Doug Miller applauded the Rochester Lancers fans after their 5-3 win. (Photo by Michael Lewis)
By Michael Lewis
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — You just can’t make this stuff up.
After all, how many times do you see your 49-year-old head coach enter a game and then 24 seconds later score a goal?
Rochester Lancers forward Will Stone and the crowd at Marina Auto Stadium saw just that Saturday afternoon.
“Pretty incredible,” said Stone, who set up the goal in the Lancers’ 5-3 National Premier Soccer League victory over the Greater Binghamton FC Thunder.
“God is good,” Miller said. “For that to play out the way it did, seconds into it, Will stripping the ball and getting to the net, and being able to finish that, it was a gift and I was really appreciative.”
After two tenures as the Rochester Rhinos striker and most recognizable player, Miller finally got an opportunity to play in the stadium that in many ways, he helped build.
A member of the United Soccer League team’s Hall of Fame, Miller is the Rhinos’ all-time leading goal-scorer, filling the net while performing at nearby Frontier Field before the soccer venue was built.
So, Lancers owner Sam Fantauzzo and the club decided to give Miller a chance to be a part of a competitive match at the stadium.
Miller’s opportunity came in the 52nd minute, when he replaced Alex Harting, who hugged Miller as he ran onto the field.
Asked what was going through his mind as he was standing at midfield, Miller replied, “For me, my runs are very good, so playing simple and playing quick. If I look at every time I was in possession of the ball and what I did with it, it was positive. Connect the next pass because I hadn’t played a competitive match in what, five years. And outdoor I hadn’t played a competitive match in 13 years. So connect the pass get it to the guys who are creative and make my runs because then I could get onto the end of the ball.”
Stone stripped a Binghamton defender of the ball in the right corner and sent a cross to an open Miller on the far end of he penalty area before drilling home a seven-yard shot to give Rochester a 3-1 advantage.
“I ran to press the ball,” Miller said. “As soon as he strips them, I know as long as I back pedal, I am in the seam between the outside back and the center back and I am in the clear. So, it’s now it’s just getting to the spot where the ball’s going to be and the keeper stays on his line. So, from eight, nine yards out, I had the whole goal to shoot for.”
And put the ball into the net. The stadium erupted.
Miller had two things on his mind.
“I think God is good and where’s my wife so I can go and kiss her,” he said. “I told her after I score I would kiss my wife. They’ve [his family] been through this for 22 years. It’s cool to do it 22 years later.”
Stone put both arms in front of him and bowed to his coach, mimicking that he was not worthy.
“He’s a legend,” he said. “I mean, everyone loves him around here. So, proud of him. I’m pleased he got his moment.”
Miller started playing professionally with many of the players on the field were not even born. He remembered when he watched his heroes growing up in New Jersey.
“Yeah, it’s part of the game,” he said. “If they really knew the history, they’re young kids. They’re 18-, 19-year-old. They could be my children. When I got the chance to play against Richard Chinapoo and those guys, Daryl Gee, who played for the Cosmos, I knew that because I watched these guys at Giants Stadium.”
Stone wasn’t surprised at all of Miller’s accomplishment.
“In training, he’s always finishing,” he said. “He’s 49. He can’t exactly run around the field, but he’s still got the finishing touch, which is good.”
The Lancers had the finishing touch, scoring five goals, but they fell short of their goals Saturday. They needed to fill the net and hold Binghamton to as few as goals as possible so they could improve their goal differential in a fight for a playoff berth. Rochester entered the match even and now are at plus three, not near enough to help with a possible tie-breaker.
“We had three objectives coming in,” Miller said. “The first objective was three points. The second objective was to score goals and the third objective was not to concede any goals. The first two I was pleased with. You score five goals, that’s a pretty good showing. Conceding in the fashion which we did, not so happy. I think it’s an uphill battle.”
Rochester will have another opportunity at Binghamton Sunday at 2 p.m.