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Rochester New York FC is a professional soccer club owned by David and Wendy Dworkin, minority owners of the Sacramento Kings basketball club, and Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, and previously named the Rochester Rhinos. Announced plans include a TV reality show focusing on the rebuilding of the team, resumption of play in 2022 on the field of Empire United Soccer Academy (with whom the club has a strategic partnership), and the eventual construction of a bespoke stadium.
The Rochester Raging Rhinos soccer club was founded in 1996. Home games were played at Fauver Stadium on the University of Rochester campus before the opening of Frontier Field in downtown Rochester. In 2006, the Rhinos moved to their new purpose-built stadium, variously known as PAETEC Park, Marina Auto Stadium, Rochester Rhinos Stadium, Sahlen's Stadium, Capelli Sport Stadium, and (after the Rhinos ceased playing there) Rochester Community Sports Complex.
In 2008 the Adirondack Sports Club, LLC (owner Rob Clark) acquired the team when the former owners defaulted on bank loans for the stadium and the club was taken over by the City of Rochester. "Raging" was dropped from the team name at this time.
This Rochester Rhinos have enjoyed a high level of success in their history. A-League Championships were earned in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. The Rhinos also have the distinction of being the only non-Major League Soccer (MLS) team to capture a U.S. Open Cup Championship since MLS's inception in 1996, defeating the Colorado Rapids in the 1999 final. The Rhinos defeated three other MLS teams, including the defending MLS Cup champion Chicago Fire, en route to the final. This success made the Rhinos one the premier franchises in the USL (formerly the A-League) and feared by their opponents.
Also adding to the Rochester advantage was the large amount of fan support locally for the Rhinos. In its first decade the team typically drew nine or ten thousand fans per match, a statistic which pushed the effort to construct their own stadium. (During the 2000 season, the Rhinos drew on average 11,628 fans for 15 games.) By 2011, however, attendance was running less than half that despite generally competitive teams.
In 2012 the Rhinos played in the 11-team USL PRO division (two steps below Major League Soccer). Their home opener was Saturday, May 5 against the Charlotte Eagles. They finished the regular season with a 12-7-5 record, earning second seed in the league playoffs, but lost the semifinal match on penalty kicks.
In 2013 USL PRO expanded to 13 teams. The Rhinos lost their May 4 home opener 0-1 to the Harrisburg City Islanders. On May 19, with a record of 1-6-1, the club dismissed head coach Jesse Myers, replacing him with Pat Ercoli. Despite improved play they finished their season in 11th place with a 6-10-10 record, breaking a 17-year streak by failing to make the playoffs for the first time in team history.
Following the return of Bob Lilley as head coach, on October 16, 2015, the Rhinos won the USL championship. In January of 2016, however, the USL revoked Clark's ownership when the city revoked the team's lease on the stadium. New ownership was quickly found in David and Wendy Dworkin, minority owners of the Sacramento Kings basketball club. The Rhinos made the USL playoffs in 2016 and 2017, but attendance (which may have been overstated during the Clark period) continued to decline. On November 30, 2017 the Dworkins announced that an appeal to raise $1.3 million had not succeeded and that the Rhinos would not play in 2018 while additional sources of funding were sought.
In August of 2018 the Rhinos announced they would resume play in 2020 in the USL Division III (a step down necessitated by financial considerations). Arrangements for a home stadium - potentially a new facility in the suburbs - were to be sought; delays in these efforts were blamed in a September 2019 announcement that play would not resume until 2021. Breaking an extended silence in August 2020, the Rhinos announced1 a "strategic partnership" with Empire United Soccer Academy, merging their youth soccer operations and foreseeing synergy with the still-planned return of the Rhinos in 2021. There was no further news until July 2021, when it was announced2 that Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy had purchased a minority stake in the club, and that play would be resumed in 2022. The change of name to Rochester New York FC was announced on September 1, 2021. On December 6, 2021, it was announced that the club would play in the Eastern Conference of the newly-formed MLS Next Pro league, which is at the third tier of the American soccer pyramid.
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