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Rochester Rhinos Announce Move to USL PRO

2010 October 25
by Brian Quarstad

In conjunction with the Austin Aztex move to Orlando, Florida, the Rochester Rhinos announced they will join USL PRO for the 2011 season.

“The new USL PRO is a tremendous opportunity to really market to and captivate our respective fan bases in all of our respective markets,” Rhinos CEO Robert Clark said.  “I look forward to doing our part in Rochester to help further strengthen the marketing initiatives USL PRO will have in 2011 and beyond.”

The Rhinos would fit into the east coast footprint of the current Division 3 USL PRO. However, supporters in Rochester have had mixed opinions on the move to a lower division. While Clark has stated he doesn’t believe the quality of play will be any different than in the past, some fans are concerned with the Rhinos stepping down a division after a long history of playing in Division 2.

In the 2009 season Clark was affiliated with the United Soccer Leagues but pulled his team out of the organization at the USL Annual General Meeting. He then joined the North American Soccer League, who were trying to wrestle control of D2 away from the USL. In return, the United Soccer Leagues sued Clark in a Florida district court in December of 2009. The case was dropped in January 2010 as part of the agreement that US Soccer made with both the NASL and USL to run the league themselves in 2010. According to a source who did not want to go on record, the NASL had Clark sign a multi-year agreement with their organization and litigation could again be in the works.

36 Responses
  1. Grant Stephens permalink
    October 25, 2010

    Landscape changer!

    Coupled with Orlando’s pending announcement, does USL Pro now have a better hand than NASL?

  2. Someone from Montréal permalink
    October 25, 2010

    This sucks.

  3. JXU permalink
    October 25, 2010

    I wonder what the deadline would be for any NASL teams wanting to register for USL Pro? Is it too late for them?

  4. Giggsy permalink
    October 25, 2010

    this is a complete d**k move by Rochester. i hope they fade into obscurity as serves them right for stepping down into the joke D3 league that will be USL-Pro. a shoddily run league by any other name is still rubbish.

  5. Tom permalink
    October 25, 2010

    If NASL fades away, then this whole situation will truly be a “win-lose”
    A “win” for the USL direction
    A “lose” for soccer in the USA as D2 will disappear leaving only a D3 regional league as the next level below MLS.

  6. Manmunt permalink
    October 25, 2010


    So NASL has:
    Mtl, Carolina, TB, Miami, PR, Edm

    Stl (what’s up with the new owner?)
    Minn (will Traffic invest?)

  7. Giggsy permalink
    October 25, 2010

    i don’t think that the USSF will simply allow the next highest league below MLS to be USL-Pro. it is really just a subversion of their new D2 rules. basically who needs to meet the D2 rules if they can be the “de facto” D2 without having to meet them. i’d think they would work with NASL to allow for a D2 but one that builds to eventually meeting their critera and thus eventually being strong.

  8. Strikers Return permalink
    October 25, 2010

    Giggsy: That is the ONLY way D2 is surviving at this point. Austin and Rochester may well have been the scale tippers anyway. What’s sad is the USL brass have probably been whispering this stuff into the ears of it’s remaining franchises since the beginning of the season. Puerto Rico didn’t bite and joined NASL. Obvisouly after much debate, Clark and Rawlins went for the bait.

    It’s been plain as day for a long time now – the only hope USL had of becoming relevant again was to somehow hope for, and also try to participate in, the wrecking of the NASL. Their six team D3 league was all they would have had left if Austin had swung the NASL’s way, because you know Rochester would then most likely have followed suit. And we’d be talking today about the possibilities of the future of D2 instead of D3…..

  9. October 25, 2010

    Interesting, this could be the end of the USSF D2 and perhaps be the beginning for a Canadian league. Now that Montreal and Edmonton are facing a tiny league, it might be easier for the CSA to convince those franchises (or at least Trois-Rivieres and Edmonton) to be the founding clubs in the new league. Really interesting stuff.

