04/13/2012 1:36 PM
The Rochester Rhinos and Los Angeles Blues are both playing their first matches of the 2012 USL PRO season. Last season the Rhinos won the USL PRO National Division with a 12-8-4 record (40 points). The Los Angeles Blues finished 8-7-9 (33 points) in the National Division. The Blues were knocked out of the USL PRO Playoffs in the National Division Semi-Finals by the Harrisburg City Islanders. The City Islanders defeated the Rochester Rhinos in the National Division Final one week later.
Ins and Outs
The Los Angeles Blues have overhauled nearly their entire roster from a season ago. The Blues added Dutch Lions striker and All-USL PRO second team selection George Davis IV to partner with holdover striker Israel Sesay up top. Former New York Red Bull right winger Irving Garcia will create chances for the strikers from the midfield. Former Portland Timbers midfielder Brian Farber will look to anchor the middle of the park for the Blues this season. USL PDL Championship Game Most Valuable Player Bryan Burke is moving from forward to right back for the Blues this season.
The Rochester Rhinos had two last minute additions to their flight that left Rochester International bound for Los Angeles this morning. Giorgios Kyriazis is a 6’2”, 32 year old Greek center back who has been in training camp with the Rhinos all spring, but just received final league and FA approval to play within the last 24 hours. Kyriazis is an eight year veteran of Italy’s Serie B with four different clubs (Catania, Arezzo, Triestina, and Salernitana) and an eight year veteran of the Greek Super League with Iraklis Thessalaniki (1996 – 2003, 2010). Lucas Fernandez is a 23 year old outside back who grew up in Argentinos Juniors Academy – the same academy that produced Diego Maradona, Fernando Redondo, and Juan Roman Riquelme. Fernandez graduated to the Reserve Team from 2007 to 2009 and played with the Argentinos Juniors First Team in 2010. In 2011 Fernandez moved to Jorge Wilstermann (BOL) where he played in front of 40,000 fans in the Copa Libertadores.
This is the first meeting between the Rochester Rhinos and the Los Angeles Blues in any competition. The two teams meet again next Friday night, April 20th in Los Angeles and again on July 27th in Rochester.
Charlie Naimo has been a long time coach and administrator at all levels of elite soccer in the United States. Naimo has had his most success in the USL W-League, but made a successful debut last season with the Los Angeles Blues when he posted an 8-7-9 record and qualified for the USL PRO playoffs.
Naimo has rebuilt the Blues roster this offseason, but look for the Blues to play a short passing, possession oriented style of play in their season opening match against the Rhinos on Saturday night.
Last season George Davis IV won All-USL PRO Second Team honors when he scored seven goals and added two assists for a 2-16-6 Dutch Lions team. This season Davis will provide the Blues with an explosive element of pace that will allow Los Angeles to get in behind the opposition and finish chances. Daivs will pair with former Los Angeles Galaxy striker Israel Sesay, another player with a lot of pace, in what promises to be a dangerous Blues attack.
Jesus Cisneros will be the head referee in the match while Eduardo Mariscal and Apolinor Mariscal with be his assistants. Jonathan Hughes will be the fourth official. This is the Rhinos first regular season trip to California since May 12th 2007, so the club and Saturday night’s match officials do not hve a lot of familiarity between them.
Former Rochester Rhinos President Steve Donner had great success in launching the Rhinos in 1996. He also had great success in launching Orlando City in 2011. This season Steve Donner is in charge of off the field operations with the Los Angeles Blues. Last season the Blues only drew 5,283 fans through the gates the whole season – an average of 440 fans per game. This offseason Donner rebranded the Blues and signed a deal for the club to play their home games at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Stadium – their first permanent home. He also led a PR blitz that made weekly Blues updates a staple in the American soccer community. With a rebuilt club on and off the field it will be interesting to see how many of Titan Stadium’s 10,000 seats are filled on opening night.
The Orlando City Lions opened their 2012 campaign a week earlier than the Rhinos and defeated the Charlotte Eagles 2:0 to leap to the top of the USL PRO table. Orlando City hosts Wilmington in their home opener on Sunday, April 15th. If the Rhinos get a positive result on Saturday night then they would be level on points with Orlando City when the Lions kick off on Sunday.
Charleston could also end up top of the table by the end of the weekend. The Battery defeated the Richmond Kickers 2:1 last weekend in Richmond. This weekend the two teams meet in Charleston for the Battery’s 2012 season opener. If the Battery top the Kickers again this weekend they could also be on six points at the end of the weekend.