Wednesday, October 28, 2015
In this results-based game and league, Rochester Rhinos Head Coach Bob Lilley delivered.
Lilley was named the 2015 USL Coach of the Year on Wednesday, and in the midst of his second stint with the Rhinos organization he capped off this season with both the regular-season title and a victory against the LA Galaxy II in the 2015 USL Championship.
For a coach who was brought in to restore order following Rochester’s disappointing, playoff-less 2013 season, Lilley got the most out of his team throughout this year’s campaign.
“I knew this would be a big year for our club, with it being our 20th year, but also the fact that Rochester’s only missed the playoffs once,” Lilley said. “When I came back last year, I tried to build back Rochester as a top-tier team in this league, and I knew the challenges with the league growing and the dynamic new franchises coming in. That raised the bar, so it was a challenge to strengthen our squad.”
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From a purely competitive standpoint, Lilley and his assembled roster maintained a focused demeanor from start to finish. The Rhinos allowed only 15 regular-season goals in 28 games and posted an impressive 17-1-10 mark before the postseason.
“We’re competitive and we want to succeed as an organization,” Lilley said. “Personally, every week I go out and I want to show that the week of work was successful. You play the game, you get graded on the result, and then you move on to your next game. Every week you have an exam, and if you prepare and if the players put the work in, along with having a strong roster, you should have a chance to win.”
Lilley said the team’s versatility and adaptability were the hallmarks throughout the year.
“This is the most adaptable, flexible, versatile roster I’ve ever had in terms of the personnel,” Lilley said. “We had big guys, fast guys, guys that played with an edge, guys who are creative like Onua Obasi and Kenardo Forbes – adaptability is a big part of it. I think the edge we played with was because of the intensity and focus we had game in and game out.”
Rochester had plenty of firepower to deal with during the postseason, particularly the high-flying offense of Louisville City FC in the Eastern Conference Final and then the league’s best road team, the LA Galaxy II. Yet with any formation changes and alternative tactics presented before them, the Rhinos found a way to prevail.
“This group was savvy in terms of how they adapted and were able to play against different systems, able to play different positions – and we had multiple players who did that – and spin it in a way where I felt we could get an edge,” Lilley said. “It comes down to executing week in and week out and being incredibly consistent. This certainly was a special group, and our staff did a good job of putting them in positions to succeed. They took it from there.”
The Rhinos reached the ultimate peak this year. Now the challenge is to return to the stage again in 2016, knowing that there is a strong possibility several Rochester players are headed toward new surroundings.
“I believe that no two seasons are the same, so we will have to bring some new energy into the group,” Lilley said. “We will look to bring in some players. We felt like we had a very capable team all year, defensively and offensively. I felt like the nucleus was in the midfield, which was a strong area for us. We had more turnover in the back and up front, and we were successful.
“We know the challenge will only be more difficult next year. We’ll be a bigger target.”