Doug Miller: “If you want to go fast, go by yourself. If you want to go far, you’ve got to go together. This team, this Lancer team, we’re going together.” (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Doug Miller has laid down the gauntlet.
If the Juarez Cuervos wants to get past his Rochester Lancers team in next week’s Major Arena Soccer League 2 semifinals, they will have to get past his defense.
The Lancers shut down the Chicago Mustangs on the road, holding their foes to three goals in what turned into a 4-3 overtime triumph in the Eastern Division final.
Now, Rochester will take on a team that has averaged 10.8 goals a game. Eduardo Monreal finished with four goals and three assists in the 13-6 playoff victory over Inferno FC in the Mountain Division playoff March 17, and Emmanuel Mendoza added three goals and two assists.
The Lancers head coach, however, has a plan.
“We’re stingy when it comes to goals,” Miller said on the Kick This! radio show Saturday morning. “I’m not worried about their offensive power. I’m worried about us just finding defense because we’ll wind up scoring, five, six, seven, eight goals. Not a problem with the players we have.
“The West Coast is a more open style where they plan man-to-man. There’s not really a system, other than its 1 v 1 all over the field. If you want to go fast, go by yourself. If you want to go far, you’ve got to go together. This team, this Lancer team, we’re going together.”
The Lancers will meet the Juarez Cuervos, the Mountain Division champions, in the semifinals in Ontario, Calif. Friday at 4 p.m. The M2 championship game is set for Saturday at 5:30 p.m., with the third-place match scheduled for 3 p.m. the same day.
To reach the Final Four of the 15-team league, Rochester had to get past the Mustangs, who defeated the Lancers twice during the regular season. Overcoming the regular-season titlists on the road certainly was no easy challenge.
The Lancers found a way, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 edge before prevailing on Boomer Steigelman’s dramatic overtime goal.
“It was an incredible victory and the guys were so disciplined and so passionate about winning,” Miller said. “They stayed to the game plan, even though it went south. We went down 2-1. I just can’t say how proud I am and how good divisional champs sound to me.”
Soccer Sam Fantauzzo, the patriarch of the Lancers’ organization, is the host of Kick This! He attended the game at the Grand Sports Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill. Friday night and was impressed with the intense crowd and environment.
“The game’s not over yet,” he said on the radio show. “We have two more big games to play. I’m hoping to win it all, but baby, this has been an amazing run. Chicago with the arena the other night. It was electric. It felt like USA against Mexico, the way the building felt. The crowd was so into it. The way we ended it, with the celebration, and everything that happened, it was one of those memories we’ll never forget.”
Miller agreed and elaborated.
“The atmosphere was good,” he said. “It was somewhat of a hostile environment. We’ve been there before. We came up with a good gameplan to give us the ability to keep it very low scoring. As I told the guys, defense wins championships. And if we can keep teams under three, we’ve got a really, really good chance of winning it.”
Steigelman, who led M2 with 19 assists in the regular season, settled matters 3:19 into overtime.
“You know, I believe things happen for a reason,” Miller said, noting that Rochester played its final game of the regular season at home, besting the Muskegon Risers, 4-2 March 9. “We were in overtime and all I said to them was, ‘Hey, we’re prepared to do this and win because last week, we were in overtime and [Michael] Cunningham, you scored the game winner. Who’s going to be the hero tonight?’ And Boomer stepped up. What a great no-look pass from Jake [Schindler] from the three-point line to Boomer. Boomer spun him like a dreidel, the defender.
“What a great feeling for the guys to celebrate. The antics afterwards, as I told the guys, ‘If you’re going to play by the sword, you’re going to live by the sword.’ They gave us a lot of stick when we were there and, we gave it back.”
Immediately afterwards, angry and disappointed Mustangs players and fans confronted the Lancers players while leaving the field.
Fantauzzo remembered an incident in Montreal after the Rochester Rhinos defeated the Impact in a key A-League match and the fans tried to tip over the team bus.
“We’ve got to win it,” he added. “We’ve got to bring this championship home for all the people who have been loyal to this franchise from day one.”
On Friday night, some 24 hours after the win, Miller talked with assistant coach Adam Schwartz, training one of the Lancers’ girls youth teams at the time and they devised a game plan.
“We’ve got another good game plan that the West Coast hasn’t seen, and I think we’re going to have a ton of success out there,” Miller said.