The 2013 season has not started the same way 2012 did for the Rochester Rhinos. Both seasons began with an extensive road stand, but the results could not be more different at this point. In 2012 Rochester played their first three - and five of six - on the road, and won them all. Though the team managed only 7 goals in those games, a stingy defense combined with Kristian Nicht for 6 straight shut-outs. Over two games so far this campaign, Rochester has given up 7 goals and scored only once. It took opposition teams until mid-June to score that many against the Rhinos in 2012.
Fans of the Rhinos undoubtedly have to ask why. Why have the Rhinos been so poor to start the season? One possible answer is the lack of adequate fitness training and match preparation.
Scottish veteran forward Tam McManus (formerly of the Colorado Rapids and Hibernian FC) said on Twitter following Sunday night's match, "we are well behind the other teams fitness wise but we will get better as season goes on."
The Rhinos started their training camp on March 16th and had a preseason schedule of four games. Rochester hosted Canisius College (NCAA D-1), the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL-Pro), Syracuse University (D-1), and Cornell University (D-1) ahead of their first league match on April 13. Apparently four weeks of training was not enough for the team to get match fit.
By contrast, Rochester's season opening opponents, VSI Tampa Bay FC, opened camp on February 18th and played their first of five preseason matches on February 23rd. Tampa Bay began their USL-Pro campaign on March 30th at Phoenix FC Wolves, nearly 6 weeks after they started training. Orlando City opened their preseason in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in February and their professionalism showed through against Rochester this past Sunday.
Rochester's opponent on Friday night, the Charlotte Eagles, had a 32-day camp that opened on March 11th. The Richmond Kickers, the second team the Rhinos will face this weekend, started training on February 18th, almost seven weeks before their first match of the season. The point is that the Rhinos could have convened training camp earlier, as other teams did, in order to adequately prepare for the start of the season.
The season isn't all doom and gloom, however. Revolution loanee Gabe Latigue has looked promising so far in the team's two matches. Prior to the game on Saturday, I spoke with the rookie winger. Latigue talked about adjusting the mental side of his game from college to the professional ranks.
It's definitely been an adjustment but at the same time you have to open yourself up and realize that you are going into a professional atmosphere with players who have been in the league for a number of years. You have to respect that. There are times when it's tough because you're just used to playing so much. But it's a learning experience and I that's how I've been looking at it. I have to grow and learn each day.
But then also being so young, you look at it as a challenge, you know, you want to step on a team and show them that just because you're young doesn't mean you can't play the game or hang with those guys who've been playing for a really long time. So I've enjoyed it, proving to the guys that because you're young doesn't mean that you're not a good player. It's been fun.
22-year old Latigue definitely has the proper attitude for a young, hungry professional. Speaking of turning pro, I asked Gabe how he felt going into his professional debut last weekend.
I had never really thought about it until I spoke with a college coach last night. He asked me if I was ready for my debut but it doesn't necessarily feel like a debut, just because of all the games and preseason games I've played with New England and also here. But at the same time, it's exciting and I am ready. I've been waiting for this moment for a really long time and I hope to bring out the best.
In case anyone was wondering how Gabe and the other New England Revolution loanees were getting along with their teammates...:
Oh yeah, the guys here have been great. I didn't expect it to be so easy to integrate with the team. To come in while they've already been together for a little bit and get along so well. But the guys, from the moment we got in the locker room, have been really inviting and helpful and let us know what's going on with the system they play and things like that. So it hasn't been hard on the field as well as off the field getting along with the guys. Their personalities are great and we're able to hang out off the field and get to know each other more like that. And that will definitely help us on the field.