Two team names, three home stadiums and three head coaches. That is what Bobby Rhine has seen during his eight-year Major League Soccer career in Dallas. But the FC Dallas defender knows how good he and his teammates have it.
"It's funny to look back on it now knowing that when I first arrived here, we didn't have ownership," Rhine said. "We didn't have a very good training facility and things weren't run as professionally as they should be. To see where things are today is just astounding.
"I talk to family and friends who haven't been to Pizza Hut Park and tell them about our training facility, what the club is doing in the locker room and in the front office. Just from every aspect of what everyday life is like for a player on FC Dallas now is just amazing. It's everything that Major League Soccer should be and it's everything that every club should strive to have."
In his first seven seasons, he has learned a great deal compared to when he was a greenhorn in MLS, just out of the University of Connecticut.
"The biggest things I learned were the day in and day out things of being a pro, like having good training habits, a good locker room environment and a good attitude in terms of the professionalism that you carry on and off the field," Rhine said.
Rhine has noticed many positive changes in MLS since 1999. "It's amazing how much the standard of play has risen," he said. "It's just amazing to see the level of players coming in at 17, 18, 19 and 20 years old and seeing the ability these players have. The biggest thing for them is just catching onto the mentality of being a good pro. That's where your older veteran guys come in terms with helping shape that character."
None of his current teammates were with the club when Rhine made his debut in 1999, but current assistant coach Oscar Pareja was. Even when Rhine came into the club, Pareja offered veteran advice -- and their relationship remains one built on mutual respect.
"Our relationship hasn't changed a bit from being teammates to me being a coach," Pareja said. "We had respect for each other from the very beginning. He was a great teammate and I learned a lot of things from him like language and the way Americans see things."
Rhine isn't the only current FC Dallas player who has been through similar changes. Goaltender Jeff Cassar and fellow defender Chris Gbandi have also been along for the ride.
"I knew Jeff (Cassar) previously before he came to Dallas and I played with Chris (Gbandi) at Connecticut," he said. "It's good to have those familiar faces in the locker room, those guys that you know what they bring day in and day out."
Now Rhine has the opportunity to be a mentor to his younger teammates, and it's something he relishes.
"It sets good examples for the younger players because we know that part of our responsibility is to help them along the road and eventually take our jobs," he said. "But part of being a good pro is doing the right things and helping them along. That's what will help push the league along. That's a responsibility that so many of us older players kind of cherish and don't take lightly."
For the second season running, Rhine has been tabbed to start on the right side of the Hoops' back four, after beginning his career as a striker or a wide midfielder. Rhine started there last weekend when the Hoops defeated the Chicago Fire 3-2 to open the 2006 season, and this year he has some new goals.
"I am setting the bar a little higher for myself," Rhine said. "Certainly, there are some things that I absolutely know I have to work on as a defender. Like so many of us, we are raising standards here. My goals and motivations are different than in years past. As defenders, we talk about trying to improve our defensive mentality and getting more clean sheets."
FC Dallas head coach Colin Clarke has made note of Rhine's improvement on defense. "Bobby's in his second year of being a right back," he said. "But he is looking more and more comfortable every day."
Even though his jersey now reads FC Dallas, Rhine doesn't forget his early days with the club. "I definitely don't forget the Dallas Burn," he said. "I had some absolutely terrific memories with that club and that name. Now it's sort of a new era. FC Dallas and Pizza Hut Park coincide with that. It's spectacular to see where this club is going."
Along those lines, it shouldn't be a surprise what his favorite memory in his seven-plus seasons in Dallas has been.
"It would have to go back to August 6, 2005, when we opened (Pizza Hut Park)," Rhine said. "To just step out onto this field knowing that this was our field and our stadium and that our fans can see us here in this environment was just such an incredible, emotional feeling.
"For so many of us that spent some time here in the days of the Dallas Burn before FC Dallas, it was that transition that we had made into the upper echelon of MLS," he said. "Granted, we don't have a lot of hardware in our trophy case, but we plan on adding to that. In terms of heading in the right direction, at that moment, it was very emotional for so many of us."
Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.