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Trialist-Heavy Rochester Rhinos Start Preseason with a Win

Several returning players and some newly signed players got a rest while Bob Lilley and his coaching staff evaluated trialists on Friday night during a 2-1 win over Canisius College.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-New York Red Bulls at Rochester Rhinos
Tomas Gomez and Joe Farrell highlight the returning players for Rochester
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Lilley was not exactly ecstatic but still was not upset about the performance he saw from the mix of trialists and contracted players on Friday night against Canisius College. Instead, Lilley seemed more like your average office worker about to clock back in after lunch; rather reluctantly accepting the quotidian tasks of preseason. The veteran head coach mentioned that he was looking for a bit more from certain returning players and that a handful of trialists had really impressed him.

You could have heard Lilley's words directly but corrupted audio files are a thing.

As in previous years, Rochester's coach was quietly confident about the process of finding players that fit his soccer philosophy. The team is returning ten players and has signed five more so far in preseason but Lilley already had several more players line up for trials in the coming weeks.

For writers and fans preseason means feverishly reading synopses of trialists' college careers but it's a markedly more somber period for Lilley. While each year does bring the chance to connect with and help guide young athletes, Lilley has consistently spoken about the difficult task of having to send players home after telling them their careers won't include a spell in Rochester.

Lilley and his new coaching staff of Mark Pulisic (father of the future Ballon d’Or winner) and Brendan Murphy (former head coach of FC Buffalo in the NPSL) definitely enjoyed a few of the more positive performances after the 2-1 win over Canisius College. While the official line was a series of platitudes about believing in the process and getting recently signed players to buy into the system, the specter of crushing other prospective Rochester Rhinos players’ dreams hung over the postmatch proceedings on Friday night.

In a 4-4-2 setup that resembled a bucket formation in practice, the Rhinos lined up in the first half (right to left):

Quillan Roberts; Ryan James*, Ryan Felix, Colman Kennedy, Ray Lee; Christiano Francois, Wal Fall*, Brandon Beresford*, Rayane Boukemia*; Kenny Doublette, Antonio Correia*

Rochester sent out a completely different lineup for the second half:

Brenden Alfrey; Jordan Dover*, Todd Pratzner, Mateusz Brela, Gilbert Manier; Jochen Graf, Ibrahim Diaby, Enzo Giuliani, Dimi Rispun; Darius Madison*, Felix DeBono

* indicates the player is currently under contract with the Rhinos.

With two goalkeepers already under contract from the 2016 season, several players are trying to earn Rochester's third and final spot.

Quillan Roberts: The former Toronto goalkeeper has been out of contract since mid December. Roberts went started 17 games on loan from TFC to Wilmington Hammerheads in 2014, 15 games in 2015 for TFC II, but only 9 times this past year as he faced competition for minutes.

Brenden Alfrey: Alfrey attended Robert Morris University alongside Speedy Williams (former Red Bull now with Louisville) and Neco Brett (Timbers 2). He signed for Pittsburgh Riverhounds this time last year but didn't make a league appearance in 2016.

Rochester is not bringing back many defenders with just Joe Farrell, Bradley Kamdem, and Ryan James returning as consistent members of the back line. A complementary partner in the middle for Farrell and a natural right back are priorities for the Rhinos.

Ryan Felix: After four years at Loyola Marymount University, Felix started his professional career with two seasons as Orange County Blues. At the Blues last year, Felix played with former Rhinos Brandon Miller and Christian Silva though he played summer ball for FC Tucson before Minh Vu and after Christian Volesky did.

Colman Kennedy: The native of Ireland played alongside Farrell as LaSalle University. He easily stands out in a crowded penalty area and he used that imposing frame to good use on Friday against Canisius.

Ray Lee: Lee was drafted by Philadelphia in 2015 but only made one appearance for the Union and two appearance on loan at then affiliate Harrisburg City Islanders. The fullback moved out to Tulsa in 2016 and made a much more consistent 19 league appearances for the Roughnecks.

Todd Pratzner: Pratzner captained the PA Classics team in the Development Academy and played within features of the Union's disjointed youth setup while in high school. The Lancaster, PA-native amassed 70 starts over four years at Xavier University.

Mateusz Brela: Brela is a dual Polish-American national who played for Seton Hall University and Korona Kielce's reserve team in Poland. The centerback played one season for Gamlakarleby Bollklubb in Finland which is now home to four other American including former Revolution loanee to Rochester Jossimar Sanchez.

Gilbert Manier Muvunyi: Manier was born in Rwanda but grew up in France where he played reserve football for Stade Rennes before moving to the United States. He played three seasons at Southern New Hampshire University along with about half of Rochester's player pool.

Much of both the style and substance of the Rhinos' midfield has not yet reported to Rochester. Both Sofiane Tergou and Kenardo Forbes are still playing for their respective indoor teams in the MASL and centerback turned midfielder Wal Fall has a lock on the starting defensive midfield role. Central midfielders are largely auditioning for a back-up role but there are several roster spots available for promising wide players.

Christiano Francois: After playing in the PDL, Francois signed for D.C. United. He was then loaned down to Richmond Kickers where he played 10 games and scored a goal in the USL. After getting cut by D.C., Francois played in the American Soccer League until his team was expelled from the league. He played for a couple lower division teams in Portugal before popping up as a trialist with Red Bulls II last year.

Jochen Graf: Graf played four seasons at Bradley University before setting his sights on Europe. The forward/attacking midfielder used the Bridges FC program out of Chicago, the same program that Pat McMahon and Quavas Kirk had used in the past, to get noticed during an exhibition showcase tour of Scandinavia. Graf most recently played professionally for Oskarshamn AIK in Sweden.

Ibrahim Diaby: Diaby was a standout in high school and won the HS PotY for New York City. He was a teammate of Darius Madison as Kitsap Pumas in 2016 and before that was involved in the New York Cosmos organization. Diaby scored twice in the 2015 NPSL Final after spending the season with Cosmos B. You may remember the odd Paul Scholes testimonial match against the Cosmos when it was a shirt brand and an exhibition u23 development team; Diaby played for the Cosmos squad in that testimonial.

Enzo Giuliani: Stop me if this sounds familiar: he is an attacking midfielder who was born in France and attended Southern New Hampshire University. While his hair-game isn't nearly as impressive, Giuliani is trying to follow in the very similar footsteps of his former collegiate teammates Tergou and Boukemia.

Dimi Rispun: The only information I have is a second-hand account from a fellow member of preseason camp that he may have played for a youth team at Olympiacos in Greece.

Rochester lost both starting forwards from the 2016 campaign when dos Santos signed with Ottawa Fury and Christian Volesky signed to and then was cut by Sporting Kansas City. So far in preseason the team has added crafty speedster Darius Madison and another Cape Verdean striker Antonio Correia but there is room for one or two more out-and-out forwards.

Kenny Doublette: Doublette played for SW Florida Adrenaline in PDL before joining Louisville City as a trialist last year. He earned a contract but played no minutes in USL in 2016. It may be easier to list players in camp who didn't play for Southern New Hampshire University, but Doublette played three years on the same as trialists Manier and Giuliani, Tergou, Boukemia, and 2016 defender Dominic Samuel.

Felix DeBona: DeBona was born in Brazil but raised in Somerville, MA. He spent two years directly in the New England Revolution academy system before college and trained with the Revs' u23 exhibition team last summer. While in college, DeBono impressed enough bigwigs to earn a spot on the 28-player 2016 MAC Hermann watch list.

The Rhinos return to preseason action on Saturday afternoon at 2PM from Capelli Sport Stadium when they take on Syracuse University.