A soccer team with a focus on and an appeal to community; that’s how the newest club in the Rochester area is introducing itself.
Rochester River Dogz FC rolled out their brand on November 30, 2015 to more head-scratching than applause. Since that point, though, the club has made a series of smart moves, most notably publishing a revised crest. From staff appointments and player acquisitions to local business sponsorship, the River Dogz has developed strongly to make up for the rather cartoonish first impression.
Team Director of Marketing Damian Graybelle spoke to assembled fans at Dorschel Maserati of Rochester on Thursday night about the importance of community engagement. General Manager Marc Mandell told me before the presentation about the team’s planned volunteer work with the Special Olympics New York State Summer Games in Brockport, NY, on June 10 and 11, the days leading up to a home match against Indy Eleven. Graybelle also pointed to projected work on behalf of and alongside other local charitable organizations.
In line with recognizing the most effective groups offering much-needed services to the greater Rochester area, individuals in key positions within the River Dogz appear to appreciate their own role in both the soccer landscape and the community at large.
During his presentation, Graybelle impressed upon the audience that both staff and players are committing their time to the team in addition to their regular jobs. Tying the club’s efforts to hopeful support from the community, Graybelle described the team as a passion-driven pursuit.
“This is your team,” Graybelle said definitively. He told the audience that he’s confident that Rochesterians will see their sons, their friends, and their neighbors on the field and share a feeling of immense pride for the River Dogz. One local player looking to inspire his city is 17-year-old defender Nikkye De Point.
As he prepares to matriculate at Villanova University in the fall, Rochester native and former U17 national team member Nikkye De Point is excited for what the summer holds with Rochester River Dogz FC. The young defender is looking to gain knowledge from his teammates and experience playing in a competitive men’s league before playing college soccer.
“I think it’ll help a lot because a lot of these guys are former college players and former pros,” De Point said of playing with the River Dogz. “I think the amount of wisdom that they have in the game and the level they can bring will ultimately help me get to the level I want to be at going into college. I think that’ll help a lot compared to academies where you’re playing against opponents who are the same age level.”
De Point is a natural centerback but several coaches have projected him as a fullback on a higher stage. “Coach Tantalo told me he’s definitely trying to use me as a centerback. But he said with my versatility I could play outside back, anywhere in the back line, and maybe even a 6 – a holding midfielder. A lot of coaches have told me that; my strongest position, I think, is centerback but I’m open to any position.”
River Dogz head coach Matt Tantalo has 18 years of experience coaching In Upstate New York colleges. He grew up In Rochester and has played collegiate, semi-professional, and professional soccer. Tantalo led Gates Chili High School to back-to-back Section V Championships in the early 1990s and started every game for the Rochester Institute of Technology, which included leading the Tigers to a NCAA quarterfinals appearance.
Tantalo has held head coaching and assistant coaching positions at Nazareth College, Keuka College, Syracuse University, and Elmira College. As a Rochester native and collegiate standout at RIT, Tantalo knows this area well and has deep connections in the soccer network in the area.
In addition to his depth of insight in the college game and the quality necessary for success at that level, Tantalo also brings his own local experience to the table for the River Dogz. “I’m very familiar with Rochester soccer,” Tantalo told me after the presentation. “It’s a great soccer community.”
“Putting the team together had been a daily process for the past five months. We’re starting from scratch and building from the ground up,” Tantalo said. That process started in November when the club management approach him and has included flipping through the Rolodex and holding open tryouts.
“We’ve had two tryouts and had about 130 guys try out. Of our roster, probably only 10 came from that 130 players that we looked at.” Finding about two-fifths of the squad from open tryouts, in addition to the other players with local connections, shows that the River Dogz offer an opportunity that was missing from the Rochester area. This team can provide a useful stepping stone for Rochester players to reach the next level while putting a quality product on the field.
“I played in the USL Pro League, I played in the PDL, and I’m a student of the game and a fan of soccer,” Tantalo told me. “I’m familiar with the NPSL, I have players that have played for FC Buffalo before. The assistant coach at FC Buffalo, I coached at college. I have those kinds of connections so I’m familiar with the NPSL,” he laughed.
“It’s a quality league and it’s going to be a really good level for our players and for our fans.”
Rochester River Dogz FC kick off its inaugural season on the road against FC Buffalo on May 14. The team’s home opener is on May 27, hosting AFC Cleveland at Eunice Kennedy Shriver Stadium on the campus of SUNY Brockport.