Looking Forward to 2013 with the Rhinos

Perhaps I was too upset after Rochester’s semifinal exit on penalties at the hands of Charleston or just too occupied by my fall semester in college; I never wrote a full review of the Rhinos’ 2012 season.

Here is a brief summary of what I should have said at the end of August followed by some news for the upcoming campaign.

J.C. Banks had an amazing season and was set to train with an MLS club before suffering a frustrating ACL injury.  Danny Earls was similarly effective when playing on the wings.  Kristian Nicht was a beast of a goalkeeper for the Rhinos and routinely made acrobatic saves throughout the season.  Central defense was another strong position for the Rhinos when a healthy George Kyriazis partnered captain Troy Roberts.  Lucas Fernandez grew into his role at right back but the left side of defense was up for grabs the whole season.  Central midfield and forward were similarly open doors in 2012.  The coaches failed to find a suitable partner for Tyler Rosenlund in the center of the field and Tam McManus could not combine consistently with any of the four other forwards who played for the team.  Kendell McFayden was somewhat of a raw talent when the Rhinos signed him from FC Buffalo but he looks set to continue his development in 2013.

The Rhinos will be joined in USL-Pro by two expansion sides for the upcoming season so their travels could include trips to both Phoenix FC and VSI Tampa Bay in 2013.  We’ll soon find out whether or not Rochester has to fly to Phoenix, Los Angeles, or Antigua this year.  The schedule for 2012’s season was released on Wednesday, January 11 last year and 2011’s on Friday, January 14 of that year, so we can expect this year’s fixture list should be released in the next week.

Roster News for 2013
Fans will be pleased to know the spine of the team will remain in Rochester for the summer of 2013.  Kristian Nicht, Troy Roberts, Danny Earls, Tyler Rosenlund, Tam McManus, and Kendell McFayden are all returning to Sahlen’s Stadium.

The team has exercised the option on all available players and have reached a new contract with defender Tyler Bellamy, which means the current off-season roster is the following:

Goalkeepers:
Kristian Nicht, native of Germany, who had a breakout year with the Rhinos and whose strong performances in goal earned him USL-Pro Goalkeeper of the Year in 2012
Brandon Miller, a rookie backup from UNC Wilmington.

Defenders:
Troy Roberts, team captain who has almost become the face of the franchise in the back over the last three seasons.
Lucas Fernandez, the Argentine born right back who developed into a starter in 2012.
Kyle Manscuk, a Rochester native son (and Tottenham fan) who also plays for the indoor team Rochester Lancers.
Tyler Bellamy, the 24 year old New Jersey native who has played at left back and center back for the team since 2010.

Midfielders:
Tyler Rosenlund, the 2011 MVP draws praise from coaches for his work ethic and his 76 starts in three seasons show how crucial he has been to the team’s success over the years.
Danny Earls, the left footed winger from Ireland was arguably the best performing Rhino of the 2012 season scoring praise from home fans as well as the USL national office.

Forwards:
Tam McManus, while the 5’7″ Scotsman didn’t score as many goals as the coaches, fans, or player himself may have wanted in 2012, he put in enough effort off the ball to earn a couple first team all-league votes from other coaches.
Kendell McFayden, the speedy forward is a bit of a favorite of mine. I had the mixed pleasure of seeing him play for FC Buffalo before he was signed by the Rhinos, in a match against AFC Cleveland in which he played both sweeper and central forward in a front 3.  The Buffalo native grew from his utility role (as the best player on the field) at Buffalo to a more tactically aware striker with Rochester.

A source close to the organization has also told me there are 3 or 4 outside signings for the team awaiting league and federation approval.  This claim is corroborated by USL’s Communication Director on Twitter, who says the Rhinos have already come to terms with two exciting attacking players.

Rochester Championship Memory Lane
If this news isn’t enough to hold you Rhinos’ faithful over until the season starts in April, take a stroll down memory lane.  The team’s organization has posted a poll on their Facebook page asking fans to choose their favorite Rhinos’ Championship Season.  The options are the 1998 A-League Title, 1999’s historic U.S. Open Cup victory, and the 2000 and 2001 A-League Championships.

1998 saw the Rhinos set an attendance record for the A-League, drawing 11,498 fans per game, while scoring 72 goals and allowing just 15, both a league best that season.  Rochester’s 23 wins from 28 games earned them an astounding 70 points en route to the Championship win over Minnesota.  The Rhinos boasted the Goalkeeper, Coach, and Defender of the Year in Pat Onstad, Pat Ercoli, and Scott Schweitzer respectively.  The team also grabbed 5 of the 11 spots in the First Team All-League with Darren Tilley, Yari Allnutt, and Craig Demmin joining Onstad and Schweitzer.

What can I say about the 1999 U.S. Open Cup run that hasn’t already been said?  The Rhinos remain the only team outside MLS to hoist the trophy since the inception of that league.  In the process Rochester defeated three MLS teams, another feat that has yet to been replicated by any non-MLS team.

The 2000 season saw the emergence of Scott Vallow as the league’s best goalkeeper.  He was joined in the First Team All-League by Scott Schweitzer, Craig Demmin, and Yuri Allnutt.  Rochester eased to a 3-1 victory against Minnesota in the championship match in front of 14,276 at Frontier Field after a difficult playoff run.

Scott Schweitzer and Stoian Mladenov earned First Team All-League honors in 2001 as the Rhinos won their third A-League title.  Rochester was able to claim the championship despite losing Yari Allnutt, Craig Demmin, and Onandi Lowe to MLS transfers.  The Rhinos beat the Hershey Wildcats 2-0 in the final to hoist their last league title until 2010, ending one of the most impressive runs in American club soccer history.

David Litterer’s archive site was used as a reference for historical information in this post.

Make sure you vote for your favorite championship season on http://www.facebook.com/rochesterrhinos and stay tuned to Rhinos news and analysis on this blog.

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