The 2006 edition of the Rochester Rhinos will be one huge chemistry experiment. This offseason the Rhinos have lost 5 of their core leaders with the retirements of Doug Miller, Rene Rivas, and Scott Schweitzer along with Craig Demmin and Lenin Steenkamp not returning in 2006. Add in the losses of long tenured Rhinos such as 2005 team MVP Kirk Wilson, defender Bill Sedgewick, and midfielders Stoain Mladenov, Shawn Tsakiris, and Pato Aguilera.
This has left a roster where only Scott Vallow and John Ball have played for the Rhinos prior to the 2005 season and with a huge question mark when it comes to leadership.
Oh Captain! Where is my captain?
Entering this offseason, it was pretty much assumed that Scott Schweitzer would be the Rhinos team captain in 2006. With the retirement not only of Schweitzer, but Rene Rivas as well, the question of who will wear the captain's armband becomes a very major issue in establishing team chemistry entering the 2006 season.
Coach Calloway mentioned Scott Vallow, John Ball, Johnny Menyongar, and Greg Howes as players that have leadership ability. So what kind of captain does the team want and who would be the right fit?
Scott Vallow certainly comes to mind when talking about wanting the captain to be a vocal leader on the field. Scott has never been afraid to raise his voice in the back and tell people what he wants. But, there have been some times where it seems his teammates haven't been exactly thrilled with Vallow's vocal directions. If Coach Calloway wants a vocal leader, then I think Scott Vallow would be the natural choice.
Johnny Menyongar would be a solid choice if Coach Calloway wanted to go with a more experienced captain. Menyongar has not only been the captain of the Minnesota Thunder, but also of the Liberian National Team. Menyongar isn't the vocal leader that Vallow would be. But, with a team that will be learning to work together, I believe that it would be a good thing to have a more low key captain while the team gels.
John Ball and Greg Howes are lesser candidates for me for different reasons. Ball showed a lot of maturity last season in his second go around with the Rhinos. John still had the all out effort and solid skills that he always had, but he also had toned down quite a bit. But, I would still have some concerns about John's history of flying off the handle if the decision were to be made to make him the captain. Although, I was able to look past Schweitzer's history of crossing the line, so perhaps I could do that for Ball as well.
To me, Greg Howes is best fit to be an offensive spark off the bench. I don't see Greg Howes as a defensive midfielder and that is the only way I could see him starting this season. And if a guy isn't starting on a consistent basis, then he shouldn't be a candidate for captain.
On the field chemistry
Another major issue heading into this season will be what style of play and what formations best fit the personnel that the Rhinos have available to them right now.
With the loss of Rivas and Schweitzer in the defensive midfield and central defense spots and the additions of players like Aaran Lines, Menyongar, Charles Gbeke, and Matthew Delicate to go with players like Ball, Juninho, and Jonathon Bolanos, makes me wonder if this year's squad would be better of playing an attack minded 4-3-3 and just trying to outscore their opponent every time out.
The lack of a true, solid defensive midfielder is huge right now. The talk has been of playing a central defender (T-Bone Bonseu), a forward (Howes), or a rookie (Josh Bolton) in that spot. Honestly, none of those choices has me jumping up and down with joy. Add in an overload on the left side of midfield with Juninho and Lines, and I'm wondering why they don't just go with a 4-3-3 and play a run and gun style.
They could move Juninho up top as the left sided forward, put Gbeke or Delicate as the target center forward, and then have either Bolanos or Menyongar line up as the right sided forward.
In midfield you'd have Lines on the left side, Bolanos or Menyongar in central midfield, and Ball out on the right side.
That would leave Scott Palguta at left back, Jason Perry and Bonseu in central defense, and Frankie Sanfilippo at right back.
Lines and Ball would have to play a smart game where they slide into a holding midfield spot depending on where the ball is. But, this is a team that appears to be set up to play a run and gun style. So, rather than fight it and play some guys out of position, why not embrace it and go with it?
I can't see any way of going with the guys that they have right now that will give me any confidence that they can lock up teams defensively like Montreal will. But, they can put together a team that is the best offensive attack. And when they give up chances in the back, they'll have to trust in Scott Vallow playing as well or better than he did in 2005 when he was my vote for team MVP.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of the Rochester Rhinos or SoccerSam.com. Feel free to send any comments or complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org. James promises to read (but not to respond) to all of them.