The off-season for the Rochester Rhinos has been less than ordinary since the USL pushed former owner Rob Clark out of the picture in early January. About two weeks later, however, the league had identified a local couple to assume ownership and the City of Rochester approved a lease agreement for the team to continue using Sahlen's Stadium.
David and Wendy Dworkin, Rochester residents known for property development, have done the local press circuit in February but the league has not officially announced them as the new owners of the Rhinos. The league's media event should happen in the next two weeks as the team's training camp is about to open.
Head coach Bob Lilley spoke to me over the phone on Friday afternoon, saying that the invitational combines throughout January and early February were successful and that the team had reached an agreement with a former player. Lilley said that several trialists had already impressed enough to earn contract offers and that the team should have around 14 rostered players heading into training camp on February 29.
Lilley, who award-winning sports reporter Jeff DiVeronica calls the best in the business at finding hungry young talent, told me he is always a bit wary to sign a lot of players early in preseason. The reigning USL Coach of the Year pointed to defender Julian Ringhof, attacking midfielder Kenardo Forbes, and 2015 First Team All-League centerback Grant van de Casteele as late arrivals to camp ahead of the 2015 season. Lilley said that if he had signed a full squad before seeing those players, he might not have been able to assemble such a dominant team.
Despite a lack of available information while the new ownership regime shuffles the front office staff, Lilley assured me that preseason will go on as normal. Similar to recent seasons, fans can expect practice matches against local colleges and a couple Canadian rival clubs. The specific opponents and dates should be announced next week but the games will span the month of March.
Even though the team has lost a number of important players, Lilley is confident in the core group of returners from the 2015 Championship team. Goalkeeper of the Year Brandon Miller, right back Pat McMahon, and winger Alex Dixon signed for other teams in December. Forward Colin Rolfe and speedy midfielder Johnny Mendoza were next, moving to Real Monarchs SLC and Orlando City B respectively. Attack-minded left back Onua Obasi will suit up for Ottawa Fury FC of the NASL in 2016, while midfielder Christian Silva signed with OC Blues and Arizona United SC announced Ringhof on Thursday.
The players returning to Rochester for 2016 are: goalkeeper Adam Grinwis, centerbacks Vasili Apostolopoulos and van de Casteele, defender/midfielder/all-star goal celebrator Sean Totsch, captain Tony Walls, winger Marcos Ugarte, Forbes, and the forward corps of Christian Volesky, Steevan Humberto Fortes "Duba" dos Santos, and 2015 Championship hero Asani Samuels.
Nate Bourdeau, Drew Ruggles, and Mike Garzi with former Revolution loanees, Tyler Rudy and Timi Mulgrew, arethe only players from the 2015 Rochester Rhinos roster to not yet sign with a professional team for 2016. Speculate wildly over whether one of these five players is the former Rhino expected to be announced by the team soon.
Lilley is happy with the players that are coming back from 2015 and sees them as a head-start over the roster construction he was tasked with this time last year. Even though off-the-field issues give the appearance of a slow start to the 2016 preseason, the Rochester Rhinos are preparing to defend their 2015 USL title.