Another season has come and gone and the Rochester Rhinos glory years are just another fading memory.
The 2007 Rhinos season will challenge the 1997 season as the most forgettable season in the team's history. With only Hamed Diallo's goal scoring streak that took him to the top of the USL 1st Division goal scoring race for a portion of the season worth mentioning, 2007 will likely be remembered more for the rash of injuries that befell the team.
And with the Rhinos bowing out to the Atlanta Silverbacks 3-2 on aggregate, the list of people that fail to renew their season tickets may be growing by the minute unless the team is able to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
So here are some random thoughts from this season that are largely influenced by the events of the past 24 hours:
- One lady to last night's post-game show bashed the officiating and said that is why season ticket holders are leaving the fanbase. While I'll agree with her assesment of the level of the officiating at Rhinos' matches, I disagree that it is a major reason why people are failing to renew their season tickets.
- Chris Wilmot's call into the post-game show last night scared me for two reasons. The first was that he seems to feel that the team needs more offense and needs to play "entertaining soccer" to rebuild the fanbase. I think this team needs a championship team to rebuild the fanbase. Secondly, Wilmot said that it appears that the City of Rochester has the fabled $4 million from New York State to continue work on PAETEC Park, primarily building out the luxury suites. The fact that a minority owner of the team didn't know for certain where the money is and what the status of the funding is scared the heck out of me. But, I wasn't shocked by the news, either. This whole dream of a soccer specific stadium has turned into a nightmare for everyone involved.
- Is there anything more random than the lineups and substitutes that Laurie Calloway puts out there? Why Hamed Diallo didn't start a game where the Rhinos needed to win to at least force overtime is beyond me. Why Jason Perry started at right back is a mystery to me. About the only thing that made sense was inserting Martinez for Perry after Atlanta opened the scoring last night and the "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" approach coming out of halftime.
- Does anything sum up the Rhinos 2007 season more than Scott Vallow breaking a rib early in last night's game, trying to fight through it, and ultimately having to come out for Chase Harrison? Thankfully, there shouldn't be any fears that the rib injury will be a career threatening issue for Vallow.
- How many players on this year's team do you really want back in 2008? My list is a little longer than I thought at first blush. I'd like to see Vallow and Harrison back in goal. Bertz, Palguta, and Alfonso Lorea hopefully will be back on defense. The midfield is the biggest question mark. I like Martinez for the supersub role, I like the energy that John Ball brings to the table, and I think Kevin Burns has potential. Up top, Hamed Diallo is the lone player that I feel the team really needs back. Although, I do believe that if Matthew Delicate weren't coming back that they would need a forward with some size. But even from that list, there are really only like 4 guys that I would tag as guys I'd REALLY want back (Vallow, Lorea, Martinez, and Diallo).
- Does the franchise have the resources available to them to make the improvements to the stadium and the team on the field to right the ship? That question is the biggest one of them all. And it's more than a money question. It's also a question of whether the team has the people in place to make consistently solid decisions both on the field and off. If the team lacks the people and the funding to make things right, then the current trend of treading water in a pool of mediocrity will continue.
- The issues raised at this year's Town Hall meeting before the regular season finale were very similiar to last year's. If the team is still fighting the same issues near the end of 2007 that they were fighting near the end of 2006, what is the hope that they will improve in 2008 unless there are massive changes undertaken by the Rhinos?
- The Rhinos are trying to put together a Fan Advisory Board. The team has been getting all sorts of feedback since PAETEC Park opened last season. The issue hasn't been a lack of fan input. But rather, an inability to execute properly large scale improvements.
One can only hope that while the 2007 season was similiar to the 1997 season, that the offseason leading up to 2008 mirrors the offseason leading up to the 1998 season.
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.