The Long Island Rough Riders celebrate winning the 1995 USISL title. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
At 7 p.m. Saturday, soccer returns to the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. when the Cosmos host the New York Athletic Club in their National Premier Soccer League season opener.
It is believed it will be the first time a professional soccer team will perform at the stadium since the Long Island Rough Riders did in 2004.
Here are the top sweet 16 games that have been competed at the MAC, including men’s, women’s, international, youth ana amateur:
- When the Riders rode high (1995)
In a clash of U.S. Interregional Soccer League titans (essentially now the United Soccer League Championship), the Long Island Rough Riders overcame the Minnesota Thunder before 4,118. The match entered the final seconds deadlocked at 1-1 thanks to goals by the Riders’ Chris Armas (now Red Bulls head coach) and the Thunder’s Amos Magee. That’s when the most dramatic goal in Long Island soccer history was scored by some legendary players. Goalkeeper Tony Meola (U.S. national team) booted the ball down field. Giovanni Savarese (former MetroStars’ top goal-scorer, former Cosmos head coach and current Portland Timbers head coach) got possession and passed to Armas, who ran down the right flank. Armas then crossed the ball into the penalty area, where Savarese beat keeper John Swallen from six yards for the game-winner with six seconds left.
Goalkeeper Kim Wyant, pictured with former LIJSL president Peter Collins, made several vital saves for the Lady Riders in their upset of the Brazilian national team. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
- When the Lady Riders drove the Brazilians nuts (1999)
Just how good were the Long Island Lady Riders back in the day? Incredibly good. Lady Riders captain and defender Jennifer Bauman had played with some of the best amateur women’s teams in the country and for two W-League championship teams. Yet, she will forever treasure a game that wasn’t officially recorded as a league or tournament win. But it would be in her heart and mind forever. Slightly a week before the kickoff of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the Lady Riders stunned the soccer world by pulling off a major upset by stunning Brazil, 2-0, before 1,642 June 10. “I’m pretty ecstatic,” Bauman said. “This is the greatest accomplishment of my career. The other championships were great. We just beat the No. 5 team in the world.” The victory even left owner Chuck Jacob shocked. “Frankly, it will take a while for it to sink in,” he said. “This ranks with the national championships because to beat a World Cup team in form shows how far women’s soccer has come.” The Riders rode goals by Margaret Tietjen and Cristin Burtis to victory. Kim Wyant, a former U.S. international goalkeeper, was brilliant, especially during a seven-minute span in the second half as she made three saves. She finished with six.
- Mia garners some Goodwill, goals (1998)
Mia Hamm retired with 158 international goals and many were classics, but here’s one brilliant score in her first Long Island appearance, at the Goodwill Games in a rematch of the 1996 Olympic gold-medal match (which the U.S. won). After recording a hat-trick in a 5-0 drubbing of Denmark in the semifinals two days prior, Hamm tallied twice in the 2-0 triumph over China in the final before 11,307 at the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. Hamm lifted the USA into the lead with a 16-yard shot in the 66th minute before finishing the game off with a 35-yard effort from the left side over goalkeeper Zhao Yan. “I hit it as hard as I could,” Hamm said. “Thank goodness it went in.”
Added U.S. head coach Tony DiCicco: “Mia turned in a Michael Jordan-like performance tonight. In fact, I think China took the game over and had more quality chances than we did, but then Mia scored that brilliant goal.”
During her heyday, Mia Hamm always generated fan excitement, as evidenced by this post-match autograph session in Rochester in 1998. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
- When Mia inflicted some capital punishment (2001)
In Mia Hamm’s first appearance with a club team in the Women’s United Soccer Association May 27, 2001, a sellout crowd of 9,996 jammed the stadium. While she did not duplicate her Goodwill Games performance of three years prior, she did play a big role in Washington’s 2-1 win as she helped set up both goals. Her corner kick deflected off teammate Bai Jie in the first minute of stoppage time. “It’s still definitely humbling,” Hamm said of the fan support. “But what I’m extremely excited for is that these girls come here not only for me, but for the New York Power, too. If it’s me that gets them out to the game, that’s great. But once they get here, they’re going to get to see their team play.” Long Island native Sara Whalen set up the Power’s lone goal by Norwegian international Ana Kristin Aarones.
