What a difference a year makes. Last season, the Rochester Thunder entered the last few weeks of its inaugural season still in contention for the post season. But the team failed to get the necessary results on the road and missed out, finishing with a 5-9-2 record.
This season, the second-year Premier Development League soccer franchise found itself in nearly the same position. Again, they were in the playoff hunt with only a few weeks remaining in the season. But unlike last season, the team has responded with a string of positive results. Three straight road victories, including a 2-0 victory at Kansas City Sunday night, have clinched the Thunder one of the Heartland Division’s two playoff spots.
Rochester finds itself five points behind first-placed Thunder Bay. If the team can win both games in its double-header at Thunder Bay this weekend, the Thunder would actually win the division. Anything less and the Chill will claim the division title, with the Thunder entering the post-season as the division’s second seed.
Thunder head coach Neil Cassidy targeted a few reasons for the team’s differing fortunes this season. “Our team defense has been a big key to our success this season and we’ve prided ourselves on getting the defensive side of our game right,” Cassidy said. Through 14 games, the Thunder has conceded only seven goals – currently the second-best goals against average in the 67-team Premier Development League.
“Our focus and team mentality has also helped propel us into the playoffs,” Cassidy said. “The players really push each other in practice, which prepares us well for our games.” Cassidy cites the team’s early-season disappointment in missing qualifying for the US Open Cup as an event that really helped sharpen the team’s focus and rally around each other.
“At the beginning of the season we put ourselves into a position to play in the Cup, but then we weren’t able to finish the job,” Cassidy said. “That was disappointing to the guys, but I think it was also a huge learning experience for them. It raised their level of awareness of how competitive the PDL, and the Heartland Division, are, and helped them realize the focus and dedication they would need to make this a successful season.”
The Thunder has solidified its presence in the league during its second season in existence. The team currently has a 9-2-3 record, including a 5-0-1 undefeated road record. It will have its hands (and feet) full this weekend, however, as the Thunder travels to Thunder Bay to face the division-leading Chill. With only one defeat through its first 14 games (a 1-0 loss to the Thunder in Rochester on June 6) the 2008 PDL Champions have set the standard in the Heartland Division this season.
“Thunder Bay is a very good team with some extremely talented players,” said Cassidy. “We’re going to go up there and give them everything we’ve got, and at the end of the weekend we’ll hope to have some positive results.”