One week from today, on March 18, the Rochester (formerly Raging) Rhinos officially kick off their preseason when they take on the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Peters Township High School in Pittsburgh. The Rhinos then host five games at Sahlen’s Stadium against 4 colleges and the Montreal Impact u21 side. The team looks solid in 10 positions on the field to me, and the team is only one of two signings away from the most attractive team to play in Rochester in ten or so years.
The goalkeeping situation got a whole lot more convincing with the addition of Kristian Nicht. Nicht, 29, will likely be the starter for the Rhinos while 22 year old rookie Brandon Miller will deputize and look to excel in the newly formatted U.S. Open Cup. Only the Los Angeles Blues boast a goalkeeper with close to the same pedigree and international club experience as Nicht, in Mexican veteran Oscar Duatt.
Below is a rundown of the rest of the roster and my confidence in each position.
The Rhinos’ defense currently has 5 capable players, two solid centerbacks and three fullbacks who like to push forward. Tyler Bellamy, Troy Roberts and Quavas Kirk return, while Jack Traynor and Mike Zaher join the team for Rich Costanzo who just signed with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. If the Rhinos add one more player who can naturally play centerback and could fair well on the outside, the team could be looking at an all-star back line that can go the distance this year despite a congested schedule.
Up top, the Rhinos have Andrew Hoxie and Isaac Kissi, two bigger guys who know the league and can play as target men or advanced forwards. Graciano Brito and Conor Chinn are two hungry forwards who have a point to prove in the process of jump-starting their professional careers. And another steal of a signing for USL-Pro, Tam McManus can operate as either a poacher in line with the last defender similar to Doug Miller or as a withdrawn playmaking forward looking to link up with midfielders and set up his strike partner. All five of the strikers on the roster can cause havoc for the opposition’s defense in the league this year.
It is a little bit harder to evaluate the midfielders that the Rhinos currently have on the books. As of today, the team only has 4 midfielders signed on contracts. Tyler Rosenlund can play wide right or as an advanced playmaker behind a striker. J.C. Banks, who is still the most exciting young American in the league, is a winger who operated on the left side of the field last season and loves to have a run at defenders while also possessing the ability to play in killer balls for his teammates. Drew Cost, 23, made 24 appearances and scored 3 goals for the Rhinos last season in central midfield. 22 year old Michael Tanke registered 16 total appearances and notched an assist in what was a crowded midfield for Rochester in 2011. While both of these young midfielders are talented, neither can really play the role that Luka Modric excels at for Tottenham and that the New York Red Bulls once again illustrated that they desperately need; linking defense to attack and playing through balls. What Alfonso Motagalvan was able to do last year was drop deep to receive the ball from our defenders and play a few give and go’s or quick passes to move the ball up the field while maintaining possession and purpose. What was missing from his game was the ability to play the incisive final ball through to the striker or the smart ball into the wingers stride out wide. The two current central midfielders would complement this type of player nicely in a balanced 4-4-2 formation, neither one of these players is a natural playmaker.
It remains to be seen if Jesse Myers and the Rochester Rhinos staff have another trick up their sleeve for yet another big name signing before the season kicks off in California against the heavily re-stocked Los Angeles Blues on April 14. Until then the Rhinos play pre-season matches in Pittsburgh on March 18, at home against Binghamton at 3pm on March 24, against Colgate at 7pm on March 30 at Sahlen’s Stadium, home against the University at Buffalo on April 1 at 4pm, before hosting the Montreal Impact (formerly of the old A-League and now of MLS) u21 team at 10am on April 4 and closing out the preseason at Sahlen’s Stadium against Syracuse University on April 6th at 3:30pm.