Monday, October 25, 2010
By NICHOLAS MURRAY
One is a name that has become synonymous with success over the course of its 15-year history.
The other is a newer face on the American soccer scene, but one that has quickly become a successful franchise.
Together, they will become two cornerstones for USL PRO, set to launch in 2011.
Monday’s announcement that the Rochester Rhinos and Orlando City Soccer Club, formerly the Austin Aztex, will join the USL’s new professional division is a clear indicator of the standard of play and quality of ownership expected of USL PRO franchises.
Under the ownership of Rob Clark, who acquired the club in 2008, the Rhinos continued their run of reaching the playoffs in each of their 15 seasons, head coach Bob Lilley earning USSF Division 2-Pro League Coach of the Year honors as he led the side to the best regular season record in the league.
"The new USL PRO is a tremendous opportunity to really market to and captivate our respective fan bases in all of our respective markets," 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."
Austin was one of the great success stories of the 2010 season, finishing as runner-up to the Rhinos in the USSF D-2 regular season. With new investment to aid its growth, the club headed by majority owner Phil Rawlins appears set to go from strength-to-strength in its new home.
With Adrian Heath remaining as the club’s head coach, and a large core of the club’s squad under contract for the 2011 season, the team’s goals have been set high already.
"We look to put a very competitive team on the field and win a championship in our very first year," Rawlins said at Monday’s press conference. "We had a very competitive team this year, but our aim is to take a championship as soon as we can and be very competitive on the field and show attractive, open exciting soccer to the city of Orlando."
Rawlins, an owner of the English Premier League’s Stoke City, will be joined by Brendan Flood, the majority owner of the English Championship’s Burnley F.C. They aim to make Orlando a major destination for international soccer.
"We want to make the city an international destination and we think with the communications infrastructure, the transport and the attractions that we have here in Orlando that we can do that, and do that very quickly," Rawlins said.
USL President Tim Holt, who was at Orlando City’s press conference, was eager to have both teams aboard as USL moved toward its new era of professional soccer.
"We are thrilled to have two of the most accomplished clubs in the USSF Division 2-Pro League announce their participation in USL PRO," Holt said. "Not only have these teams achieved a high level of success on the field, they are also leaders in terms of the professional structure of their club and in their communities."
Adding two clubs of this stature to already established sides like USL-2 champion the Charleston Battery and the Richmond Kickers, clubs with strong international ties in Sevilla FC Puerto Rico and River Plate Puerto Rico and up-and-coming clubs like the Dayton Dutch Lions, the shift USL is leading in the way lower-division soccer operates in North America and the Caribbean is undeniably underway.
And while more announcements are anticipated before the USL Annual General Meetings commence on November 18, the standard of excellence required to be part of USL PRO has now been set.