Are the Rochester Rhinos' Players Good Enough for USL-Pro?

Rochester Rhinos

Over the past two weeks several Rhinos fans have complained on social media that the team doesn't have the quality to compete; I disagree.

Last season the team had a very hard time scoring. The Rochester Rhinos netted more than once in only six league games last year, and more than twice on only two occasions. Rochester was able to place second in the regular season despite only amassing a +4 goal differential because only Orlando had a stingier defense (23 GA for Rochester, 18 GA for Orlando). This year the team has just three goals for and 15 against from their season opening five-game road trip.

This is a team that has never finished under .500, never missed the playoffs, and whose worst regular season finish is sixth place out of eleven teams. Rhinos' fan have come to expect a high standard of play from their team and this season is clearly outside the set of regular performances. That has led several fans to sound off their frustrations on Facebook, Twitter, and RhinoPit (a fan-mailing listserv that has been active since the inception of the team in 1996), claiming that the players on the team aren't talented enough.

Many Rhinos fans are arguing that the requisite talent has not been assembled on this squad.

I find that statement very hard for anyone to back up. As such it seems like an easy answer, almost a cop-out.

The truth is that this team has the same level of talent as any Rhinos team in the last seven years except for 2010, when the team finished 16-8-6 and first place in the regular season of the combined D-2 Pro League. A team having talent and a coach utilizing that talent are two very different concepts in soccer.

Looking at the players on this team gives the impression of a strong squad on paper. That's why during the preseason no one expected the Rhinos to finish outside of the top four. Rochester returned the league's best goalkeeper, Kristian Nicht, and best defender, Troy Roberts, from 2012. The team acquired quality forwards Matt Luzunaris, who was named to the second team All-League with 9 goals in 2012, and Matt Horth, NASL Player of the Month for September 2012 and an 18-goal scorer over two seasons with Atlanta Silverbacks.

In line with the practice of most lower division teams, the Rhinos reached out and signed three players recently released by MLS clubs: Blake Brettschneider, Lance Rozeboom, and Ross LaBaeux. While these players weren't up to snuff in MLS (or suffered season-ending injuries), they are clear upgrades over the career lower division players that Rochester had last season.

Fan-favorite Danny Earls hasn't been able to switch sides and connect with 2012 Team Offensive Player of the Year J.C. Banks. While Banks recovers from an ACL surgery, the team acquired a capable substitute in rookie Gabe Latigue. I'm not sure why, but Gabe Latigue has only averaged 58 minutes per game so far this season. Much of the time, Latigue looks calm on the ball and maintains possession while also taking dangerous shots and serving quality balls into the box.

The argument that the Rhinos don't have talented players this season falls apart under any meaningful examination. While it may be easier to blame a lack of blockbuster player signings for the team's failure, it is much more likely that the team's tactics and preparation are the true reasons for the disappointing performances so far.

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