Year Founded: 1996
Affiliation: “It’s Complicated” with the New England Revolution
2016 record: 13-12-5 (W-L-D), 4th place in the Eastern Conference
2016 playoffs: Lost in the Conference Semifinals to NYRB II 3 (5) – 3 (4)
Key additions: Jalen Brown, Darius Madison, Mark Pulisic (assistant coach)
Key departures: Steevan Humberto Fortes “Duba” dos Santos (Ottawa Fury FC), Christian Volesky (Saint Louis FC), Vasilios Apostolopoulos
Projected/ideal starting XI (4-2-3-1) left to right: Tomas Gomez; Bradley Kamdem, Joe Farrell, Ryan Felix, Ryan James; Wal Fall, Ryan James; Jalen Brown, Kenardo Forbes, Christiano Francois; Darius Madison
2016 did not see the Rochester Rhinos repeat as USL Champions but the team did perform to its historic standard, only dropping just 14 points at home and hosting a playoff match. The Rhinos fell to eventual-champions Red Bulls II on penalties after one of the most entertaining USL matches in recent memory, drawing 3-3 at full time and losing in penalties.
Last season also saw David and Wendy Dworkin take ownership of the Rhinos just a couple months before the team’s first game. With a calendar year under the belts, the Dworkins will look to flex their monetary muscle and implement more of their improvements to both the squad and the fan matchday experience.
Y’all should watch the Rochester Rhinos in 2017 because the squad is younger and quicker than it was last season. Veteran USL head coach (and member of the USL Hall of Fame) Bob Lilley is looking to attack teams in multiple ways without sacrificing his famous defensive rigidity. Either with speed on the right flank from Christiano Francois (who the team announced on Monday and about him I wrote here) and Ryan James, technical ability on the dribble from Brown on the left, or even cleverly timed runs from Madison up top, this team will be more fun to watch than your average Lilley-coached Rochester side.
3 players to watch:
Jalen Brown has such a high potential that Bob Lilley jumped to sign the NYC FC draft pick before bringing him into camp. The right-footed left winger revels in taking defenders on but also oozes composure in the final third. Instead of being a flashy winger with no substance who coughs up the ball after 17 stepovers, Brown attacks with purpose and has both the shooting and passing abilities to make a difference in USL. I wrote about Brown’s signing here.
Tomas Gomez started his Rochester Rhinos career in 2016 with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He was never given a fair shot at San Jose Earthquakes and used that as motivation to perform for the Rhinos, earning the USL’s Golden Glove title for lowest goals against average (0.69, nice). As the clear number one choice to start 2017, Gomez will lead the squad and look to cement himself among the impressive pantheon of Rochester goalkeepers.
Kenardo Forbes makes the Rhinos tick. The 28-year-old Jamaican midfielder is returning for his third season in Rochester and should shine with so many attacking options to work alongside. When Lilley switched the team to a 5-3-2 system last year, Forbes surprisingly excelled with the defensive responsibilities of his two-way role but he is still at his best hitting inch-perfect passes to attacking teammates.
The 2017 season will be a success if... the Rhinos host a playoff game. Making the postseason is the benchmark for Rochester as the team has only missed the playoffs once in 21 professional seasons. Getting one over on Red Bulls II, as they did in 2015, would be a cherry on top.