Mladenov nets pair, sends Rochester past Hershey 2-0 for third championship in four years; Trotman is remembered.
By John Polis
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (Saturday, October 13, 2001) -- Stoian Mladenov penned another glorious chapter in the history of Rochester professional soccer tonight, scoring both goals to lead the Rhinos to a 2-0 victory over Hershey Wildcats in the 2001 A-League championship game.
An emotional crowd of 13,692 fans, the sixth-largest crowd in Rochester history, saw the Rhinos win their third A-League title in the past four seasons -- as well as their 16th straight playoff game at their home ground, Frontier Field.
Mladenov, a 26-year-old midfielder from Bulgaria, scored in the 63rd and 88th minutes to break open a tight game. Obtained in a mid-season trade with Minnesota, Mladenov teamed with Kirk Wilson and Martin Nash to penetrate a Wildcat defense that had given up only 20 goals in 26 regular-season games before allowing only one in its first four playoff games.
"To win a championship in front of so many people is a great thing," said Mladenov who was voted by the media as the game's "Most Valuable Player." "The year didn't start very good for me and I was very excited when I was traded to Rochester."
Hershey appeared to slam the door on Rochester through the latter part of the first half, but some halftime adjustments by Rochester coach Pat Ercoli opened things up in the final 45 minutes.
"We felt we needed to get wide and make their midfield do more work," said Ercoli, who has led the Rhinos to their three A-League titles in addition to the 1999 U.S. Open Cup crown. "We had to get Carlos Zavala in there so we could get something going down the left side."
With less than 30 minutes left to play, Nash found himself open on the left side of the penalty area with Mladenov about 12 yards out in front. "I took a touch with my right foot and put it over on the left side," said Mladenov of his first goal.
The second goal came after a flurry of Rochester activity, beginning with Wilson's thunderous shot from 14 yards out on the left that caromed off the right post. The ball fell to substitute Jimmy Tanner, who located an open Mladenov just outside the area. His shot beat A-League "Goalkeeper of the Year" Jon Busch to make it 2-0.
The result in this one might have been different were it not for a goal-saving stop by Rochester keeper Scott Vallow in the 52nd minute. Brazilian Ze Roberto cut across the penalty area past four Rhino defenders and seemed to have Vallow dead in the water when he fired a left-footed shot from about seven yards out. But Vallow made a valiant deflection for the save, which, in retrospect, was a major factor in the game.
"That was a huge save," said Ercoli. "It's the difference between winning and losing for a goalkeeper -- when there isn't much going on and then your team calls upon you to make a great save, and you can do it."
Hershey coach Bob Lilley could only wonder what might have been. "If Ze Roberto's shot goes in, it might have been a different story," said Lilley. "For 63 minutes we played extremely well, but all credit to Rochester. They keep coming at you. They are resilient.
"Stoian is a great player. His first goal was a big-time goal. If you give him enough looks at the ball he will beat you."
Rochester's third championship may have been the sweetest, according to Rhinos General Manager Chris Economides. Following the game, a championship medal was presented in memory of Rhino player Mickey Trotman, who was killed in a traffic accident October 3 in his native Trinidad & Tobago where he was to have played in a World Cup qualifier.
"All of them are good, but this one was special because we had the chance to win it for a fallen teammate," said Economides. "I'm a firm believer that things happen for a reason. And don't think for a minute that Mickey didn't have something to do with this."