Their origins and histories are vastly different, yet the two teams that will contest the USL championship do share a common trait:
The Rochester Rhinos and LA Galaxy II like to get after the opposition.
“I think that’s why both teams are playing in the final on Friday night,” said head coach Bob Lilley of Rochester, a city whose entry into top-level American soccer dates back to the late 1960s. “I think both teams through the playoffs, from what I’ve seen, have been very assertive in terms of their style, and how they want to play.
“I expect a big collision at kickoff. I think both teams are going to go at each other early, and it’s going to take some time to see which team gets an edge, but I think both teams will want to be forward thinking early in the game, rather than waiting or sitting back.”
2015 USL Championship
Rochester Rhinos vs. LA Galaxy II
Friday, Oct. 16
Sahlen’s Stadium, Rochester, N.Y.
7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3.com, YouTube.)
Year formed: 1996.
Regular season record: 17-1-10 (first place Eastern Conference).
Playoff results: NY Red Bulls II 2-0, Louisville City FC 1-0.
Leaders: Steevan Dos Santos (10 goals), Christian Volesky (8 goals).
Key stat: Rochester conceded the fewest goals (15) during USL regular season.
LA GALAXY II
Year formed: 2014.
Regular season record: 14-11-3 (fifth place Western Conference).
Playoff results: 1-0 @ Sacramento, 2-0 Orange County, 2-1 @ OKC Energy.
Leaders: Ariel Lassiter (15 goals), Raul Mendiola (10 assists).
Key stat: Counting playoffs, Galaxy II is a league-best 10-6-0 on the road this season.
Rochester rolled to the Eastern Conference regular-season title and finished 13 points ahead of runner-up Louisville City FC. The Galaxy’s reserve team finished fifth of the six Western Conference playoff teams, yet battled its way up the ladder to reach the final in just its second year of existence.
Developing players for the first squad is its primary objective, yet success at all levels is also important for an ambitious organization. Rather than play a cat-and-mouse game as might be expected of a lower seed, Galaxy II has taken the lead in the first quarter-hour of all three playoff matches.
“The biggest thing is that we don’t really deviate that much when we play on the road from home,” said head coach Curt Onalfo of the final to be hosted by the Rhinos at Sahlen’s Stadium. “We just look at it as another game. Obviously, it’s a championship game and we respect our opponent very much, and we’re just going to look to be aggressive and do the things that we do well.”
There is no crossover play between conferences during the regular season, so the teams haven't faced each other. Rochester's considerable homefield advantage – it is 14-0-2, counting playoffs, at Sahlen’s Stadium this season -- is mitigated by the absences of its two top scorers. Steevan dos Santos was red-carded in the conference final against Louisville City FC and Christian Volesky is injured. They have scored 18 of Rochester’s 46 goals this season.
“I don’t think we’re a one-trick pony. I think we do a lot of things well, and that’s the aim, to be versatile,” said Lilley, who coached the team in 2010 and 2011 and then returned last year. “We believe in order to win you have to get it right at both ends of the field. Every game we’re trying to create chances. We don’t sit back and counter, we never have, and if you look even at the last playoff game, I think we dictated the terms of the game in the first half. We certainly didn’t sit back and wait for something to happen. We forced the issue, we got the goal, and I think we created some really good moments.”
No road team has won the championship game since the current format was adopted in 2011, but that fact and Rochester’s remarkable home record don’t faze its opponent. “We know on the road especially we have to start quick, because they’re going to have their fans behind them, and we’ve got to be the aggressors and play our game,” said Galaxy II defender Daniel Steres. “Especially a team like this that doesn’t give up a lot of goals, we’ve got to come out quick and get after them right from the start.”