By NICHOLAS MURRAY – firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
It might not match the feeling of winning a USL Championship, but when David and Wendy Dworkin were announced as the new owners of the Rochester Rhinos earlier this month, it brought a big smile to the face of Coach Bob Lilley.
“I’m excited,” Lilley said recently. “We had great success last year on the field, but to have new ideas and a fresh start with Dave and Wendy coming in, I think they want to put more resources into all aspects of the Rhinos, including on the player side.”
The Rhinos put together arguably the finest season in the USL’s history as they lost only once all year before taking a dramatic overtime victory against the LA Galaxy II to earn the club’s first championship since 2001.
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The club’s collective tenacity was its hallmark, as the club’s traditionally stout defense had a season for the ages. Unlike many recent seasons, though, the Rhinos were adept at turning defense quickly into attack, as players like Steevan Dos Santos and Christian Volesky both featured strongly in the attacking third for a side that had a reputation for eking out results.
More than anything, though, the squad’s ability to find the rhythm and consistency Lilley asked of them in different situations put the Rhinos above the rest of the league’s title contenders.
“We asked them to be flexible, and be adaptable, and for me, their mentality and their versatility, I think that was what was unique, and that was a big difference-maker for us last year,” Lilley said. “I think there were a lot of good teams, but I think us being able to do a lot of different things, and adjust on the fly, whether it be game-to-game or even in game situations, sometimes you can gain an edge, and I think with last year’s group we felt we could do some things differently to hopefully get a little bit of an edge each game.”
Maintaining that edge is at the forefront of Lilley’s plans as the club now prepares to defend its title. While the offseason transition that saw the club be purchased by the Dworkins put a pause on Lilley’s work on the club’s roster, a strong returning core should ensure the new faces quickly learn what’s expected of them in a club that has big aspirations for the future.
After becoming a club that opponents began to circle on the schedule midway through last season, Lilley is under no illusion as to how difficult earning back-to-back championships will be.
“I think this year, right from the beginning, I fully expect the level of play will go up another leap this year,” Lilley said. “It has made aggressive leaps over the last couple of years, so if our team can’t grow and get better, it would be hard to challenge for a championship. Our mission is to get better this year, and that’s the challenge.”
While Lilley takes care of business on the field, he has been very pleased with what he’s seen so far working with the club’s new owners. As influential business leaders in the Rochester area, Lilley is excited for what the future holds for the club as it enters a new era.
“I’m really impressed with their ideas, their vision, their passion, and the hard work,” Lilley said of David and Wendy Dworkin. “They’ve already jumped in completely. We’re getting two very invested owners, and we needed investment not just from a financial side but that we get the added bonus of local investors who are giving of themselves and are going to be hands-on is really important for the team. They’ve already opened some doors that weren’t open in the recent past in Rochester, and I’m excited to go forward and see where they can lead us, and what other doors, what other great opportunities are opened up for us.”
With the kickoff to the Rhinos’ title defense now just over a week away, Lilley has been hard at work to build a team that can bring home silverware again this October.“Now everything is, let’s get the right complementary players for this group, do the best we can, because we want to be able to hit the ground running,” Lilley said. “It’s important we be ready when we open at Pittsburgh on April 2.”