    How will the NASL be able to survive now that the remaining teams have jumped ship on them? I’d be damn nervous in both the MTL and EDM FO’s right now…

  10. Frank permalink
    October 25, 2010

    I was a loyal Rhino season ticket holder for the past 13yrs , unfortunately I am not anymore. Myself and a bunch of others that spoke today after the announcement feel its time to part ways with the organization. It was a big let down for most here, regardless of what one of our area sportwriters writes on his blog. NASL and D-2 was an opportunity to advance the sport in this country. Hopefully USSF can work with them and get the league D-2 status.
    As for Rochester, well we’ve been letdown many times with dreams of MLS and a past ownership group that ran things into the ground. Ironically, that same past owner is now back with the USL in Orlando. I guess that may say something about the USL and selectivity practices.It will be the same league run by crooks feeding the fans the same crock of “sh.t”. We all know the propaganda their handing out now is just bs. Saying the talent level will remain consistent is just more crap. Sadly, we in Rochester have a pretty nice soccer specific stadium that will see much smaller crowds then years past. Fans here were just again starting to come back, now most likely things will take a turn for the worse, but heck, 80% of USL pro clubs will play in high school football stadiums next year, the Rhinos could always find a hsf venue if things get much worse.

  11. Old Man Defender permalink
    October 25, 2010

    I am just wondering if the plans to revive the MLS development players and contracts will result in a league that will fit the D2 spot?

    Not really that well informed but just curious.

  12. October 25, 2010

    A good question that has been spoken to previously here at IMS. Both NASL and USL spoke to MLS about it this past summer. Sounds as if MLS is not interested at this point and time if they have to invest money but possibly in the future. I heard they will revisit this next summer. The question is, which model fits MLS reserve league better.

  13. Wayne permalink
    October 25, 2010

    I was right!!! Not surprising. I am now concerned about the viability of the NASL. USL is taking them to the cleaners at this point.

  14. Wayne permalink
    October 25, 2010

    @ Frank

    Before moving to MN, I was a season ticket holder with the Rhinos as well. I feel the same way as you do. However, you will at least have a certain level of “pro” soccer to watch. In MN, I’m not sure we will have a D2 or D3 team at this point.

  15. Grant Stephens permalink
    October 25, 2010

    At this point, what is to stop NASL teams from going to USL Pro for a few years just to have a team on the field, and then moving up to NASL in the future when they are ready?

    Brian hs said several times that D2 could ‘go dark’ this year. Perhaps this is just the beginning of that? Whether they like it or not, American players not in MLS would still need a place to play and would not thumb thier noses at these D3 teams, would they?

    Maybe im off, but D2 has strict rules while D3 does not. D2 requires more money and travel, D3 does not. D2 is under the microscope by The USFF, but D3 is not. What appears to be a constant are the cities involved. Even if USL Pro ‘hates’ teams like Miami FC, FCTB, and Carolina, they would still welcome them (and their franchise fees) with open arms! They would have to. They would stupid not to.

    I say, let everyone ‘slum it’ for a year in D3 – consider it ‘healing’ – while getting their finances and fanbases in order, then let the teams that want to move up, do that! USL Pro will be happy because they can laugh all the way to the bank with their ‘franchise fees’, and The NASL teams will be growing their brand at The USL expense. Plus, it might be a cost effective move for Baltimore, St. Louis, and Minnesota to put teams on the field.

    JUust some food for thought…

  16. JXU permalink
    October 25, 2010

    I think it’s likely St. Louis, Minnesota, and Edmonton will have to fold, if there is no D2 league next year. Even if they are willing to travel, clubs like Harrisburg City probably are not.

  17. Frank permalink
    October 25, 2010

    Hi Wayne,

    I know what your saying about having a “certain level of pro to watch” . Its just not worth seeing garbage teams every week and seeing the level of play so watered down. If tickets were $5 , then I could see it working here. But your from ROC , you know fans know better and deserve better, I wish them the best ,but myself and many others just aren’t interested anymore. We have fans that stopped coming because they wanted MLS, now we’ll start hearing “do ya think the Rhinos will ever move up to the 2nd division?”….were just fed up with USL and their bush league. Go RBNY !!

  18. Bart permalink
    October 25, 2010

    Grant Stephens:

    What would stop the NASL teams from joining the USL Pro for a few years? A lot.

    For one, USL seems to have 12 plus teams ready for USL Pro next year, and that is way more than they need for sanctioning. More importantly, why would USL want to take the very teams that created the initial split of USL-1 (D2) in the first place? The combination is worse than oil and water!!

    Further, I just don’t see Carolina, Montreal or Miami, with all the bad PR that was spread, want to go back to USL. Montreal does not need to, it is MLS bound. Carolina needs investors, and the current D2 dilemma will not bring investors, who want a stable environment, to the closing table. Miami, with Traffic, just wants player contracts at the end of the day.

    As for all the talk about a Canadian league, I would be shocked if USSF would allow US teams on US soil to be part of a foreign governing body.

