Conference Call: Revs-Rhinos affiliation

Members of both the Revs' and Rhinos' front offices field questions from the media

Rochester Rhinos President and Chief Operation Officer Pat Ercoli (PE): For years now, we’ve been looking at the growth of MLS and the growth in our league, the USL. In the spirit of the agreement that was reached between the two organizations, we felt that in order for soccer to grow, we needed to look at it and really participate in a similar manner with MLS teams. When Mike (Burns) called me with interest in affiliating with us, we were somewhat tickled pink in the fact that we were teaming together with an organization, a quality organization in the Kraft Family. Also, the coaches, coaching staff, the GM that we’ve known for years – at least I have and I know Jesse (Myers) has. So from that standpoint we felt that we were getting involved with a great organization. We were partnering in the spirit of the relationship between USL and MLS and mostly, from our perspective, we felt that over that over the years, because of the amount of teams that MLS had grown to be 19 teams, that the depth and the quality of players that were at our access weren’t quite there as in the past. Mostly, it’s about putting a better product on the field. We feel that between our coaching staff and the people involved that that’s going to allow us to do that. It’s also going to allow (for) the growth of soccer through the development of better players.

Revolution general manager Michael Burns (MB): I guess I’ll start a few months ago when MLS brought to all the MLS clubs the idea that this was a possibility and talking with our coaching staff it was an avenue that we wanted to pursue. When we looked at all the USL clubs, we thought for a variety of reasons Rochester made the most sense for us to at least explore the opportunity of forming a partnership with. They’ve been in USL a long time, they have a great reputation -- they’re always very competitive. We know their coaches and the organization fairly well. When I placed the initial call to Pat (Ercoli), we were just as thrilled as they were to pursue it – and we can get into the details later – but we think it’s truly a great opportunity for both clubs.

Revolution head coach Jay Heaps (JH): Well again, just to reiterate what Mike (Burns) said, we’re real excited about this. I think from our standpoint -- and I’ll talk about this from a coaching standpoint and how we want to develop players – I think first and foremost, to have a team like Rochester and an organization like Rochester, to be able to use and get help with that process of developing players, we’re very excited about. Personally, I think that we felt that our players maybe weren’t getting the first-team minutes that we would like. They need really competitive games and there’s no better place to get that than in the USL and have real – from a competitive environment – get those games needed. I think from where we sit, it’s kind of a nice relationship to have back and forth. I think that’s the most important thing: that our coaching staff along with Rochester’s Jesse (Myers) and his crew, to really have a dialogue about players that we want to develop, players that they want to develop, and kind of have a partnership in that regard as well.

Rochester Rhinos head coach Jesse Myers (JM): I think Jay (Heaps) said it best: I think it’s very important for their players to get some competitive games and I think we can provide the environment for them to do that. Again, we’ve had a great reputation and we’ll continue to strive for championship play. Those players coming in will be a major part and be one of the boys. Communication will be the key between both staffs. I can tell you, (Revolution goalkeeper coach) Remi (Roy) and I have known each other for a long time and probably talked quite a bit over the last month or so as we’ve been talking about this. We’re looking forward to it for sure.

On the logistics of sending four players on loan to Rochester and what happens in the case of injury needs…

MB: Yeah, that’s a good question. What I’d say to that is the agreement calls for us to loan Rochester a minimum of four players for the season. I think a point of clarity, though; it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the same four players for the entire season. One thing that [we] and Rochester are going to have to take into account is if they sustain any injuries, if any of our loan players sustain injuries, if any of our first-team players sustain injuries. All of those things will be worked out as we go. But it will be four players for the entire season but not necessarily the same four players. The other part to your question, and it’s a great question, is our relationship with Rochester does not give us any priority so to speak over any of their players. So, although we’re loaning Rochester some of our players – like I said, we don’t get priority on Rochester players if we wanted to sign them or bring them to MLS or to the Revolution. I think that has to be very clear, and I hope that there’s not any misperception out there that that’s the case. That doesn’t just go for our relationship with Rochester – any relationship with an MLS club and a USL club is the same in that regard.

On the USL officiating being potentially tighter this year to protect the MLS players playing with USL sides…

JM: Well, I can’t answer that. I don’t know. I would hope that they … their job is to be fair and to officiate the game as they see it so I would hope that they’re fair for both teams, that they’re fair and honest with both teams. That’s all we can ask for.

On what happens if a Revolution player has a season-ending injury while with the Rhinos…

JH: That’s where we’re going to deal with it as we go forward. Yeah, I mean I think as both teams have injuries, there’s going to be times where we may have injuries on our squad and we may have to grab a player from there, for whether it’s a one-off game or three games; however it’s going to work. I think that’s where the dialogue as the season goes on – and as this is the first time we’re doing it – that there’s going to be a little bit of grey area and we’re going to deal with those situations as they arise.

On the next steps in the teams’ affiliation …

JH: Well, I think the most important thing is that this is the first step. I think that certainly from an MLS standpoint – and I’m talking about from a league standpoint – this is something that has been talked about but it’s never really been formalized and this is the first step in formalizing it. I really think this is going to be a good first test, a good first step, that these two teams come together and three other teams and in doing so, we’re going to learn a lot this first year and I think this is really what we’re talking about as making progress and making that first step.

On whether there is an overall grand vision for the affiliation…

JH: No, I don’t believe there’s a grand vision. I think that we want to see where it goes and I think that there’s been talk of this for a while and finding a way to have both leagues benefit from it, as opposed to one or the other or one over the other. So it’s important for us in terms of development, and this is where I’ll bring it back to me. As a coach, knowing that whether it’s four players, five players or six players, they’re going to get – from the scouting we’ve done with the USL – very high-level, competitive games. So much more on the line than a lot of the reserve games. We feel there’s that much more – they’re in a conference chase, they’re in a playoff chase – that’s important for development in my eyes. So when we send players there, we’re going to expect them to deliver at that level.

