The 2006 season is over. Currently, the team is doing their exit interviews with the players and formulating their plan to build a better team for next season. The question I'm left wondering is do the Rhinos have a plan in place to make the 2007 not only more successful on the field, but also more entertaining to help win back the fans that were turned off by the on field product that they saw last season?
But, the Rhinos can take some solace in the fact that they aren't the only team in this boat. The Montreal Impact are sitting in a similar spot as they have finished first in the league during the regular season each of the past two seasons and they have failed to advance to the final each time.
Rochester can look at a lack of goal scoring for the reason that they have come up short each of the past two seasons. Last year the Rhinos scored only a late penalty kick goal by Doug Miller in 180 minutes of playoff soccer versus Richmond. And this year, they once again scored only a single playoff goal. This time on a cracker from distance off of the foot of Greg Howes in the first leg versus Charleston. The Rhinos then went 218 minutes without scoring a goal.
Montreal was held scoreless for 210 minutes by Vancouver in this year's playoffs. Last year, it was the Montreal defense that failed them as they lost their semifinal series versus the eventual champions from Seattle 4-3 on aggregate.
So the question is, why has Rochester's offense failed when it is needed most?
One theory that has been put forth by many people is the constant lineup shuffling that has taken place under Laurie Calloway. While lineup changes due to injury can be expected, that has not been the only reason for the instability in the Rhinos lineup from game to game.
A few weeks ago, I did a comparison of the variety of the starting lineups by Montreal and Rochester and the number of various combinations were similar. But, if you look at the three teams that scored over 40 goals in the USL 1st Division regular season, it appears from their games and minutes played statistics that they had more stability amongst their forward and midfield units than either Montreal or Rochester had this season.
Perhaps it is time for the Rhinos to get away from the plan of building up an extremely deep team that gives Laurie Calloway the ability to tweak his lineup from game to game and instead build the team with an eye towards having a solid starting 11 and 3 or 4 key subs that know their role from the start of training camp.
While coaches like to talk about the pressure of losing your job making someone better, the performance of players like Scott Vallow, Kenney Bertz, and Frankie Sanfilippo this season would seem to counteract that approach.
Vallow entered this year knowing that the only way he wouldn't play this year was if he was injured with Dusty Hudock back in Charleston and Patrick Hannigan serving as Vallow's back up. One could argue that the confidence that gave Vallow allowed him to play at the MVP level that he did this season.
Bertz and Sanfilippo also played with a huge amount of confidence this season and one could argue that was because they knew that even if they made a mistake or two, it was highly unlikely that they would get benched.
On the flip side, one could wonder if players like Johnny Menyongar and Connally Edozien would have been more productive this past season if they knew from the start of the season on that they were going to be in the starting eleven game in and game out regardless of whether they had a 2 or 3 game slump. Would they have played with more confidence in that situation and as a result be more productive?
The Rhinos have had the revolving door up top and in the midfield for years. Hopefully this is the off season where they opt to go in a different direction and it leads to better results next season.
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