By Michael Lewis
As a player, Doug Miller won a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with the Rochester Rhinos in 1999.
As a head coach almost two decades later, Miller will try to guide another side from Western New York to Open Cup success — the Rochester River Dogz.
Yes, they are an amateur team, the second side behind the Rochester Lancers, who will kick off their second season in the National Premier Soccer League later this month.
Miller, who has trained the team for six weeks, has liked what he has seen.
“It’s good for local talent here,” said Miller, who will deploy a combination of Lancers and River Dogz players against Erie Commodores FC at Gannon University in Erie, Pa. in the first round Wednesday night. “We’re hoping to fill a void.”
The void was left by the Rochester Rhinos, whose owners decided to take a year’s hiatus from United Soccer League play, in an attempt to get a better financial deal from the city of Rochester and more support from the western New York soccer fans.
Miller, who scored a goal in the cup final win, a 2-0 result over the Colorado Rapids in Columbus, Ohio, knows it would be a longshot for the River Dogz to win it all, but opportunity could knock for Rochester’s players for another reason.
“We have a lot of local talent and some players coming in from Syracuse to give us an opportunity making a run through this U.S. Open Cup,” Miller told Andrew Battisti and Joe Sirianni on the Soccer is a Kick in the Grass Radio Show Monday night.
“We’re very prepared. We have a good game plan going into it and now it’s execution of the game plan. If we do that, we should fare very well.”
Miller has called in a few players from the Syracuse Silver Knights of the Major Arena Soccer League, including defenders Darren Toby and Jake Schindler.
“There could be a couple of other ones,” Miller said, “after I get closer into the season that will make their way. we’re excited because we have some local talent that played here last year that went to GCC [Genesee Community College], guys who grew up here in Rochester, guys like Lukas Fernandes who played at Temple. These guys have really started to shine. It’s an exciting time for these because its a platform. If we win on Wednesday, we get to [play Pittsburgh] which gives them a platform to get identified to live the dream of playing professional soccer.”
Players must be ready, and not just on the field.
“I tell my players that every day you step on the field is an interview,” Miller said. “You better be prepared for that interview because you never know who’s watching. It could be at practice, it could be a game, it could be you walking down the street and not picking up the garbage and a coach sees you and he could quantify what type of person you are. I believe that we’re all called to do something very special and it doesn’t matter where you play. You want to be in an environment that teaches you life lessons through the game of soccer because in the end, we’re not soccer players, we’re still human beings.”
If the River Dogz win, they will host the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (United Soccer League) in Rochester, N.Y. May 16.
The Riverhounds are coached by Bob Lilley, who guided the Rhinos before the team took 2018 off. Pittsburgh, which played in a USL game in Rochester Saturday, has several former Rhinos players on its roster.
And there’s another connection. Miller played for Lilly in Hershey in the A-League in 2001.
“It’s an exciting time actually for the players,” he said. “For me, it doesn’t really have any impact. It’s another game for me. I’ve won the U.S. Open Cup with the Rhinos back in ’99. but sharing the details with the players and the platform and the opportunities for these young guys who are playing in college to compete against pros. Hopefully, I’ve prepared them with the details that they can go out there and be really successful. i believe that we’re ahead of the game right now. They’ve been training maybe a couple of weeks more than us. It’s not like they’ve played 15 games and we haven’t played a game yet. David and Goliath and I enjoy being David.”
Miller remembered how difficult was when the Rhinos took on amateur teams in the cup.
“We’ve had many games where the Rhinos have faced an amateur team that are well organized and came in with a great game plan and had the mentality, ‘Hey, we’re going to compete. We’re going to kick. We’re going to bite. We’re going to claw. We’re going to scratch,’ “ he said. “It makes it competitive. Any team can be beaten on any given day. It’s just a matter of who shows up.”
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