- Standing room only and then some (1995)
Before there was the Cardiac Cosmos, the Rough Riders were known to pull off some dramatic finishes, even in games that really don’t count. In another electric atmosphere in front of a capacity crowd of more than 5,000, Savarese rallied the host side with a pair of second-half goals, including the equalizer with five minutes remaining in the match, in a 2-2 draw with C.D. FAS (El Salvador) Aug. 16, 1995. Fans who could not get into the stadium watched from the outside and some even climbed a fence and watched from there to get a better view. In a rare start in goal, Chico Mieles was brilliant for the Riders.
- A very special hat-trick (2001)
There was a reason why Tiffeny Milbrett was named WUSA MVP in its first year of existence. She could score goals. In fact, she finished with a league-high 16 goals in 2001, an outstanding season punctuated by the first women to tally a hat-trick in a pro soccer game in the United States. The National Soccer Hall of Famer accomplished that feat in a 3-1 win over the Boston Breakers June 22, 2001. Milbrett said the hat-trick “special to me, because I don’t want anything given to the New York Power or to me. I want to earn it, and I think we did.” After Angela Hucles gave the visitors a 26th-minute lead, the Portland, Ore. native took center stage. Only seconds before the halftime whistle, Milbrett headed home the equalizer, added an angled ground shot for the go-ahead tally in the 75th minute and put a bow on the match, slipping the ball over keeper Tracy Ducar in the 88th minute. “I thought it was going to be a frustrating game for us. But a game is 90 minutes and we got our act together,” Milbrett said. “I just know that if I get my chances, I’ll make some, I’ll miss some. I’ll be happy with the ones I make, and I’ll learn from the ones I miss.” At the time, WUSA CEO Tony DiCicco called Milbrett the “best women’s soccer player in the world.” Interesting factoid: Milbrett was the first women to score goals in back-to-back Olympic soccer finals. She scored the winner in the 1996 gold-medal match and the tying goal in 2000.
- Acing an Olympian task (1995)
In front of yet another standing room only crowd, a team-record 6,125 July 5, 1995, Long Island stunned the U.S. Olympic team, 3-0. Sweeper John Diffley gave the hosts the lead before super-sub Cordt Weinstein struck twice over the final 15 minutes. Chris Armas set up Weinstein’s first goal, Daniel Leon the second, past U.S. goalkeeper Chris Snitko. Meola made two vital saves on Scott Coutal and Temoc Suarez to preserve the clean sheet. As it turned out, the result helped resolve the fate of Olympic head coach Timo Liekoski, who eventually was fired and replaced by Bruce Arena, who guided the team at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
- Taking on future gold medalists (1996)
Before they became rock stars, the U.S. women performed at Mitchel for the first time June 13, 1996, only a month before the Americans participated in its first Olympic soccer tournament for females. The USA recorded a 3-0 victory over the Lady Riders in front of 3,347 spectators. Despite being outshot 21-3, LI forward Gina Tucker gave her team’s performance a thumb’s up. “I’m very proud of the way we played,” she said. “I thought we played with a lot of heart and a lot of discipline. I felt we gave them a good game.” Tucker noted that all three U.S. goals were scored off set pieces. And they were tallied in the opening 20 minutes — Tisha Venturini headed in a Kristine Lilly corner kick in the seventh minute before volleying home a Mia Hamm feed from six years a minute later before Hamm herself got on the sheet with a direct kick that keeper Kim Wyant (six saves) got a hand on but could not stop. U.S. head coach Tony DiCicco praised the Lady Riders. “I thought they had more of a physical presence than we did,” he said. “I thought we pretty much had control of the game, but we gave up too many counterattacks. We had a lot of opportunities, but we didn’t get enough out of them.” Interesting note No. 1: LI native Shannon MacMillan, who was born in Syosset, N.Y., lived in Smithtown and played a few seasons with the HBC Lucky Stars (Long Island Junior Soccer League), started and played 63 minutes. “I thought I played all right,” she said. “We came out here looking to work on some things, but we didn’t take [the Lady Riders] lightly.” Interesting note No. 2: DiCicco decided to hold a pos-tmatch shootout to give the team practice just in case it needed to compete in one in the Olympics medal round (the U.S. won, 5-4). As we all know, the Americans didn’t need it but three years later in the Olympic gold-medal match, they prevailed over China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final by the same score.