  19. Grant Stephens permalink
    October 25, 2010


    Yeah…it seems bleak for the ‘break-off’ teams at this point. Thats true about the ‘bad PR’, too! Unfortunately, my team was a key player in that saga…

    Cant help but think I played this kind of game in Second grade….we called it ‘musical chairs’ and it used to be fun!

  20. jw7 permalink
    October 25, 2010

    The sky is not falling yet. Be patient.

  21. Soccer Boy permalink
    October 25, 2010

    I agree with JW7. Be patient and don’t get upset. Everyone is jockeying for position and things are going to change a lot between now and April 2011. I am 100% focused on the last D2 match, and the remainder of the MLS season.

  22. rocj permalink
    October 25, 2010

    Hey guys. The Rhinos press release says USL will feature 18-20 teams. Anyone know how this will be filled out if the current USL Conf and 2nd Div have 11 squads combined? Also any idea at this point if the “regions” would play each other reg season?

  23. Sounder's74 permalink
    October 25, 2010

    @Jeff I think you are on the money. I heard they were talk of starting a Canadian D2 with Edmonton, Victoria, Ottawa and a couple of other city and as for Montreal it is going to the MLS so it could spend it last year in the CSL or USL PRO. I always said that more good than bad will come over the NASL not sanction sadly to say.

  24. Daniel Blodgett permalink
    October 25, 2010

    What is to keep the CSA from sanctioning the NASL as a Canadian Division II league that allows for teams from the U.S. and Caribbean? Heck get Victoria, Ottawa, and London to join and half the teams would be Canadian.

  25. mikey permalink
    October 25, 2010


    USL says they plan to announce A west coast divsion soon. rumor is that it will include a couple expansion teams and a couple current PDL teams moving up (five, possible six total). Pali Blues (currently a w-league team) will expand to include a USL Pro team. Hollywood United will move to USL Pro. there are also two additional teams in PR that are considering moving to USL Pro. Add in FC NY and the currently unannounced Real Maryland that makes another 10 teams. My math puts that at 21 teams so either some wont make it or Holt is sand bagging on the number.
    My guess is that all those teams wont make it.

  26. Sounder's74 permalink
    October 25, 2010

    @Daniel Blodgett You would think maybe some team from the US cities that are close to the border Like Detroit. The CSA don’t have the money like the USSF to run a league from what I gather so it up the owner and that means extra money for travel and some city are fare apart as it is like Victoria and Calgary. I think it will be mostly an all Canadian league.The CSA is only interested in growing Canadain soccer.

  27. Sounder's74 permalink
    October 25, 2010

    Why is every one turning their nose at D3? Lets face fact the Rhinos was one of the last team with the best attendance not counting the three teams that are going to the MLS turning the NASL to a glorified D3. Even if the NASL get sanction they are hemorrhaging money how long can a league last with few butts in the seats anyways. USL plane all along was to cripple the NASL and now the shoe is on the other foot.

  28. October 25, 2010

    “a shoddily run league by any other name is still rubbish.”

    Yes, it’s called NASL. With one employee. And few viable teams.

    And, no, there doesn’t HAVE to be a second division. It’s not an imperative. If nobody meets the standards, nobody meets the standards. So you play D3 or you play an exhibition schedule. Enjoy. You can’t get that status by default, and USL PRO doesn’t appear to be doing that. They seem to have realized that chasing D2 status is a fool’s errand.

    When you’re bleeding out on the sidewalk, you can either worry about whether or not you’re ruining a nice shirt, or you can worry about still being alive by the time they get you to the hospital. Worrying about whether or not you’re in D2 or D3 in 2011 is going to be what we used to call “So September 10.” Who cares anymore? You’re just trying to get into a dick-measuring contest.

  29. Daniel Blodgett permalink
    October 25, 2010

    Well the CSA could easily say that each team in the league needs to field at least three or four Canadians on their active roster, therefore furthering Canadian soccer.

  30. Jim permalink
    October 26, 2010

    As a former Rhino’s season ticket holder, I don’t like this move. I don’t live in Rochester anymore but if I did, I would not be going to any games.

    Feeling sad right now.

