Home Cooking: City Islanders Thrash Rhinos in Home Debut
Jimmy McLaughlin beats Kristian Nicht
(Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / PennLive)
For once, the weather gods smiled on the Harrisburg City Islanders in their home opener. In 2011, flooding and high winds forced the home opener to be postponed twice, while in 2012, thunderstorms delayed the first home match for 90 minus. But this season, a picture perfect night—clear with temperatures in the low 70s—greeted over 1,800 fans as they poured into the Skyline Sports Complex. In addition to the beautiful weather, the home crowd was treated to an offensive explosion as the City Islanders thrashed the Rochester Rhinos 5-1 to earn the franchise’s 100th victory. The game demonstrated the incredible talent and potential of the young City Islanders while another terrible performance marked how far Rochester has fallen.
The Rhinos opened the match well, pressuring the City Islanders and forcing much of the possession into the Harrisburg defensive half. The City Islanders struck first, however, with Yann Ekra using his great strength to repel defenders and send Jimmy McLaughlin through to the goal with a fantastic pass. McLaughlin deked around Rochester’s veteran goalkeeper Kristian Nicht before depositing the ball in the back of the net. Harrisburg nearly tallied a second but Sainey Touray smashed a shot off the post. Things then turned sour when the Rhinos’ Blake Brettschneider was issued a red card just before halftime for a bad tackle on Touray.
Despite being a man down, the Rhinos tied the match early in the second half when former City Islander Bilal Duckett headed home a restart, the second time this season a former Harrisburg player had tallied against the City Islanders. Undeterred by this turn in events, Ekra again muscled through the Rochester defense, gathering a Coady Andrews deflection to give Harrisburg a 2-1 lead four minutes later. With his team leading and up a man, coach Bill Becher inserted speedster Lucky Mkosana who exploited a fatigued backline. Left back Don Anding played a terrific through pass to Lucky who banged home a shot off the far post. Five minutes later, another wing back, this time Colin Zizzi, send Touray through who likewise beat Nicht on the breakaway. The rout was sealed in the 90th minute when Touray and Lucky broke through together, with Lucky finishing Touray’s generous helper. When the final whistle blew, the City Islanders had erupted for four goals in twenty-four minutes, an impressive run of play where their superior speed and clever counter-attacking buried the Rhinos’ defense.
Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / PennLive
The City Islanders improved to 3-0 on the new season, the best start in franchise history. Not only have the results been encouraging, the quality of play from a very young squad indicates how far this team might go. Harrisburg boasts an abundance of talent—from speedy forwards like Morgan Langley, Touray and Mkosana, to talented passers like Jamiel Hardware, Cristhian Hernandez and Tom Mellor, and clever attackers like McLaughlin and Ekra—this might be the deepest attacking group ever assembled on City Island. Not only does Becher have speed up top, but wingbacks Anding and Zizzi get into the attack frequently, even Andrews and Greg Jordan have good mobility. The talent on this squad is deep. Despite injuries to Andrew Welker, Garret Pettis, Stephen Basso, and Jason Pelletier, Becher seems to have more options than his opposition. A clear sign of how many weapons Harrisburg has is that Mkosana doesn’t even start despite scoring 3 goals in 3 games. The backline has been a little suspect at times in conceding a goal a game, but they’ve done enough to earn three straight wins. Becher might have some tough decisions when Basso and Pelletier become healthy because this team is playing very well and you don’t want to damage the excellent chemistry the young City Islanders have developed.
While the sky seems to be the limit for Harrisburg, things are falling apart rapidly for the Rochester Rhinos. A proud franchise that once had MLS aspirations and is the only non-MLS team to win the U.S. Open Cup since 1996, the Rhinos fell to 0-4-1 on the season. What’s worse is that Rochester has been outscored 15-3 in the process. They’ve had a player ejected in consecutive games, and yielded 3 or more goals 4 times in 2013. To be fair to the Rhinos, all five matches occurred on the road and going a man down twice exacerbated the scoreline. In addition, they lost to some of the USL’s best in Orlando, Richmond, and Harrisburg, but this start is not what the city of Rochester expects. Affiliated with the New England Revolution of MLS, the team has too much talent to be this bad. And to make matters worse in Rochester, the Flash of the National Women’s Soccer League, is 0-2-1.
• The City Islanders return to the Skyline Sports Complex on Wednesday to host the defending USL-PRO champion Charleston Battery. The Battery are 2-1 this season and led by a dynamic group of international that include Ugandan Micheal Azira (2 goals in 2013), Jamaican Dane Kelly (1 goal), and three Cuban defectors: Maikel Chang, Odisnel Cooper (2-1, 1.33 gaa), and Heviel Cordoves (1 goal). For a great story about their defection to America, check out this piece by Andrew Miller of the Post and Courier.
• Reading United has begun assembling another impressive roster filled with NCAA talent. Georgetown University midfielder Steve Neumann (10 goals, 13 assists for the Hoyas in 2012) has been named captain and is joined by Jamaican youth international defender Damion Lowe (3 goals, 1 assist for the University of Hartford), All-Colonial Athletic Conference midfielder Dante Marini (1 goal, 5 assists for Northeastern University in 2012), University of Virginia forward Darius Madison (2 goals), Penn State’s Shane Campbell, and two more Hoyas: Keegan Rosenberry (3 assists) and Melvin Snoh (1 goal, 2 assists). In case you’re wondering about the abundance of Georgetown players, they advanced to the College Cup final last season and have attracted a lot of MLS interest. Reading United kicks off their 2013 season on May 11.