Heading into Saturday's game versus the rival Montreal Impact, I was in a pretty bitter mood. I had very high expectations about what the opening of PAETEC Park would be like and what the response within the community would be. I also had expectations on what this team would do entering the season.
Unfortunately, I have been so wrong on both accounts. I was wrong about the team in that I thought this team would have loads of offensive firepower, but would struggle defensively with the losses of players like Rene Rivas and Scott Schweitzer and the insertion into the lineup of players like Kenney Bertz and Nate Craft who hadn't played at the USL 1st Division level prior to this season. Obviously, this team is having a lot less defensive issues this season in relation to their offensive issues, particularly in the midfield.
And with regards to PAETEC Park, I thought the response within the community would be a hugely positive one. And to this point, I get the feeling that there are more complaints about the new home of the Rhinos than there are compliments. That indifferent, or worse, reaction is what has me really questioning the passion of the Rhinos fan base and whether the Rochester market could actually support an MLS franchise long term. I've always wondered about the potential of MLS coming to Rochester having economic hurdles to overcome. But, I never thought the passion of the fan base should be questioned until now.
And those two factors were swirling in my head as I headed to the stadium on Saturday evening. One complaint that has been going around is the parking issue. I'm not going to give away my little area that I found to park in, but I will suggest that people try getting to the stadium a little early and find free on street parking. There are lots of areas to park for free that are a stone's throw from PAETEC Park. And if you are worried about security, that isn't an issue on some streets. I had a police officer parked 3 or 4 cars ahead of me on Saturday night.
As you either know or inferred from the scoreline, the Montreal match wasn't a thriller. Each team had a few chances with Rochester's best being a Charles Gbeke first half header that just missed the upper corner of the net. But, if you come for a high scoring affair, you left the stadium unfulfilled.
The areas of the match that concerned me most were the following:
- Scott Palguta took the majority of the corner kicks for the Rhinos. Personally, this shows how desperate the Rhinos are for someone that can provide service to Gbeke and Delicate. Palguta should be in the box on corners as a target and not the person serving the ball into the box. But, with Juninho out with a groin injury, the Rhinos had Palguta taking corners with less than stellar results. Unless they were looking for corners that completely overshoot the mixer and go towards Frankie Sanfilippo in a one on one battle in an attempt to head it back towards the front of the net..........
- The build up through the midfield and getting quality service to the forwards was severely lacking. Much like the first issue, this is caused by the Rhinos lacking a true maestro in the midfield that can control play. It has been an issue for a while and it has only been made worse with Bolanos done for the year and Juninho being out with a groin injury. Coach Calloway continues to try and shuffle his players to get the right mix. But one has to wonder if the answer to the problem lies with anyone currently on the roster and if the Rhinos are in a position to add anyone from outside that will make a difference this season.
- Overall, the defense played really well. But, there were times where they were a little slow to step up on the offside trap and there were a few times where Scott Vallow had to work a little harder than he wanted to to clean up some chances that Montreal was able to create. And then there was the one glorious chance that Montreal had that was cleared off the line by Scott Palguta and had Montreal pleading for a hand ball call in the box.
But as the tag line for the ESPN and ABC coverage of the World Cup says "One Game Changes Everything".
For me, that game was the Lenin Steenkamp Testimonial match on Sunday evening.
I could have been bitter about the less than stellar turn out. And both the team and the fans could be to blame for the fact that less than 2000 fans showed up to pay tribute not only to Lenin, but all of the Rhino legends that showed up last evening. Heck, I could even nit pick and take offense to the fact that someone that never played a game for the Rhinos suited up in the Steenkamp 11 in Rhinos Executive Vice President Matthew Ford.
But, the evening was so much fun and the special ending was so great, that my mindset has changed. Well, at least for a few days.
The scoreboard said the Rhinos won 2-0 over the Steenkamp 11. But, everyone that was there was a winner in my book.
Here are my awards for the evening:
The Match MVP - Billy "Superstar" Andracki - Billy looked like he could still play. He had more than a few really good saves and even got some help from his left post on a Danny Kramer breakaway at the end of the match.
The Watch Out for the Old Guys Award - Danny Kramer, Neil Dombrowski, and Jonny Steele - Danny got sandwiched by a couple of legends early, Neil went down due to a hard challenge towards the middle of the match, and Jonny went down with a tweaked ankle in the second half. It was a friendly game for the most part, but the legends were letting the youngins that they weren't dead yet.
The Dunkin Donuts Award - Tommy Tanner - Let's just say that Tommy wasn't match fit and leave it at that.
The Brown Nosing Award - Any Rhinos staff involved with the "#26 in your program #1 in your heart" sign getting on the scoreboard - I hope that was Matthew's daughter holding up that sign and the brown nosing was limited to putting her up on the video board.
The Ghosts of PAETEC Park Award - The faulty wireless mic - Was PAETEC Park built on an old Indian burial ground and not a brownfield?
The Musical Instrument of the Night Award - The kazoo in Section 132 - That was classic.
In the end, it was a good time had by all. The ROCHESTER.....RHINOS chant was pretty good and Doug Miller had a couple decent chances to score.
And at the end of our evening, Scott Vallow made my 4 year old son Brandon's dream come true.
It just doesn't get any better than that for a parent.
So maybe the 2006 Rhinos aren't the greatest team ever assembled. And maybe PAETEC Park isn't the greatest stadium ever built. And maybe Rochester isn't the greatest soccer fan base in the US. One game, and one person, changed my whole view of things.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 firstname.lastname@example.org. James promises to read (but not to respond) to all of them.