By Jeff Kassouf
Surely those in charge of the United Soccer Leagues are happy that the Rochester (no longer “Raging”) Rhinos were able to get their ownership problem figured out in the offseason. Rochester has been a flagship franchise for years, and is the only team not from Major League Soccer to make it to the US Open Cup final since the league’s inception in 1996. The Rhinos did this twice, losing to DC United in 1996, and beating the Colorado Rapids in 1999, the last time a USL team has ever made it to a final.
Rochester also boasts one of the better facilities in the United Soccer Leagues, with PAETEC Park being a soccer-specific stadium holding over 13,000 fans. Historically, the Rhinos have been one of the better supported teams in the USL’s top flight, but attendance has dropped of late.
Though Rochester has brought so many good things to not only the USL but soccer in the United States in general, their future was questionable entering 2008 due to ownership problems. Because of this, league officials has to consider the fact that Rochester may not be a part of the 2008 season (though this was not necessarily realistically happening), and it is reflected in the schedule that they are not forced to play, which seems to be one that just through them in after it was already made.
The Rhinos opened their season Friday, May 2 in Charleston where they lost 2-0. From there they travel to Minnesota for a Sunday evening game on May 4, and then off to Portland for a Thursday, May 8 game. That is quickly followed by a Saturday, May 10 game in Vancouver and a Wednesday, May 14 game in Seattle.
Once that finally concludes, they have only a three day layover to get back to Rochester for their May 17 opener against Charleston, who in that same period of time will have played just two home games. So, over the course of about two weeks, the Rochester Rhinos will have traveled approximately 5,064 miles before they step foot in PAETEC Park against Charleston. That number does not even take into account the fact that the team’s flights are probably not direct, especially when flying from Seattle to Rochester.
Even though this may be a way to help cut costs for Rochester and deal with last-minute scheduling, the league must take a serious look at what this will do to competition. No players, coaches, organizations, or even fans should ever have to deal with a schedule like this. Six games in a little over two weeks are tough enough on players, but flying all over the country on top of that is ludicrous.
Such a schedule is also conducive to injuries. The wear and tear of travel and play will take a large toll on the players, and could result in serious injuries if they do not take proper care of their bodies. Next time such a situation arises, the USL must take every action to avoid another scheduling disaster such as this.
If the Rhinos are able to fight through this long road trip and get a few points, they should be in a decent position for the long home-stands that are to follow. Possibly more importantly, they must come out of these games injury-free so that players like defender Scott Palguta and forward Hamed Diallo are healthy for the season to come. One thing is for sure, though; it will soon be seen if the Rhinos can get through this road trip with some positives, for before they know it, it will already be over.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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