Familiar Foe at Saputo

Montreal Rivalry With Rochester Rhinos Renewed

  • Graphic Graeme Shorten Adams

On Saturday at Saputo Stadium’s turf field, an old United Soccer League derby will be renewed.

The Rochester Rhinos will once again cross the border to face Montreal. But unlike past years where they’ve faced the Montreal Impact, the Rhinos will take on the Impact’s USL sister club FC Montreal at 2:30 p.m, for the first competitive Rochester-Montreal derby in five years.

Both teams have had notable matches and moments in their USL First Division rivalry, beginning from the mid-1990s, but that all changed at the end of the 2010 season. The Rhinos stepped back from the division, and joined USL PRO.

The Impact went on to play in the North American Soccer League and were eventually promoted into MLS in 2012.

The well-known Montreal-Rochester derby was seemingly over until Montreal was granted a team in the USL this past off-season, renewing previous hostilities.

Current Rochester Rhinos and former Montreal Impact head coach Bob Lilley remembers games in the rivalry as “physical and controversial”.

“I was coaching in Hershey from 1997 to 2001 [before joining the Impact in 2002] and even I knew the rivalry between Rochester and Montreal,” said Lilley. “They were two hungry teams trying to win championships with high expectations.”

FC Montreal defender Chakib Hocine remembers attending a Rochester-Montreal game in his youth.

“It was back at Centre Claude-Robillard, I went to see a game and it happened to be against Rochester,” he said. “I already knew that it would be a bit of a derby.”

The Impact played the Rhinos last season in the now defunct MLS Reserve League. Despite the game being a friendly, Rochester fans were in full voice.

“The stadium was very tense before kickoff,” said FC Montreal team captain Nazim Belguendouz. “They brought fans in the stands so we really played a big game and even if it was a friendly, the rivalry was still there so I imagine that in USL the rivalry will be even bigger.”

Pat Ercoli, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Rhinos, was Rochester’s head coach from 1996 to 2004, during the glory days of the Montreal-Rochester derby. He describes the
relationship between the two squads like a respectful fight between brothers.

“When we came [into the league] I was always comparing and [the Impact] were what we wanted to become. We were looking at the Montreal franchise as the model franchise in our league,” recalled Ercoli. “They didn’t like to lose and consequently physicality played a part in it. But I don’t think it was in any way disrespectful or cheap. We cared about the game and about winning and we still do.”

The FC Montreal players were told by coach Philippe Eullaffroy that Saturday’s game against the Rhinos was not a regular one.

“He told us we had to expect a good solid match and that the rivalry will quickly kick in so we will need to be ready physically and mentally for it,” said Belguendouz.

“We saw some video footage and their defenders are big and tough. We are expecting nothing less than taking hits on the field,” admitted FC Montreal midfielder Philippe Lincourt-Joseph.

On Rochester’s side, Lilley dismisses the fact that his team hold the advantage of having more experienced players versus a younger FC Montreal side.

“Maybe they don’t have that much experience but some of them will end up playing MLS first-team football down the road so there will be talent there.”

“I expect the game to be like past Rochester-Montreal games,” concluded Lilley. “Very competitive and usually tight games.”

In a previous edition of this article, it was written that Rochester joined USL Pro, the third tier-league after the USL and MLS. It should have read the third-tie league after the NASL and the MLS. The Link regrets the error.

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