding midfielder; disciplined. He’ll do the dirty work. He’s a good distributor. I thought he made a nice difference for us today.”
With a number of players unfit for action or unavailable to play on Friday night, the coaching staff is excited to have a fuller squad in the coming weeks. “We’re looking forward to next week, we’re going to a number of players back that we haven’t had. We’re getting better and we’re going to get stronger as well.”
I asked Tantalo about former Rochester Rhinos forward Matt Luzunaris who turned a few heads with a solid performance at right back. “He’d never played it before but he just brings a lot of maturity to our side. He’s such an athlete. He reads the game well. He makes good decisions. But his maturity and experience on the back line for us is really important.”
The team hosts Greater Binghamton FC Thunder in an exhibition match on Sunday before traveling to Erie, Pennsylvania, next Friday and hosting FC Buffalo on Sunday in league action. “It’s going to be a big weekend for us. And we’re expecting a big crowd for Buffalo on the 26th.”
Rochester Riverdogz FC is now 1-3-2 in the Great Lakes East Conference of the NPSL. The team sits in fifth place with 5 points while only the top two teams advance to the postseason.