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Jerry's World

U.S. Cup final another prized moment in great American soccer year.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Sunday, September 12, 1999) -- This has been a huge year for soccer in the United States -- with the women capturing the World Cup and the men regaining confidence under Bruce Arena.

And another magical moment is on hand Tuesday.

It's the underdog second division Rochester (N.Y.) Rhinos against the favored first division Colorado Rapids for the U.S. Open Cup. The A-League team has captured the hearts of many in the soccer world. It is David vs. Goliath, but don't bet the house on the latter.

This is a sound Rochester side, which came to prominence a couple years ago with an all-out attack philosophy, then switched to a more defensive, counter-attack mode this season. The Rhinos dominate in the A-League and have beaten three straight MLS teams to reach the finals -- Dallas Burn, Chicago Fire, and Columbus Crew. They are not a fluke.

Colorado, meanwhile, has had trouble scoring in recent weeks due to the injury to playmaking midfielder Anders Limpar. The Rapids need the Swedish star for ball-control and distribution.

Few believe the present Rochester lineup would do much in a 32-game season in MLS -- though it probably could handle the likes of the New York\New Jersey MetroStars more often than not, and be competitive with bottom feeders New England, Miami, San Jose and Kansas City. And, don't forget, the Rhinos are without high-priced (by MLS standards) "marquee" players as well as four international allocations.

But anything can happen in one game. Ask the Rapids goalkeeper, Ian Feuer, who was in the nets for non-league Rushden & Diamonds last year in a scoreless draw with Leeds United of the famed England Premier League in a preliminary round of the venerable F.A. Cup.

"There's something magical about a cup game, an underdog goes out feeling that they have nothing to lose, and often the favorite is so petrified of losing that they play cautious and are easier to beat," he said.

Rhinos coach Pat Ercoli said the motivation is high for his team. "MLS is where all players want to be in this country, and when our guys have a chance to knock off a club from the top level, it's natural that we are going to come out gunning, and that makes for great games," he said.

Rochester, strong on the field, is fantastic off it, averaging 11,551 a game attendance -- nearly three times its nearest minor-league competitor, and more than existing MLS franchises Miami and Kansas City. Former Commissioner Douglas Logan promised the Rhinos a berth in Major League Soccer once it got a new soccer-specific stadium, and negotiations are under way in the Central New York city for one. There's also the matter of an entrance fee -- which has been in the $25 million-$26 million area the past couple years.

When and if both hurdles are passed, it is hoped the new regime led by commissioner Don Garber will honor that pledge. Major League Soccer could use at least one modest-sized market, especially one that provides large-market support.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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