If you ever played the game NBA Jam back in the day (and maybe even lately with all the retro gaming back in style), you will know what happened when a player was on a roll.
First, he would make a shot. Then, he would be heating up.
And if he could make a third shot in a row without reply?
He’s on fire (you can read all about how it came about here in this interesting article.)
That is RNY FC forward Gibran Rayo right now.
Rayo has shown a tendency in his first MLS NEXT Pro campaign to be a little streaky in front of net. But as the weather has warmed up, so has the forward.
In three straight matches in May, Rayo had three assists, one goal, and then two goals, as Rochester won all three games to move up into the top four.
He scored June 18, and last time out, had a brace in a 3-2 win against Orlando City B. So it made sense that Rayo was the player to watch coming into the contest Thursday night against Philadelphia Union 2, especially after he found the net against the Union back on May 21 in the midst of his last hot run.
Surprise, surprise, Rayo was at the center of the action again: his two first half goals gave RNY FC a two-goal lead at the break, and were enough to see Rochester pick up all three points. Just for good measure, Rayo added a third to complete his hat trick in the 60th minute, and now has nine goals on the year, which is tied for third in all of MLS NEXT Pro.
Just like Rayo, RNY FC is streaky as well: and in fact, you could say that as Rayo goes, so goes Rochester. RNY FC went through May unbeaten at 4-0-0 with 13 goals, and then scored just twice in four June games, picking up six points thanks to three draws and three wins in spot kicks.
Already in July, with three games to go, RNY FC has six points and six goals, and look to be on another run: Rayo has five of the six goals, and is clearly ON FIRE. After a slow start to the year with just two points through four matches, Rochester now has picked up 24 points in its next 30 to get to 26 points and even with the New England Revolution 2 in the Eastern Conference table. While the Revs II and NYCFC II play this weekend, the teams have all now played the same amount of matches, so it is a true shot of where the table stands.
Amazingly, Columbus Crew 2, which has seen leading scorer Jacen Russell-Rowe go to the MLS team, is now just five points clear (with a game in hand, though) of Rochester with 10 games left to go for Rochester.
Is a regular season title charge on the table?
You better believe it.
With Rayo scoring goals like a prime Wayne Rooney, it might be more than on: but it is the team that is standing at the end of the playoffs that will be crowned champion, and that is what this team is playing for right now, to lock up a spot in the top four.
And the next game is very big for that, and an Empire State Derby with a little score to settle.
Oh, and congratulations to Brennan McDermott, who became the first Empire United homegrown player to take the pitch in the MLS NEXT Pro for RNY FC when he came on in the 85th minute for Pedro Dolabella.
RNY FC: at NYCFC II, Saturday, July 16, 7 pm. EDT (12 a.m. UK time), Belson Stadium
Philadelphia Union 2: vs. Toronto FC 2, Monday, July 18, 6 p.m. EDT, Subaru Stadium