USL Rust Belt Rivals Moving In Different Directions

Written by Ian Thomson

PITTSBURGH – Not much has gone to plan for the Rochester Rhinos this season.

The United Soccer Leagues Pro Division club entered last weekend’s back-to-back games with one win in nine attempts. A 280-mile trip to Pittsburgh followed Friday evening’s 2-2 tie against the Los Angeles Blues with the team reaching its hotel at 7 a.m. after a bus breakdown. The Riverhounds spanked the fatigued visitors 3-0 at Highmark Stadium a few hours later.

Saturday’s clash brought together two Rust Belt rivals that have taken divergent paths after similarly poor starts to the year. Pittsburgh head coach Justin Evans has benefited from the luxury of being given time to turn his team’s season around, while Jesse Myers has already paid for the heightened expectations in upstate New York.

“The schedule was always going to be against Jesse,” said Rhinos forward Tam McManus before Saturday’s game. “Rochester is a big club in this league with one of the biggest budgets, so we’ve got to win.”

Both Pittsburgh and Rochester began their campaigns with six of seven games on the road. Both lost their home opener by a single goal to the high-flying Harrisburg City Islanders. Both found themselves mired at the foot of the standings after that stretch – Pittsburgh with no wins and three points; Rochester with one win and four points.

The Riverhounds have since picked up three wins and a tie on home soil including Saturday’s triumph. Rochester’s return to Sahlen’s Stadium on May 18 featured a visit from league-leaders Orlando City. A second 1-0 home loss despite a first-half dismissal for The Lions’ Jean Alexandre signaled the end for Myers with club president Pat Ercoli returning to the head coaching role in an interim capacity. Ercoli led the Rhinos to three USL A-League titles between 1998 and 2001 and the U.S. Open Cup in 1999.

Rochester's interim head coach Pat Ercoli (right) watches his team warm up before Saturday's game at Pittsburgh (Photo: Ian Thomson)
Rochester’s interim head coach Pat Ercoli (right) watches his team warm up before Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh (Photo: Ian Thomson)

McManus arrived in the USL last year through Myers’ relationship with John Murphy, a former coach at the Colorado Rapids during his time with the Major League Soccer club in 2008. He spent the off-season back home in Scotland before returning to Rochester for pre-season training just three weeks before the Rhinos faced back-to-back games on consecutive nights in Florida.

“We went down to Tampa and we just weren’t ready,” McManus said.

The Rhinos lost 3-0 at VSI Tampa Bay and 3-1 at Orlando. Another back-to-back trip the following weekend yielded a scoreless tie at Charlotte Eagles and a 4-1 defeat at Richmond Kickers. Eleven of Rochester’s next 13 games take place at home starting with Friday’s visit by the Montreal Impact’s reserve team. McManus expects last year’s regular-season runners-up to begin climbing the standings.

“We think we’ve got a good squad,” the 32-year-old Glaswegian said. “We’ve not started well, but I think we’ve got better players than last year.

“It’s just a case of proving it on the field.”

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