Giovanni Savarese receives the 1995 USISL MVP award from commissioner Francisco Marcos. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
- A prodigal son returns (2004)
Nine years after scoring the winning goal in his final game as a Rough Riders, Savarese returned to the team and struck twice in his home debut, a 4-1 triumph over the Jersey Falcons before 3,019 fans July 7, 2004. Savarese, who only trained with the team three times prior to the match, scored his 40th career goal for the team in the 12th minute off a Steve Franzke cross. After the Falcons knotted things up in the 35th minute, Savarese’s penalty kick goalkeeper Marcin Ezerwinski in the 42nd minute. “I think it was a good time to come back here,” Savarese said. “I think there is a lot to build on.” Derrick Etienne — yes, the father of Red Bulls midfielder Derrick Etienne, Jr. — connected twice in the second half to give the hosts some breathing room on his seventh and eighth goals of the season. Former MetroStars and Miami Fusion standout Jimmy Rooney assisted on Etienne’s first goal.
- Brace for it (2003)
The 2003 match was not the first time Hamm walked off the MAC field with a brace. She accomplished that in a 4-1 Freedom triumph over the reeling Power before 8,052 June 29, 2002, sending the hosts to their sixth consecutive loss. Hamm, who admitted she was playing at only 85 percent due to a knee injury, found the net in the 28th and 90th minutes. “Scoring goals does something for my confidence, but I don’t want to be a player that comes off the bench,” Hamm said. “I want to play a full 90 minutes.”
- Let Freedom, Mia ring (2001)
In Mia Hamm’s first appearance with a club team in the Women’s United Soccer Association May 27, 2001, a sellout crowd of 9,996 jammed the stadium. While she did not duplicate her Goodwill Games performance of three years prior, she did play a big role in Washington’s 2-1 win as she helped set up both goals. Her corner kick deflected off teammate Bai Jie in the first minute of stoppage time. “It’s still definitely humbling,” Hamm said of the fan support. “But what I’m extremely excited for is that these girls come here not only for me, but for the New York Power, too. If it’s me that gets them out to the game, that’s great. But once they get here, they’re going to get to see their team play.” Long Island native Sara Wjalen set up the Power’s lone goal by Norwegian international Ann Kristin Aarones.
- Clint loves NY — in NY! (2000)
After just about every goal he scored a goal at Giants Stadium during the 2000 MLS season, MetroStars forward Clint Mathis lifted his jersey to reveal a “I Love NY” shirt. The problem was Giants Stadium was in East Rutherford, N.J. Finally, Mathis got an opportunity to celebrate a goal in the correct state — during the MetroStars’ 3-0 triumph over the Tampa Bay Mutiny in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup third round in front of 5,183 spectators June 25, 2000. Mathis fired in a 15-yard bullet to punctuate the win after goals by Mark Chung (23rd minute) and Alex Comas (29th minute). “The boys played tonight,” Zambrano said. “They’re definitely covering for each other. They’re a tight group now.” The win was tempered by a sprained right knee that sidelined center back Daniel Hernandez for the rest of the season. “It doesn’t look good,” Zambrano said. “I’m hoping the MRI shows something like a hyperextension.” Interesting fact: it was the first time MLS teams played on Long Island, even if it wasn’t a league match.
