ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The Rochester Rhinos and Empire United Soccer Academy have announced the development of a strategic alliance.

The alliance will provide a path from Empire United’s Major League Soccer Elite Youth Development Platform to the Rhinos’ United Soccer League’s first team, beginning with the 2021-22 youth soccer season next July, allowing for a natural progression in the development of local soccer players.

This announcement was the first news posted on the Rhinos’ website since Nov. 9, 2018. Two years ago, the Rhinos announced that they would go dormant for the foreseeable future from USL Championship action.

It also was announced that Empire United Soccer Academy eventually will host the Rhinos’ first team at its John Street facility in Henrietta, N.Y. The facility includes:

* A 120 x 75 lighted turf field

* An indoor field house including a 100 by 50 indoor field

* A strength and conditioning gymnasium

* Locker rooms with showers

* Team meeting facilities

The Rhinos have not announced if or when they will return to the USL. There have been rumors they would rejoin league as a USL League One team.

“In preparation for the return of the professional team, we felt it was important to reinforce our development pyramid on the technical side with local players and coaches.” Rhinos president Pat Ercoli said in a statement. “Our strategic alliance is a natural one as Empire is one of 94 founding clubs to be recognized nationally as a member of the MLS academy league, and the Rhinos will fit perfectly at the top of their player development pyramid.”

Empire United Soccer Academy was established in 1966 and is one of 94 founding member clubs in the inaugural MLS Elite Youth Platform. The academy has produced eight full time professional players and has placed 19 youth players into MLS Youth Academies since 2016.

Six players have been selected to U.S. youth national teams while more than 50 players have made appearances at the U.S. Soccer youth national team training centers. More than 70 percent of academy alumni go on to play in Division I programs. Empire United Soccer Academy has placed more than 1,000 boys and girls into college programs the past 20 years.

“Empire United is thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with the Rhinos, and to work together to build a strong foundation of support within the Rochester and upstate New York soccer communities,” Empire United director of coaching Jeff Oliver said in a statement. “From the beginning of our discussions, it was clear that we shared the same forward-thinking mindset, with the goal of providing the very best opportunities, pathways, and experiences for all involved in the youth soccer space. In creating this strategic alliance, we are confident in our shared vision and that we can achieve our goals, while fostering an environment of excellence, inclusion, and equity not seen before in our local youth soccer market.”