Sept. 15, 1999/D&C

Rhinos win U.S. Open Cup championship

BY JEFF DiVERONICA, STAFF WRITER

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Rochester Rhinos did it again last night, and this time they did it in style, so every soccer fan in America could see with their own eyes they are for real. Playing before a national television audience on ESPN, the defending A-League champions added a second title to their trophy case, beating Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids 2-0 to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup before a small-but-rowdy gathering a Columbus Crew Stadium. “For all of us, this is one of those moments in time you just want to cherish,” teary-eyed Doug Miller said after scoring the game-winner in the 66th minute before Yari Allnutt’s goal in the 90th clinched it. It was just another page in the storybook the Rhinos have been writing since 1996, when they reached two title matches only to finish as runner-up in both. Rochester is the first non-Major League Soccer team to win the Open Cup since 1995 when the Richmond Kickers (USISL Premier) did and general manager Chris Economides called it the biggest victory in franchise history.

“It’s the same feeling,” Colorado coach Glenn “Mooch” Myernick said, referring to the Rapids’ loss in the 1997 MLS Cup title match. “But congratulations to Rochester. I think they’re a team of destiny. To beat four teams from (MLS), they deserve to be the champions.”

The Rhinos play in the second-division A-League, but their four-year record against MLS teams is 6-3 and their 10-3 Cup mark is the best since 1996 when MLS clubs joined the 86-year-old tournament. They said last night’s win – their fourth in a row over a playoff-bound MLS team – leaves no doubt: They’re one of the best teams in the country, if not the best in big games. “We’ve gained respect all year, but if we would have lost you know (critics) would have said, ‘Maybe they got lucky against three teams.’ ” spunky defender Scott Schweitzer said. “I don’t think any of us wanted that. We proved our point and now when teams come to play us they can say they’re coming to play the best team in America.” Only about 2,000 fans showed up for last night’s game, which didn’t involve the home team because the Rhinos knocked off Columbus with a comeback win in the semifinals. But at least a few hundred fans were boisterous Rhino-backers who made their presence felt. Three busloads made the six-hour drive. Rochester average attendance this season (11,551) is better than two MLS clubs. “We were definitely the home team,” Schweitzer said amid a wild on-field celebration. “We were in yellow and black – Columbus Crew colors. I think we had the Crew fans cheering for us too. For us, it was an emotional lift. Rochester has the best fans in America. They deserve it just as much as we do.”

They also became the first fans at the new Crew Stadium to rush the field to celebrate with their team. Miller’s goal also made them erupt. How fitting that he was the hero. He is the team’s all-time leading scorer and still arguably its most popular player despite two sub-par seasons following his A-League MVP season in 1997 when he scored 23 goals. But he had limited playing time this year, and in fact hadn’t even played the past two matches. “Colorado had a lot of height at the back. We were fighting, (Darren) Tilley was working hard. It just didn’t seem like we were going to win it in the air,” said Rhinos coach Pat Ercoli, who has had differences with Miller the past two years. “It was important for us to get somebody in there who could get in behind them.”

The speedy, 5-foot-8 Miller entered in the 62nd minute, replacing the 6-foot-3 Tilley. Miller’s footspeed has always been a weapon and Ercoli said the Rhinos wanted to go with their “ground game.” Miller dribbled past one defender above the left side of the penalty area,but a Colorado player knocked it into the left corner, where Rhinos midfielder Bill Sedgewick chased it down. “(The Rapids) went to cover Billy and I kind of snuck into the near post,” Miller said. He was unmarked, trapped the ball about eight yards out, then pushed a left-footed shot through the legs of goalkeeper Ian Feuer, who at 6-foot-6 is the tallest player in MLS. In typical fashion from his goal-scoring binges in 1996 and’97, Miller ripped off his jersey and sprinted toward the Rhinos fans. On the back it read: “Be strong in the Lord. He will reward you. Keep the faith.”