At one point in history, sometime around the Industrial Revolution, Rochester had a reputation for attracting the best talent from around the country. In the fields of optics, medicine, music and film, Rochester attracted some of the best and brightest who were proud to call our city home. Times have changed and Rochester has lost much of the magnetism that contributed to its reputation as such a dynamic city. With the change in climate, the name “Rochester, New York” has slipped into near obscurity. So it may raise some eyebrows that while Xerox and Kodak pack their bags, a construction crew downtown broke ground January 15th on a new soccer stadium that could give Rochester the name recognition the little stickers on disposable cameras never could. PaeTec Stadium could become the home of the newest franchise in Major League Soccer. It’s not a done deal yet, but Rochester has unexpectedly jumped toward the front of the pack in a tight race between cities such as Oklahoma City and Houston to become the home of MLS’s newest franchise when they expand either this spring or the season after. Rochester in MLS? How could this be? What did we do to suddenly deserve a place in a league? While certainly not of the stature of the NFL or MLB, the MLS is still a cut above the minor leagues that have for so long characterized professional sports in this city.What is actually happening with Rochester soccer may be the first example of a practice in professional sports common in European clubs, but to date absent in American sports practices. It’s called relegation and it means that technically the MLS will not be expanding into Rochester. Rather, the soccer gods will instead promote the A-League Rochester Raging Rhinos into the highest level of professional soccer in the United States.In a European country such as Italy, the soccer league is divided into several different divisions – say A Division, B Division, and C Division. A Division represents the highest level and the two top teams play for the national championship. B Division is one level down and so on. Here’s relegation – the worst team in the A Division after every year is demoted to B Division, whereas the best B team advances to the A Division. The system extends all the way down to the bottom of the barrel. This way, even the smallest, most provincial town can see their soccer club advance each year, and after two or three seasons possibly see their squad playing for the national championship. It’s a fun idea and helps keep soccer enormously popular in Europe.So will the MLS be adopting relegation? As poetic as that may be, relegation isn’t really as feasible in the United States where the sports world is ruled by urban demographics, television contracts and consumer marketing. However, Rochester may be an exception to the rule due to the success of the Raging Rhinos.The Raging Rhinos have everything the MLS is looking for in a team. With attendance averaging over 10,000 fans per game last season, the Rhinos are right there with the smaller MLS clubs in terms of attendance and ticket sales. The Rhinos are an A-League powerhouse with name recognition, quality players, and history. In 1999 the Rhinos defeated the Dallas Burn of the MLS in the U.S. Open, a feat comparable to the Amerks beating the Devils or the Red Wings taking a series from Atlanta. At one point in late 2003 it looked as though Rochester would land a top-tier sports team as soon as 2004. But like almost everything else in this city, the Rhinos’ promotion has been delayed, possibly to as late as 2006. Just when the construction crews were ready to finally start building the long-awaited soccer stadium, rival bids came in right under our noses and beat Rochester to the punch. It now looks as though Cleveland and a southern California team will be the latest additions to the MLS family. Soccer fans worldwide know that Rochester deserves and can handle an MLS team. The smartest decision would be to send a message to other A-league teams that consistent quality will be noticed and rewarded. Sadly, in a testament to the American way, Mexican jefe Jorge Vergara was able to buy himself into the league at Rochester’s expense.It’s exciting to think about the implications if Rochester does eventually field a MLS team. Rochester could receive national coverage, name recognition, and maybe even a little tourism if people hear about the Rochester Raging Rhinos and wonder what the deal with Rochester is. Best of all, in the 2006 version of FIFA on XBox, I’ll be able to choose the ROC and reminisce about my college days while playing videogames. Schloss can be reached at aschloss@campustimes.org



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