By Michael Lewis
The Staten Island Vipers were around the A-League for a scant two seasons, but they certainly left their mark on a pair of local rivals within a 19-day period in July 1999 under the direction of head coach Adrian Gaitan.
On July 13, the Vipers stunned the struggling MetroStars of Major League Soccer in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, registering a 3-2 triumph before 1,077 at Yurcak Field on the campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J.
To truly appreciate the result, the Vipers were forced to overcome a 2-1 deficit late in the match. Lee Tschantret connected on the equalizing goal from eight yards in the 85th minute. Five minutes into extratime Kevin Wilson latched onto a Tschantret through ball to beat goalkeeper Mike Ammann from 12 yards. Brian Walsh, incidentally, scored both MetroStars goals.
Gaitan, could be excitable, was composed after the upset. “I’m trying to keep everything in perspective,” he said. “When I drive home … I’ll probably be excited.
“We always believed we were the better team.”
They probably were. Under the guidance of former U.S. men’s national coach Bora Milutinovic, the MetroStars who had lost eight of their past nine league matches, were heading toward one of the worst finishes in MLS history
On July 31, the Vipers performed some more magic, this time upending the Long Island Rough Riders, 2-1, although Gaitan needed to coax his team’s scoring hero, Danny Mueller, to get into the game.
For a good 15 minutes in the second half at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. Gaitan did just about everything his power to convince Mueller to enter the match as a substitute.
“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, Mueller had cut down on his playing and practicing time after taking 2 1/2 weeks out of his fulltime job — he was a painter at the time — to pursue a tryout with the Chicago Fire.
When he returned home, Mueller figured he would get on with his life and cut down on soccer for a while. But after the Vipers dropped a 2-1 home decision to the Riders on July 21, the team needed bodies and needed them in a hurry.
With the score tied at 1-1, Gaitan pulled Ernest Inneh the A-League player of the week after his four-goal performance in the 4-0 drubbing of the Richmond Kickers, for Mueller.
At the time, Rider coach Paul Riley, who was a teammate of with Gaitan and Mueller on that 1995 Riders team, turned to assistant coach Cesar Markovic and said, “You watch. He’s going to score the winner.”
His prediction came true.
I am not certain if you have noticed an undercurrent of a theme the past three columns of Taking a Pass. Gaitan has been mentioned in the past three. On Friday, the story was about his team with the U.S. team at the 1987 Under-19 World Cup. On Saturday, it was about Gaitan as a defender for the Riders during the 1994 U.S. Interregional Soccer League semifinals. And of course, this game.