While Johnny Mendoza will be missed by Rochester Rhinos fans who grew to know him over his two seasons in Upstate New York, he is returning to a club and a region that already knows him well. Orlando City B announced Mendoza as one of seven signings on Wednesday.
Mendoza was born in Colombia but moved to the United States as a teenager. Mendoza went to high school just 15 miles away from Orlando and earned a scholarship to Stetson University, about 40 miles from Orlando. The promising attacking midfielder played several seasons with the Central Florida Kraze in the Premier Development League and after that team was purchased by Orlando City Soccer Club, Mendoza led the squad to a conference title in 2012.
With the strong local ties and his success with the club's own amateur team, Orlando City gave Mendoza his first professional contract ahead of the 2013 USL PRO season. After his debut season, the dynamic and speedy midfielder relocated to Rochester where he often manned the wing and proved his tenacity with lung-busting runs on both ends of the field.
Halfway through the successful 2015 season, Rochester head coach Bob Lilley utilized Mendoza as a number 10, an attacking playmaker, that allowed Alex Dixon and Kenardo Forbes more freedom to attack from the flanks. Mendoza's skillset and selfless attitude made him a favorite of Rhinos fans and he always gave his time to reciprocate that affection.
With 62 professional league appearances to his name, the 25-year-old Mendoza will be a leader on a team consisting largely of young players, either academy products or rookie draft picks. In this respect the Colombian-born midfielder is following the path set forth by his former teammate; one-time Canadian international midfielder Tyler Rosenlund.
Rosenlund was an anchor in Rochester's midfield for five seasons, racking up over 120 league appearances for the team. After the 2014 season, Rosenlund did not return to the Rhinos but was not without a club for long. When the Vancouver Whitecaps launched their USL reserve team ahead of the 2015 campaign, they sought a veteran leader to mentor a young squad. The Port Coquitlam native was a calming, veteran presence for the Rhinos over the years but those qualities were much more valuable in the VWFC 2 setting, where he was named team captain.
Mendoza could very well provide the same veteran leadership for Orlando City B that Rosenlund did for Vancouver. Both players have local ties to their current teams and bring a wealth of professional experience to relatively young teams.
Mendoza's departure leaves six full-time players from Rochester's championship winning 2015 squad without an announced team for the upcoming season: Onua Obasi, Drew Ruggles, Julian Ringhof, Christian Silva, Mike Garzi, and Nate Bourdeau. The team currently has ten players under contract as the USL and the City of Rochester attempt to reach an agreement with prospective ownership groups.
While it's never easy for a fanbase to say goodbye to regular starters, Rochester fans should appreciate Mendoza's opportunity to be a leader on his hometown USL team.