The Rochester Rhinos had 23 players in camp for the two preseason games against the University at Buffalo and Colgate University. On Friday, March 4, the Rhinos played UB in Buffalo at 7PM to a 1-1 tie. The match was rather cold and players on both sides appeared to show how unpleasant the conditions were. On Sunday afternoon the team hosted Colgate, dismissing the visitors 2-0 under the encouraging winter sun.
After the second preseason game, Bob Lilley and his coaching staff had the difficult task of releasing a number of players from camp. You can listen to an interview with Lilley in which he talks about the trust he has in his assistant coaches, George Kyriazis and Gavin McInerney, and the process of cutting trialists in the most recent episode of the USL Show.
The returning players under contract present in camp were: Marcos Ugarte, Christian Volesky, Mike Garzi, Asani Samuels, Steevan "Duba" dos Santos, and Adam Grinwis.
A number of players on whom the team exercised options in December had not yet arrived in Rochester. Kenardo Forbes and Sean Totsch were still with their respective professional indoor teams, Syracuse Silver Knights and Milwaukee Wave, respectively. Tony Walls was also with the Wave after a trial period with Minnesota United FC of the NASL where he briefly reunited with former teammate J.C. Banks. Central defenders Grant van de Casteele and Vasilis Apostolopoulos are not yet with the Rhinos for personal reasons.
A number of the players in camp had come through this year's MLS draft but did not impress enough to earn contracts at that level. Particularly impressive was central defender Liam Doyle, who was drafted by D.C. United. He showed tenacity in the bitter cold, speed on the recovery, and confidence passing out of the back. While not perfect—Coach Lilley pointed out concerns over his positioning and marshalling the other defenders—Doyle definitely looked good during his limited minutes.
Following the departure of Onua Obasi and Pat McMahon, the Rhinos came into camp with no fullbacks. Bradley Kamdem was one player who appeared to fill the role of Obasi on the left side, attacking at will up the flank from the back. The Paris native spent three seasons at University of Nevada Las Vegas and was drafted in the third round by Colorado Rapids.
On the right side, Jonathan Lupinelli out of Southern New Hampshire University played a majority of minutes over the two preseason games. Another player born in France, Lupinelli was dangerous getting forward late in the game at Buffalo and took right footed corner kicks in both matches.
Brandon Miller's move to Orange County left another vacancy for the Rhinos. While the team is bringing back Adam Grinwis, who performed well in limited minutes last season, the loss of the 2015 USL Goalkeeper of the Year will surely be felt. The only other goalkeeper in camp over the first week was Tomas Gomez, a four-year starter at Georgetown University. Gomez went through the 2015 MLS draft and signed with San Jose Earthquakes for the season but saw his option declined on December 1.
The attacking options on trial with the Rhinos are looking to impress as wingers or the hybrid second striker/attacking playmaker that Lilley employs behind the center forward. Because the team is returning Christian Volesky and Duba, 8 goals each in the 2015 USL regular season, along with Championship hero Asani Samuels, there is depth for the lone forward in the normal lineup.
Players of note in Rochester's camp included Navion Boyd, who splits his time between Charleston Battery and Tivoli Gardens in his native Jamaica, and Jon Okafor, who has played for both Atlanta Silverbacks in the NASL and Arizona United SC of the USL in the past two seasons. As these players come with considerable professional experience, Lilley was holding them to a high standard.
Oddly enough, following Johnny Mendoza's return to central Florida to play with Orlando City B, the Rhinos have brought in another Johnny Mendoza. A preseason roster distributed at the game against Colgate University, Mendoza's name caused a bit of an uproar in the supporters' section as they thought it was the diminutive midfield workhorse returning for a third season. The new Johnny Mendoza played four seasons at St. Lawrence University but was nursing a slight injury and did not feature on Sunday afternoon.
A player who did feature and impressed in a number of positions over the two preseason games was Sean Reilly. Bob Lilley told me on Sunday that midfielder Reilly and defenders Jordan Becker and Joe Farrell were three players signed from preseason camp. Reilly attended St. Thomas Aquinas College and played various spots across the midfield in preseason matches against Buffalo and Colgate.
Late in the second half on Sunday, Kamdem sent in a fantastic ball from rather deep in the left channel. Reilly ghosted to the top of the 18-yard box from his position on the right wing unnoticed. The Hudson Valley native adeptly controlled the ball off his chest and unleashed a full volley into the corner of the net. In his usual fashion, Lilley praised Reilly defensive traits after that game.
The Rhinos return to preseason action on Thursday afternoon when they host Ottawa Fury FC at 3:00PM.