On why Rochester chose to affiliate with the Revolution, as opposed to other MLS teams…

PE: From our standpoint, like I said earlier, I think the organization that we’ve teamed up with is a quality organization. It has a long history as a successful organization. And at the time, I think there’s only four teams at the moment that have made the attempt to want to do this. So we were very satisfied, especially when you look at the people involved – the coaching staff. We think we’ll have good rapport with them and we think we’ll be able to work through these gray issues that could potentially arise through the course of the season. And I think we both have the same vision of wanting to be successful at both the MLS level and the USL level. So that will be our common goal, really: we want to both succeed.

On whether or not the Revolution Empire partnership affected Rochester’s decision…

PE: From our perspective, and this is something that’s from a league standpoint and our own personal standpoint, in this relationship, there’s more focus on the professional side. It’s development of professional players. And we’re both two professional teams that want to achieve that. We both have our involvement in the youth level and we feel that that’s extremely important to get back to the youth and develop better talent that will eventually maybe play on the national team level. But it’s important to get the professional side right first.

On how the affiliation works in regard to the U.S. Open Cup…

MB: Our intent is that the players that we loan to Rochester, we are not going to prevent or prohibit those players from playing Open Cup matches for Rochester. However, once and if a Revolution player does play in an Open Cup match for Rochester, that player will be cup-tied. So whether we played against each other or they’ve already played for Rochester, they would be committed to play for Rochester in the Open Cup. But it is not our intent and we will not be calling players back on loan to play for our team in the Open Cup. They will continue to play for Rochester.

On how the affiliation fits in to the Revolution’s long-term plan with the Academy and for developing talent…

MB: I think right now, one of the things that we’ve been trying to do over the last few years – and we’ve been very conscious of it – is to try to integrate our youth players into the first team. Whether that’s in training sessions when available, whether that’s training over the summer, or whether that’s incorporating some of the Academy players into the reserve league as we previously knew it or participated in. This agreement does not prevent us from calling up any of our Academy players to play for Rochester. However, in all practicality, I think it’s a little bit more unlikely given a couple factors that that’s going to be the case this year. One is obviously the distance and the travel for our Academy kids. Two: the Academy season is now longer – it’s now a 10-month season as opposed to a nine-month season. And three: obviously all of our Academy kids are in school and playing more games on the weekends. So it’s going to be more challenging for us to do so, even if Rochester needed a couple players to be called up from our Academy program. So we will continue to place a huge amount of emphasis on our Academy program and that’s one of the areas that we’ve thought long and hard about before this partnership goes is how do we continue to incorporate our Academy players. And I think at least this year, you’ll probably see, depending on our first-team injury status and national team call-ups and in the summer, it may be an opportunity for Jay (Heaps) and the coaches to get a look at more of our Academy kids training with our first team as opposed to getting called up to play for Rochester.

On whether this affiliation will give players more playing time than the reserve league…

MB: We think it is, or we wouldn’t have gone this route for this year. As Jay (Heaps) previously said, we are just getting out of the gate on this. We are one of four MLS teams exploring this option. As Pat (Ercoli) and I have spoken pretty frankly over the last couple of months, we are very bullish and think this is going to be successful for both Rochester and New England. For sure, at the end of the year both sides will sit down and we will reassess what went well this year, what we need to tweak, what didn’t go so well. So we just don’t have those precise answers right now, but we do feel strongly to get multiple players on the Revs competitive games over the season playing in USL right now for us is more beneficial than 10 or 12 reserve games, one a month or every couple months. We think this is a smart decision. It is something worth exploring and that’s why we chose to do it. We are optimistic it is going to be positive going forward, not just this year, but in the future. We will have to wait and see how this year plays out for us before I can really answer that.

On the type of players who have previously played for the reserve team and could now be loaned to Rochester…

MB: That’s a good question. It is something that we are looking at right now. We are still only three weeks into our preseason. Currently we have 24 players signed to contracts that are on our roster. However we have a 30-man roster. First and foremost, we are going to continue to take the next few weeks to evaluate our players to get to a 30-man roster. Then we think what’s going to happen, we’d like to have Jesse (Myers) and Pat (Ercoli) join us in Tucson for the second preseason trip we have so they can help look and evaluate our players. Then we will sit down and make some sense on who we think makes sense for both us and for them to have go on loan and play games for them. I’ve got to be honest, I do not know Rochester’s current roster particularity well. With Jesse (Myers), Pat (Ercoli), Jay (Heaps), Remi (Roy) and Jay (Miller) we will sit down and see what their (Rochester) needs are and try to fit it with player we think will not be playing significant minutes with us on the first team. Then we’ll come to a decision on who to loan to them (Rochester). That is the game plan we have right now. In terms of age-specific I really can’t answer that because we have not made any decisions.

On the possibility for senior players to get games in with Rochester…

MB: Yeah, we could do that. The scenario I could give you if it plays out that four players go on loan to Rochester and then it’s May or June – I am giving a hypothetical here – one of our players is coming back from injury and Jesse (Myers) or Pat (Ercoli) call and say, ‘Listen, right now we are down a center back,’ and one of our center backs is coming off injury, we could absolutely loan more than the four and some can be for less than a permanent basis. If it is a player coming back from injury, we have the freedom to do that.

On how this affiliation will help Rochester manage their schedule…

JM: That’s great news. I think our fans might like that also. Absolutely, I mean that is the way the rest of the world works and that’s the way it needs to work to make this whole agreement to work for the players and the organizations.