In their last three league matches, the Rhinos have gone 0-1-2 versus the 11th and 12th placed teams in the league in the Minnesota Thunder and the Toronto Lynx. Getting 2 out of a possible 9 points against the two worst teams in the league usually would mean that a top team is losing ground in the standings. However, the Rhinos have been able to move into 2nd place in the USL 1st Division all by themselves thanks to the two points they gained in their weekend home and home series with the Lynx.
That leads us to the question of whether the glass is half empty or half full for the Rhinos right now?
The optimist will point to the fact that the team is alone in second place, is third in the league in goal differential, and is second behind Montreal in goals allowed per game.
The pessimist will point out that the team has gone from 1st in the league in goals for per game to 7th in the league since the shootout with Miami FC at PAETEC Park, the recent sub par results, and the fact that a lot of the issues that have been plaguing the team all season are not getting better (lack of finishing, service from the midfield to the forwards, and the inability to hold a lead late).
Personally, I have a hard time getting overly optimistic with the way things are headed because this team hasn't been playing well of late. I know that Minnesota defeated Montreal at home earlier in the year. I know that Toronto has been an above-.500 team for the 2nd half of the season. And I know that the USL 1st Division is probably more competitive top to bottom than any other time in the Rhinos history.
But, that doesn't make the lack of results any easier to swallow. Just looking at the Rhinos' last three games versus Toronto and the game in Minnesota gives me fits. The Rhinos gained three points out of twelve in those four matches. If the Rhinos can manage to win the two home matches (and that isn't too much to ask since they held second half leads in each) and draw the two road matches (they only lost 1-0 in Minnesota, so I don't think that is too much to ask), and they would be alone in first place with 44 points.
The debate will rage on whether the issue is the players on the roster, the way the players have performed, or whether it's the coaching staff's fault.
But, the real question is whether the answer to what ills the Rhinos is within the locker room and if it is, can they find the solution in the next month?
As well all know, this will be another looooooong off season if the Rhinos are unable to end the drought that has lasted since the last trophy was raised in 2001.
Heck, it could be a long off season even if the Rhinos win the USL 1st Division title as there could be another big roster turnover with Chris Economides bringing the Carolina Railhawks into the USL 1st Division in 2007 and the Rhinos likely having some players that want to get out of Dodge for varying reasons.
Clint Dempsey wants to move to Europe in a big way
So, MLS thinks that Clint Dempsey is worth more than a $1.5 million transfer fee. Looking at some of the transfer fees that were paid out in the EPL this off season, I can't help but think that $1.5 million is a little light for a player of Dempsey's ilk.
However, that is $1.5 million more than MLS will get if Dempsey were to play out his deal with MLS through next season and were to move to an EPL club on a free transfer. Plus, does MLS really want to have a brooding superstar on their hands from the next year plus?
Personally, I'd really love to know what the right dollar figure is for Dempsey in the minds of those running MLS. Their plan to keep Eddie Johnson seems to have backfired already. So, it will be interesting to see how things work out with Dempsey.
Given how public Dempsey has been with his disappointment with MLS' turning down of the Charlton Athletic offer, it will be interesting to see if that causes European clubs to up an offer for Clint or whether they'll opt to wait MLS out.
Unless Charlton or another club meets MLS' asking price soon, I think this will blow up in MLS' face in more ways than one.
New coach, same old MetroBulls
Bruce Arena has taken on the Moby Dick of MLS and the early returns are that it hasn't made that big of a difference.
While Arena's first MLS match as the head man at Red Bull NY went well in a scoreless draw with arch rival and first place DC United, match #2 was what one would expect from the old MetroBulls.
The Red Bulls headed to Columbus where the Crew were winless in 13 matches and were anchored at the bottom of the MLS' Eastern Conference. But, the Red Bulls proved to be the ultimate slump busters as the Crew were able to get 3 points in a 1-0 win over Bruce Arena's squad.
Joseph Ngwenya's third goal of the season was all the Crew needed to defeat the punchless Red Bulls. The win moved the Crew within three points of the KC Wizards for the final playoff spot in the East. Although, the Red Bulls are a point ahead of Columbus and hold two games in hand over both the Crew and the Wizards in the battle for that last playoff berth.
Plus, things are so tight from second place to last place in the Eastern Conference that the Red Bulls are on the outside looking in, but only trail second place Chicago by three points. The only given in the Eastern Conference right now is that DC United will finish in first place. Beyond that, anything can happen.
A rougher weekend than the Rhinos
As evidence of how hard it is to play in Minnesota, the Thunder defeated the Puerto Rico Islanders 3-1 yesterday and kept them from moving into a playoff spot. The Thunder got goals in the 28th and 39th minutes and never looked back.
Puerto Rico was also hurt by the fact that playmaking midfielder Petter Villegas had to come off in the 31st minute. Villegas has been battling injury for a good portion of the season. And rumor has it that the injury situation with Villegas is why the Rhinos did not really push to acquire him at the roster freeze deadline.
Puerto Rico still has a game in hand over the Seattle Sounders. Seattle is currently sitting in that sixth and final playoff spot in the USL 1st Division.
Miami FC had an up and down weekend that has them looking from the outside in on playoff picture. On Friday, Miami FC went into Virginia Beach and came away with a strong 3-0 win. However, they had to play Atlanta the very next evening and dropped a 2-1 decision to the Silverbacks in a battle of two teams that are fighting for their playoff lives.
There were early fireworks as Atlanta took a 1-0 lead in the first minute when Josh Smith scored on an assist from Rodrigo Rios. Zinho pulled Miami FC back into the match only ten minutes later with a goal in the 11th minute. However, Smith scored on another assist from Rios in the 59th and that was all she wrote.
The win gave Atlanta 32 points and pushed them into fifth place.
It's going to be a crazy fight for the last few playoff spots. Seattle has five teams that are breathing down their necks as even 11th place Minnesota has a realistic shot as they are 5 points behind Seattle, but have two games in hand over the Sounders.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and
not necessarily those of the Rochester Rhinos or SoccerSam.com. Feel free to
send any comments or complaints to email@example.com. James promises to read
(but not to respond) to all of them.