The Rochester Rhinos have started the 2012 USL-Pro season a perfect 6-0-0 without conceding a single goal. Rhinos goalkeeper Kristian Nicht ranks first in USL-Pro goalkeepers in wins (6), saves (29), shutouts (6) and German Bundesliga experience (one season with Alemannia Aachen). J.C. Banks is near the top of the USL-Pro points leaders as the second year winger has tallied two goals and two assists for six points.
The understanding between experienced German goalkeeper Kristian Nicht and his centerback tandem of Greek veteran George Kyriazis and former L.A. Galaxy defender Troy Roberts has been magnificent. Though the three have only been playing together since preseason a couple months ago, their seamless communication makes it appear as though they’ve known each other for years.
Newcomer Jack Traynor has played every minute of the every game for the Rhinos this season in defense. Third year Rochester regular Quavas Kirk has been dealing with an upper leg problem with has meant that Mike Zaher and Argentine Lucas Fernandez have been covering fullback duties in his absence.
The Rhinos midfield is led by 2011 Team Player of the Year Tyler Rosenlund. Last year he operated behind a lone striker but with the addition of Tam McManus to the squad, Rosenlund as moved farther back into center midfield with Drew Cost.
Former Colorado Rapids left back Danny Earls and 2011 Rhinos Rookie of the Year J.C. Banks have been lighting up the wings for the Rhinos. Banks is right-footed but capable with his left, while Earls can use his right foot but is much more dangerous on his natural left. This allows Rhinos head coach Jesse Myers to operate a traditional 4-4-2 wingplay, or to invert the wingers in a 4-5-1 in which each wide player cuts in on his favored foot.
Tam McManus, while only registering one assist through 6 games, has been a great overseas signing for the Rhinos. Playing behind his strike partner, the Scottish veteran brings an unyielding work rate to the USL-Pro team. McManus has the pedigree and experience to consistently make the little decisions that benefit the team. He knows which runs to make, when to hold back and he always pops into space to receive a pass and open up the team in offensive drives.
Graciano Brito and Andrew Hoxie have taken turns in the role of advanced target forward. Brito has started many of the games this season, with Hoxie entering in the second half to try to make a breakthrough.
Gustavo Zamudio is a highly talented Chilean midfielder who is still finding his place with the team. He has been employed out wide, as a central attacking player and against Charleston Zamudio played as a deep playmaker in front of the backline. If Jesse Myers liked what he saw from Zamudio in that deep role, the former Universidad Católica player could be a natural replacement for Alfonso Motagalvan who moved to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers for 2012.
Tyler Bellamy suffered an early season knock after starting the first game in Los Angeles. Fan-favorite Isaac Kissi is still recovering from a serious knee injury. Conor Chinn was an offseason acquisition and the former New York Red Bulls attacker has been steadily integrating himself into Jesse Myers’ side. Western New York native Kyle Manscuk has been a late game substitute in defense and Michael Tanke has filled into the midfield on a number of occasions when legs get heavy.
The team’s 6-0-0 start matches a USL record, while six consecutive shutouts to start a season has not been achieved by any professional team since the modern era began with the creation of MLS in 1996. Add this feat to the fact that the Rochester Rhinos have the highest average league attendance and second only to newly established San Antonio Scorpions under the MLS.
Rochester’s run has included 5 road wins, 2 of which were across the country in Fullerton, California. The only road trip harder than playing the Los Angeles Blues is making the flight down to the Caribbean to play Antigua Barracuda FC. While the season is still young and the Rhinos have 18 games left, the team doesn’t have to travel to Antigua (Antigua hasn’t scored on the road yet) and 11 of their remaining games are at home, including the final five games of the season. This presents a great opportunity for the team to put together another strong run of momentum at the end of the season.
At this point in the campaign, the other teams in the top four are Orlando City, Charleston Battery and Los Angeles Blues. Rochester has already won away at Charleston and Los Angeles (twice) so the Rhinos just have to host each team once in addition to facing Orlando home and away.
While the team has only scored 7 goals this season in 6 games, the defense has yet to give up a goal. This highly organized defense-first strategy is the brainchild of first year head coach Jesse Myers. Myers spent 14 years studying the league as an assistant for the Richmond Kickers and he knows what it takes to be successful in the USL.
All of these factors have combined to present a picture where it is easy to see the Rhinos staying at the top of the league all summer. In previous years the Rhinos started slow and took a month or two to build up solid form. This season, however, the core of experienced players from around the country and overseas has already provided the best start to a season in the 17 year history of the team. Things are looking good in the city once referred to as “Soccer Town, USA.”