  31. Joe permalink
    October 26, 2010

    Nobody likes whats going on now, but the Rhinos have no other choice but to join USL. NASL will only have 6 teams. The Rhinos had a run of bad luck for a number of years and simply got left behind. When MLS was interested, politicians around here battled and delayed a stadium for 10yrs, I’m sure you know the story. By the time we did something, things were changing quickly, and we missed the bus to MLS. Marketed as a regional team (Rochester,Buffalo ,Syracuse) the Rhinos would have been able to pull 15k a game.
    Things just work out the way they do sometimes. I believe we’ll be fine in USL , if we can’t be stable with lower travel cost , IDK what will work . I worry more about the rest of the teams that are paying into the franchise fees, most won’t survive more then a few years, so it will really be like the old A-League again. The Rhinos should be one of the strongest,most profitable teams again , even if the league isn’t the most desireable.

  32. yankiboy permalink
    October 26, 2010

    @Giggsy, KT already beat me to it (not the first time or the last time).

    Was it a “d**k” move by Clark? Probably about as “d**k” a move as the one he made when he defected from the USL for the NASL.

    @Strikers Return:
    The NASL played is playing for all the marbles. So is the USL. The NASL was a wreck from the fetal stage–seriously–look who was leading the charge: Uncle Joey and Kerfoot (MLS bound), Boris (how is the beer kickball league workin’ out), Dean and the Thunder (yes–BQ alread righty RIGHLY called me out for shooting my mouth off befre about him–but I’m from Baltimore and we are hard headed, so I am going there, AGAIN).

    Speaking of Baltimore–I love the Medds, Cherneski and Palace–they have been great to me, personally–I wouldn’t be crying if we could survives as a USL Pro club–I would be THRILLED.

    I love Puerto Rico Islanders-the ownership and management are like extended family to me. I hope that USL will take the club back if NASL goes down in flames (which is looking all the more likely).

    I could keep going down the list. Traffic–Please. From we are folding to the vanguard of the revoultion.

    The USL1 was a bad joke and I am not cutting them any slack either.

    But right now, I am an NASL team supporter looking at a “league” on life support, just waiting for the dreaded moment the plug to be pulled.

    But I can’t complain–Puerto Rico will survive in some way and I am still hoping for a miracle here in Baltimore.

    Austin got the shaft. I’m glad that Matthew lit Rawlings up. Good luck with Donner and that new, changing Orlando sports landscape. Oh yeah–and getting your MLS club in a few years.

    I’ve met some crackheads with more realistic, street product driven dreams.

    At least those poor saps have an excuse to be hallucinating.

    MLS franchise. Stop blowing smoke…

  33. yankiboy permalink
    October 26, 2010

    I respect Rochester Rhinos orgaization, and I have mad respect for fans like Franks, Drew and what is left of the Stampede, Safari, etc.

    A big factor in Rochester has been that they were sold MLS snake oil and they have never recovered mentally or emotionally from the fact that MLS is coming.

    I have seen Rofhester games in Frontier, PAETEC/Marina/Rhinos stadium.

    Once the MLS delusions were put to rest, the bottom basically fell out. I know that BQ checks me when I call guys out by name but guys like DuRoss and Eco lead the public(and the city) on a MLS wild goose chase. The word that I get from people in the know is that MLS never took Rochester seriously. Not really. They already has the Columbus and San Jose–they wanted tv markets, big investment ca$h and didn’t need anymore small markets that lacked deep pockets and something esle to lure sponsors. Portland is an anomaly. Rochester could have been Portland. Sure it was possible but it wasn’t as likely as some of those marketing the club would have liked the fans or the city to believe.

    Is USL Pro going to be as good as the second division??? Holt and company play with the words–they know that NASL is not going to make it so then they will be the defacto, “best soccer below MLS in the US, Canada and Caribbean, blah, blah, blah”.

    Clark can want to sell the crazy kool-aid that the level of play isn’t that much different. It is and it isn’t. I’ve been a USL2 and D2 season ticket holder. There is a difference. Sometimes it is not so big and other times, with a really elite or bad team then the difference is a lot more notable.

    Andrew Bell-Charleston: I got mad respect for that guy–when he talks, I almost always buy what he is selling. The levels of play are somewhat comparable, ok. But the league being “wildly successful” back in the days of (sorry if I am going to hurt some feelings here) having 24 teams, Maryland Mania, Lehigh Valley, ect…

    Numbers of franchises are important (just ask the NASL) but if the franchises already have a foot in the grave–not so wildly successful.

  34. Trevor permalink
    October 26, 2010

    I can’t believe I ever doubted USL would come out the winners in their battle with NASL. They create a void in the US soccer market, or at least a perceived void, and then they fill it with whatever they want. The alternative to nothing is always better than nothing.

    And now they’ve made the USSF look like fools for all their posturing and sanction setting. Instead of fighting to make their product better by conforming to USSF standards, they simply slink back into the dark places USSF’s gaze haven’t reached yet.

