By Michael Lewis
On April 11, 1970 the Rochester Lancers took the field in a major soccer league for the very first time against the Dallas Tornado in Dallas.
The big story of the day was golfing legend Billy Casper shooting a 68 to take the Masters lead. Another story had the unbeaten Baltimore Orioles, the parent club of the Rochester Red Wings, scored four times in the eighth inning to register a 5-3 win over the visiting Detroit Tigers. There was another baseball story about the world champion New York Mets handing the Cardinals its first loss, 4-1.
The Lancers’ story appeared at the bottom of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle’s Sunday sports section with the headline:
Lancers Tip Dallas
In Soccer Opener
“The Rochester Lancers, outplayed for at least 75 of 90 minutes by the host Dallas Tornado club, scored a 2-1 victory in their North American Soccer League debut here last night,” sportswriter Alex Loj wrote as his lead.
Josip Ognjanac snapped a 1-1 deadlock with three minutes remaining in the match.
Nelson Bergamo started the play by passing to Luis Marotte, who found Carlos Metidieri. The Brazilian forward flipped a short pass to a tiring Ognjanac, who broke through two defenders and beat goalkeeper Ken Cooper. For the remaining three minutes the Lancers defense consisted of booting the ball out of Tornado territory to preserve the win.
The Tornado outshot the Lancers, 23-8, forcing keeper Dick Howard to make 18 saves. Cooper produced four.
Dallas dominated the first half, taking two corner kicks that Howard hauled in. The Lancers were able to move the ball around midfield, but when they got closer to the goal, the Dallas defense stiffened and knocked the ball out of bounds.
The Lancers, however, who managed to draw first blood in the 35th minute after referee Eddie Pearson, who was to become NASL head of referees, whistled a foul on the hosts barely outside of the penalty area. Marotte found an open Roberto Riberio and the one-time Bangu star slotted the ball into the right corner for the very first NASL goal in Rochester history.
It took a Brazilian on the Tornado to equalize as Luis Juracy drilled a shot that Howard knocked into the right post. Bobby Moffat slotted the rebound home for a 1-1 deadlock in the 52nd minute.
Afterwards, Dallas head coach Ron Newman just shook his head in the Dallas locker room.
“The [the Lancers] would have done well to have tied it,” he told the Dallas Morning News. “They [seemed] to have had the gods and everybody else on their side. … We were overeager the second half. We wanted to get goals as quickly as we could.”
Rochester head coach Alex Perolli, perhaps realizing his team had stolen two points on the road, was as diplomatic as possible. “I think for the start of the season it was a good game for both teams,” he said. “They played well. They have a good team, a strong team.”
But the Lancers had two points and an encouraging start in their latest adventure.
An interesting aside: nestled in the upper right-hand corner of page 11D of the Democrat and Chronicle was an advertisement to buy Lancers season tickets. “Don’t boot your opportunity to see major league soccer!” the ad said. “Buy now Season Tickets.”
Major league soccer, hmmm, interesting phrase there.
The cost of the tickets was $35 for adults, $20 for teenagers and $5 for children.
The Lancers were to play 12 league home games. It was not known whether the season tickers were good for some international exhibitions. Still, at 2020 prices, $35 certainly seems like a bargain and a half.