Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good! Stefan Defregger’s wicked deflection in the 113th minute was the difference as the #4 Rochester Rhinos came out of Capelli Sport Stadium with a 2-1 extra time victory over the #5 Charlotte Independence to move onto the USL Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Rhinos will face #1 Louisville City FC on the road Saturday, October 28th at 7:30PM.
The substitute Defregger scored less than a minute after he stepped onto the pitch, ironically deflecting off the heel that’s plagued him for much of the season.
Neither team was able to create a real scoring chance in the first period of extra time, as the match was in a midfield stalemate until 7 minutes into extra time. Kenardo Forbes would find himself open from about 25 yards and ripped a shot towards the left side of the goal. Defregger was making a crossing run and saw the shot bounce off his heel and roll into the other side of the net, much to the bemusement of Charlotte’s goalkeeper Cody Mizell. The goal was Defregger’s second of the season, coming just 50 seconds after coming on as a late substitute, allowing the Rhinos to avoid penalties and move just three wins away from their 5th USL title.
Charlotte’s Enzo Martinez had the first chance of the night, sending a dangerous blast toward the top corner that had Tomas Gomez beaten, but missed by just a few inches. The Independence would not be able to muster another first-half chance, as Charlotte struggled to get the ball out of their own half of the field. The Rhinos owned the possession battle 55-45.
The Rhinos would have their first real chance of the match come just after the half-hour mark. Ray Lee served up a fantastic ball that found a diving Wal Fall, but his headed effort tickled the side netting on it’s way out for a goal kick.
Rochester nearly found the breakthrough just before the half. Kenardo Forbes found himself open for a shot from a tight angle which required an awkward save by Mizell at the near post.
The Rhinos would take a 1-0 lead in the 53rd minute. Kenardo Forbes’ quickly taken free kick found Ray Lee streaking down the left wing. Lee sent in a perfect far-post cross to Jochen Graf whose header hit the top corner. Graf’s 11th goal of the season was his 4th goal in as many games.
The lead would only last 16 minutes, as Charlotte’s Enzo Martinez would score against the run of play, finishing off a well-executed backheel by substitute Jaime Siaj to level the match at 1.
The two teams went back and forth, with regulation coming down to a climatic conclusion. Charlotte’s Mizell was called for the rarely-enforced 6-second goalkeeper rule for not punting the ball fast enough, resulting in an indirect kick in the box in the 89th minute that Rochester could not take advantage of. Play had to be stopped as the Charlotte assistant coach was ejected, contributing largely to the 5 minutes of stoppage time.
Each team had chances to win the match in stoppage time, but could not convert their corners and the match had to be decided in extra time.
The first period of extra time came and went. Stefan Defregger would be substituted on with 8 minutes to play, and made his chance count as his deflection gave the Rhinos the 2-1 victory.
The Rhinos will head to Kentucky to face top-seeded Louisville City FC in the USL Eastern Conference Semifinals. Rochester lost in Louisville 2-1 on a last-second penalty kick, and drew 0-0 at home in a match that featured just 1 combined shot on goal.