    This is market capitalism at its most base.

  35. Saverio permalink
    November 1, 2010

    Unfortunately, everyone will be a loser with the current situation (MLS excluded). What is dearly needed is a grass roots movement of soccer. We need to have viable teams in every town, city and hamlet. Then you let the cream rise to the top. Lets start with D5 or D6 even if they are amateur. Let the best of the teams form a higher league. Grow the fan base, attendance and interest in the game. As teams develop so can higher leagues. The success of soccer in Victoria stems from the fact that we have a very strong amateur league that plays in the winter. Our local men’s first division team has won the provincial championships several times over the last decade. From this league we put together a competitive team in the Pacific Coast League (still amateur) and for the last couple of years we have had a successful PDL team with very good attendance.
    The success of the PDL team would not have happened without the nurturing of the lower leagues. As such, we have a knowledgeable fan base. Now the next step for Victoria is a higher league, unfortunately, I don’t see any viable leagues above PDL. Several problems remain. Travel costs just eat too much into the bottom line. Players that would play in this league need to be compensated. They need to, at the very least, earn a living wage for the season. The U-23 players might accept lower pay, but the older more experienced players need to get on with their lives. They can’t afford to leave decent paying jobs or careers. The solution might be to have a hierarchy of higher and higher leagues that have territories that are larger and larger. Start a promotion and relegation system at these lower tiered teams. Move away from franchise fees, as these fees only increase costs for teams. D2 will eventually be established. As for now, just because the USSF sanctions a group of teams as D2 or D3, it doesn’t really mean anything.

  36. Ken Jamieson permalink
    November 6, 2010

    If one takes the time to examine the USL-PRO it becomes readily apparent that after Rochester, the remaining clubs are D-3 (if that). When the A-League merged with the USISL (now USL) back in 1997 the USISL flooded the new D-2 league with plenty of questionable clubs, almost all of which are only footnotes in the history books. It should be noted that three of the four of the D-2 clubs that have made the move to MLS are all former A-League clubs (Seatttle, Vancouver and Montreal), only Portland was not a member of the old APSL/A-League, although it was technically a re-birth of FC Portland that had play in the APSL.
    What we are seeing from the USL is an attempt to keep its place as D-2 with whatever clubs it can convince or cajole into participating. How many clubs in USL-PRO will actually be around in two years time. Charlotte, Richmond and Charleston already proved their inability to survive in D-2, which is why they have spent the last few years in D-3. Barracuda FC, do they even exist? They mysteriously cancelled their exhibition games against Montreal and Carolina.
    Even though Vancouver is moving to MLS for 2011 and Montreal in 2012, there are still a good number of potential markets in Canada. FC Edmonton are well-run and had a good exhibition season in 2010. Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Hamilton and Quebec City could all support teams in a D-2 league.
    Rochester’s move to the USL is a step back for the NASL to be sure, however I do not believe that USL-PRO is a bona fide D-2 league and USSF sanctioning of the league is not a given.
    If neither USL-PRO or the NASL get D-2 sanctioning, perhaps a second year of USSF D-2 is needed. This would be to the benefit of the NASL as it would gain valuable time to get additional clubs in place, be it in Canada or the US. Baltimore, Minnesota and Miami struggled for fan support in 2010 and need to re-evaluate their marketing strategies. With the pro game back in Edmonton, it is only a matter of time before a club is established in Calgary (anyone who has spent any time in Alberta knows exactly what I am talking about).
    Yes, Vancouver, Seattle and Portland have moved to MLS, however cities like Tacoma, Victoria and Spokane have strong soccer traditions and could make the move to D-2. I do not see a Canadian League happening simply because of our geography, however a successful D-2 league will have to be built around regional conferences with a limited inter-conference schedule, until it becomes financially viable. One of the major downfalls of the USISL A-League in the late nineties was a large league with trans-continental travel for all its teams. A similar sized league with regional play in the regular season and initial rounds of playoffs will do two things: one, it will keep travel costs down; and two, it would develop regional rivalries.
    The NASL has good D-2 level clubs to build from, probably a better base than USL-PRO. The potential for the NASL to be successful exists, however it cannot be spooked by the knee-jerk tactics of the USL, the USL has proven its ability of creating franchises from nothing, only to see them turn to dust. Whether the USSF wants, or cares to admit this is another thing, the bottom line is the USL is not that good at the pro game, the NASL has the basic elements for success as long as it plays the game properly and wisely.

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