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Pat Ercoli Talks Rochester Rhinos and USL Re-brand

The former professional player and Rhinos head coach spoke with the Bent Musket about his team and its league ahead of the 2015 season.

Rochester Rhinos' special 20th anniversary logo
Rochester Rhinos' special 20th anniversary logo

Pat Ercoli told The Bent Musket that the club is "Very excited" about the league's re-brand and new direction for 2015. In step with that image shift, Ercoli was very excited to discuss the Rochester Rhinos' own re-branding efforts ahead of its 20th season.

"We knew that we were going into our 20th year and we wanted to do something new for this season," he said. "In conjunction with the new logo, we also have a special jersey for our 20th season that I'm pretty excited about. We should be able to unveil it in the next month."

"It's supplementing the existing stuff. The rhino that's in our 20th anniversary logo is in the jersey as well. I'm looking forward to it and it should be pretty neat."

The former Rhinos head coach discussed the trials and tribulations of navigating the shifting seas of American lower division soccer, especially the turbulence of the USL-NASL split.

"Several years ago when we made the conscious decision to stay in the USL, after when we'd experimented the year before with the NASL when we were together as a league, we chose to go back to the USL. There was a lot of criticism with regard to being in the third division and people thought maybe we were making the wrong move. So now this is just exciting for us, like, ‘hey we made the right move after all.' "

Ercoli also mentioned a story that Chad Hollingsworth broke on Reckless Challenge back in December which was confirmed by the league last month. "Along with the re-branding of the league, next year we're already in the midst of putting together a bid to get reinstated as the second division."

Rochester's club president sees the image makeover as one of several factors generating momentum for the USL. "All of that's positive and all of that's what we wanted to see. And now of course with the rekindled rivalries with Montreal and Toronto, and we've also got New York in the league. Those are three pivotal teams that in the old days we played against when I was with the Lancers, and in the early the early years of the Rhinos we had those teams in the leagues as well."

"We've got 24 teams and I think that's a great number for us. It allows a little more of a regionalized play so you can build some rivalries that way," Ercoli told The Bent Musket.

Elaborating on the schedule, Mr. Ercoli was very pleased with the lack of fixture congestion which was a growing criticism of the league. "Having the schedule a little more regionalized, there's less of a cost to travel. This allowed for us to expand the league and eliminate as much as possible the back to backs. We eliminated the back to backs but even the games with one day in between; we only have that once this year."

Ercoli continued on the importance of a good schedule. "From our standpoint, we're getting to that stage where we want to play that one game a week if it's possible. And this way the players get to be more focused on preparing for that one game, have higher energy and give more of a quality performance because of that."

If anyone has watched USL PRO games in recent years and wondered why only one team appeared to be active in the attack, that's probably due to a congested schedule. "When we had the back to backs," Ercoli said, "generally teams plan with a defensive strategy instead of an attacking strategy." Moving away from playing multiple games in a weekend creates a more exciting product for fans to watch but also helps to protect players from wear-and-tear injuries.

This is part one of an extended interview conducted by Brendan Doherty. Look out for Part Two, coming soon!