- Let youth be served (1991)
In terms of quality, the biggest youth soccer event was held at Mitchel in 1991, the U.S. National Youth Soccer Championships. The event brought together 16 of the best Boys and Girls Under-16 and U-19 from July 26-30. The teams included a goalkeeper who started the year in intramurals, two players who were flown in from the Olympic Sports Festival, three players who performed in the Western Soccer League, a player on leave from West Point, a husband-and-wife coaching team, a team in the finals for the third consecutive year, one coach who once played on Long Island, another who played professional in England, a third who performed for the U.S. national team in the fifties (Chico Chacurian) and a player destined to become one of the driving forces of the U.S. women’s national team. You might have heard of her — Julie Foudy, who won two Women’s World Cups and two Olympic gold medals. She played for the Walnut Nitemares (Calif.) in the Girls U-19 Division. For the record, the La Jolla Nomads (U-19) and Busch Soccer Club (U-16) took home Boys championships while the Livonia Hawks (U-19) and Fairfax Express (U-16) captured Girls titles. Sorry, no LI teams qualified for the finals. The total attendance for the three-day event was 10,600. Thursday’s semifinals attracted 3,000, Saturday’s U-16 champion games 2,600 and Sunday’s U-19 title contests 4,000. The tournament helped open the door for the Liberty Cup, which was held at Mitchel for several years starting in 1990.
- An open door is closed shut for the Metros (2000)
Within a nightmare two-minute span midway through the second half, the roof fell on the MetroStars against the Miami Fusion in the semifinals of the Open Cup Sept. 12, 2000. Diego Serna set up Welton’s goal in the 61st minute before the Brazilian returned the favor to Serna in the 63rd minute to turn a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 advantage. The Metros made it interesting in the waning minutes after an Adolfo Valencia goal off a Lothar Matthaeus feed in the 84th minute. Billy Walsh found the net for the Metros in the opening half. The Metros had allowed 16 goals in its past five games. “I’m very concerned,” Zambrano was quoted by Newsday. “I certainly think that we may need to drastically change a few things that we are doing. The players have to realize that they are not only playing for a playoff game, but they are playing for their own place on this team next year.”
- The reluctant hero (1999)
Imagine a coach trying to convince a player to get into a game and not leave it. For a good 15 minutes of his team’s A-League match against the Rough Riders on July 31, 1999, Staten Island Vipers head coach Adrian Gaitan did just about everything in his power to convince Danny Mueller to come on as a substitute. Mueller finally relented. Only nine minutes after coming on, Mueller scored the game-winner in the 87th minute to lift the Vipers to a 2-1 win. “I had to beg him to come in,” Gaitan said. “I was begging him for 10-15 minutes. He felt he couldn’t help the team. I think he went onto the field to get away from me.” Said Mueller: “I had no idea I could play for 10 minutes. I never dreamed I was going to score.” A Glen Cove, N.Y. native and a starter on the Riders’ 1995 championship team, had cut down on his playing and practicing time with the Vipers after taking 2 1/2 weeks out of his fulltime job — he is a painter — to try out with the Chicago Fire.
- One hot goalkeeper (2018)
It takes a goalkeeper with a keen eye to notice the defining details on how the opposition takes penalty kicks, especially in a shootout. So, there’s probably no one better or quite appropriate than a New York State Trooper pick up the clues. Goalkeeper Jeff Rink did that in triplicate in the tie-breaker, which pushed Port Jefferson SC to the Cangero Super Cup title. Rink put on a scintillating display and clinic, saving three out of a possible five PKs as Port Jefferson won the shootout, 3-2, after playing to a 2-2 draw in regulation with Kosmos United FC at Mitchel Athletic Complex Sept 8, 2018. “We had a great keeper pull through,” said Tyrell Ippolito, who paced Port Jeff with both goals. He’s phenomenal. It comes with the age, knowing where to be. You can’t coach some of the stuff he does on the field.” Rink, a 37-year-old State Trooper, was magnificent during the tie-breaker. “I will be feeling this tomorrow,” he said about his active game. “It feels good right now, of course.” Rink said he had never lost a shootout in eight confrontations.