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Rochester Thunder Fold PDL Team after Two Short But Good Years

2010 November 15
by Brian Quarstad

After only two short years, the Rochester Thunder Premier Development Team have made a decision to not renew their contract with the United Soccer Leagues.

Todd Penz, son of the PDL team owner Dan Penz, released a statement to IMS late this afternoon.

“Due to unfortunate circumstances, the Rochester Thunder will no longer be able to continue. With the economy the way it is and only a handful of sponsors –we could not make it work financially. This is a hard decision, but one that needed to be made.  We appreciate the support of the Rochester fans, Rochester Youth Soccer Association [RYSA], Neil Cassidy [head coach] and also the soccer community that rallied around this team,” said Penz.

Penz told IMS today that the team lost a significant amount of  money this past year. They were still planning on bringing the Thunder back in 2011 and were working hard to secure sponsors. They had found what they thought was a major sponsorship but that person/organization backed out even after giving a verbal commitment. The team searched but were unable to find another sponsor to help underwrite the team. With the losses incurred over the last two years, the Penz family decided to fold the team.

Penz said he left the door open for the Rochester Youth Soccer Association to take over but there just wasn’t enough time to get the deal done.

Neil Cassidy has been the coach of the Rochester Thunder for its first two seasons. He gave a few more details of the offer saying they were willing to gift the franchise to RYSA but just couldn’t get it done with the limited time. Cassidy stated that Penz contacted the RYSA just  7 hours before the USL deadline which didn’t leave the non-profit volunteer board nearly enough time to gather the information and fill out all the forms needed to register with the USL. PDL franchises are believed to be worth $75 thousand dollars.

Last year, after the Minnesota Thunder folded, the Rochester Thunder PDL team struck a deal with a benevolent United Soccer Leagues after the Rochester Thunder had been left high and dry. USL president Tim Holt made a statement to IMS last year saying that both the senior team and the PDL  team had lost their franchise after Johnson failed to make payment to the USL. At the time, Todd Penz reported his father Dan had met the contractual obligations to  Johnson but the St. Paul native never came though with his payment to the league.

Johnson, who owed the senior Thunder team, disappeared and never made an announcement of the team folding and never filed bankruptcy, leaving tens of thousands owned to many small businesses and former employees who charged up thousands of dollars on their own accounts after Johnson promised to pay them back.

The USL was believed to have cut a deal for the Rochester Thunder PDL team to allow them to play in the 2010 season.

Despite Rochester’s on-field success in 2010, the Thunder only averaged 322 fans per game.

Cassidy said he was very saddened by the news and had hopped the team could survive. He believes that the team was beneficial to the Rochester soccer community,  allowing coaches who helped him with the team move to a higher level and giving players a chance to improve and showcase themselves. He explained that it was great for the RYSA players to see high level soccer being playing in their own city.

Cassidy said he was very proud of some of the Rochester Thunder PDL team’s alumni after only two years.

Teal Bunbury is one of those former Rochester Thunder PDL players. Bunbury went on to win the Hermann Trophy after finishing 2nd in the nation with his college team the Akron Zips. Bunbury was drafted 4th overall by Major League Soccer’s Kansas City Wizards and had 7 goals on the year. Bunbury was recently called up to the US Men’s National Team and is currently in South Africa training with the Nats.

Kentaro Takada is another Thunder PDL team alumni. The Japanese midfielder who played an important defensive midfield role for the first year NSC Minnesota Stars, played for the Thunder PDL in 2009 and was called up to the senior Stars team that same summer when the team played Guatemalan team Comunicaciones. Takada showed well and earned himself a contract after attending the NSC Stars combine this spring. Takada featured in 20 games this past season and helped his team become the only expansion team to make the USSF D2 Pro League playoffs.

Ben Sippola is another former PDL player who is currently playing for Butler University. The Butler Bulldogs are nationally ranked, with Sippola being the team’s top scorer. He was recently voted Most Valuable Player in the Horizon Conference and Best Offensive Player. Sippola recently  expressed to IMS the desire to play professionally.

The Rochester Thunder under Cassidy’s direction finished 10-3-3 in league play this past summer and finished 2nd in the Heartland Division. The team made it to the playoffs in their second season but were eliminated by the Thunder Bay Chill.

8 Responses
  1. Soccer Boy permalink
    November 15, 2010

    This is terrible news! I had a ton of fun making the road trip down to Rochester last summer to watch the exhibition match on 7/2. Any idea of the franchise is going to sell the “Bolt” costume?

  2. November 16, 2010

    Sad news and more carnage left in the wake of Dean Johnson. To me, he is/was the biggest huckster/crook/bull*** artist in the history of Minnesota soccer.

  3. jw7 permalink
    November 16, 2010

    Bummer, that was a fun trip down to Rochester Boy of Soccer.

  4. thesuperrookie permalink
    November 16, 2010


    BQ, can you please inquire about getting the costume.

    I want to wear it to a Stars game next year!

  5. November 16, 2010

    Real Maryland announced today that it has dropped to the PDL:

  6. November 17, 2010

    “Sad news and more carnage left in the wake of Dean Johnson. To me, he is/was the biggest huckster/crook/bull*** artist in the history of Minnesota soccer.”

    So, wait….very few PDL teams make any money, this one doesn’t make money, either, and it’s Dean Johnson’s fault?

    God, some of you are such myopic fanboys. You always need a scapegoat, don’t you?

  7. PollyAnna permalink
    November 17, 2010

    Can the youth club, MTA start a PDL team in the Twin Cities. I’m only asking as I beleive they have teams playing Club Soccer thru the USL?

    One of the problems I have always seen with the “Stars” is the lack of players/community involvment. I know Amos said we did not have local quality players (para phrased), I would think a PDL team would help local college players and players not going to college the opportunity to continue their development. Thus benefiting the “Stars” as well as the community in general. An even in the long run help US soccer for example Teal Bunbury.

    What does it take to have a PDL team? I would think a significant amount of the players do not get paid, so travel cost, coaches fees, league fees, and referees?

  8. November 17, 2010

    I’m definitely not myopic, nor am I a “fanboy”. I happen to have first hand knowledge of how things went down when Dean Johnson closed up shop and skipped town. If you don’t, then please refrain from commenting. Or at least don’t attack those who do.

    Very few make money in professional soccer, or the PDL. That is not an excuse to be a complete deadbeat, which Dean Johnson is. He ran the Minnesota Thunder into the ground and one of the unfortunate consequences was the demise of the Rochester Thunder. He made lots of promises to lots of people and won’t even answer his phone to make things right. This has nothing to do with scapegoating, it is simply a fact.

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