Rhinos’ Open Cup win of historic proportions.By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service
(Wednesday, September 15, 1999) -- The U.S. Open Cup triumph by the Rochester Rhinos was an historical accomplishment and deserves to be mentioned with the great moments in American soccer.
This was a second division A-League entry defeating four straight playoff-bound first division Major League Soccer teams, and the victories were no flukes.
Rochester, admittedly outplayed by Colorado in a scoreless first half, carried the play most of the final 45 minutes, prevailing, 2-0, to cap a most improbable surge - David slaying Goliath four straight games.
What does this say about Major League Soccer?
What does this say about minor-league soccer?
What does this say about Rochester?
It's certainly not something MLS wants to talk too much about, although Rapids coach Glenn Myernick, unlike some earlier victims, was gracious in defeat: "I think they're a team of destiny. To beat four teams in our league, they deserve to be the champions."
Goals are scarce in soccer, and anything can happen in one match -- which is the premise that makes the U.S. Open Cup such an exciting tournament. The game was on nationwide television, further adding to Major League Soccer's embarrassment.
This doesn't mean Rochester would prevail in a 32-game MLS regular season -- total salary for players is between $500,000 and $600,000, compared with a $1.7 million limit for MLS teams -- but the present roster would be a serious contender for the playoffs this year in the Eastern Conference. And think what it would do with added players under the MLS salary cap!
Major League Soccer must again rely on powerful D.C. United -- winner last year of the CONCACAF Champions Cup and the InterAmerican Cup -- to regain stature later this month in the 1999 CONCACAF Champions Cup in Las Vegas, along with the Chicago Fire.
Where were they in the U.S. Open Cup? The Fire was beaten by Rochester, D.C. United lost to a mediocre A-League team, Charleston. The Los Angeles Galaxy, the other MLS elite team, was hard-pressed to beat San Diego Flash in a preliminary round before losing to Columbus Crew.
Colorado was without injured playmaker Anders Limpar, and his absence continues to hurt the Rapids. But the Rhinos had two starters out with injuries -- brilliant midfielder Lenin Steenkamp and forward Jimmy Glenn - and another regular, midfielder Tommy Tanner, sat out due to yellow-card suspension.
The Rhinos may be second division but they have depth - led by Scotland Premier League-bound goalkeeper Pat Onstad, midfielder Yari Allnutt and defenders Scott Schweitzer and Craig Demmin -- and they proceeded without missing a beat.
Not an overly young group, it is also not a team of former Major League Soccer players, either. Just two who participated in the U.S. Open Cup final have been in MLS -- defender Andrew Restrepo for five games in 1996 with the New York\New Jersey MetroStars, and Allnutt, for one match, also in 1996, with the then-Kansas City Wiz, where he managed one goal in 45 minutes.
But they have something - a combination of talent, confidence, spirit and cohesiveness that are wonderful to watch.
Do the Rhinos belong in MLS? Yes! But it may not be in the cards. Getting a soccer-specific stadium for $40 million to $50 million will be difficult enough, but hopefully city, county, and\or state officials can provide half the costs, with the rest coming from team management sources. The killer could be the MLS entry fee -- with the original $5 million now raised to $25 million.
Will that hang up Rochester being accepted? Hope not. MLS could use the soccer-type atmosphere and management competence created in this Central New York city.
Kudos to the U.S. Open Cup, to U.S. Soccer for getting the final on television, to the
A-League (6-4 overall against MLS this year, 10-18 in U.S. Open Cup the past four years against
first division teams) for providing the competitive spark for the tournament, and most of all to
the Rhinos, who breathed life into the sport while the endless MLS season drags on.
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.