Yes, it was 50 years ago, Sept. 6, 1970, that the Lancers won the first game of their aggregate goal series against the Washington Darts. They still had to wait a week until to make it official.
The following is an excerpt from Michael Lewis’ upcoming book: Alive and Kicking: The Incredible but True Story of the Rochester Lancers, on what transpired in the first game.
The Lancers clinched a spot in the series by defeating the Kansas City Spurs to capture the Northern Division title on the final day of the North American Soccer League season.
Despite the home advantage Rochester entered the game as underdogs, with a 0-2-1 record against the Spurs while being outscored, 10-4. Still, the hosts were confident. “We will win this time,” goalkeeper Claude Campos said. “If the pressure is on me, I do the job. I stop them and we can win. … We beat them on skill. Kansas City is a more physical team. They try to beat you up. But we know how to play soccer. If we played our style [ball control], we can score early. And if they try to come back, we’ll explode.”
The Lancers, however, did not score early in front of a then team-record of 11,219 (3,127 youngsters were admitted for free) at Aquinas Stadium, but secured a 3-1 triumph and the franchise’s first division title and a spot in the championship series. Carlos Metidieri paced the attack with two second-half goals as he tied (14 goals, seven assists, 35 points) the Dallas Tornado’s Kirk Apostolidis (16 goals, three assists, 35 points) for the NASL scoring crown.
The match did not start well as KC entered halftime with a 1-0 lead as Ademar Saccone drilled an 18-yard free kick home in the 26th minute. At halftime, head coach DeRosa told the team “to play the same type of game they had played in the first half.”
The players listened and executed it to near perfection. In the 66th minute, Metidieri, off a Raul Herrera pass, beat keeper Leonel Conde during a goal-mouth scramble for a 1-1 deadlock. Luis Marotte got into the act two minutes later, lofting a 26-yard free kick into the net. Metidieri, aka El Topolino, gave the Lancers some much needed breathing room in the 85th minute, converting a Gladstone Ofori pass into a goal for the final score in a 3-1 win.
For a good portion of the first half, halfback Mladen Vrankovic held the Brazilian striker in check. “Sure, he covered me close in the first half,” Metidieri told the D&C, “but I kept getting madder at the start of the second half and went to work. In fact, the madder the team got me, the harder I played. It was just like the game against [Varzim]. They kicked me whenever I broke through, but I said to myself, ‘They’ll be sorry.’ ”
Just as important as Metidieri’s goals was the work of defenders Peter Short and Winston Earle, a replacement for Bobby DiLuca who shut down Manfred Seissler. Seissler had solved the Lancers for six goals in three games during the regular season, including four in one match.
After referee Alex Sutherland blew the final whistle hundreds of the fans ran onto the field and carried the Lancers off on their shoulders and into the locker room where champagne flowed for the first time.
A few day prior to kickoff of the championship series, a bit of gamesmanship was played. Darts general manager Norman Sutherland, hearing about the exuberant supporters bursting onto the field, requested that the Lancers add at least 25 police officers to the usual six to stop a possible pitch invasion. Sutherland also asked for two patrol cars to be parked behind each goal so they could move onto the field in case there was trouble, according to Lancers general manager Charlie Schiano said.
Pat Dinolfo could not believe what he had heard. “We always have been able to maintain control and I don’t anticipate any problems,” said the team president, who felt Washington should have been worrying about winning instead of security problems, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported.
The championship series was special to the likes of DeRosa, who had directed the Scorpions to the 1969 ASL final series but lost to the Darts by a pair of 2-0 results. “I think we are in better shape today,” he said, adding that Syracuse played without such key players Gordon Roberts, Jimmy Lefkos and Nana in 1969.
The Darts certainly were not going to be easy pickings. Though they lost three of their final five games after to clinching the Southern Division title, they finished with an impressive 14-6-4 season compared to Rochester’s rather mediocre 9-9-6 mark. The team was confident. “I know we’ll beat ‘em,” coach-goalkeeper Lincoln Phillips was quoted by the Rochester Times-Union. “The Lancers have a good team, but we’re better. And our record proves it!”
Phillips, a Trinidad & Tobago native who was the only black coach in the league at the time, added in the D&C: “The only thing left is the NASL title. We were by far the best team in the league. We’ve been waiting for the playoffs. … We relaxed a little. Our guys lost a little incentive. But we’re ready to play again. The title is ours. I still expect close games. But we’ll wear them down and then explode to win another title.”
Washington and the 29-year-old Phillips registered a league-record 12 clean sheets as he finished with a 0.98 goals-against average. “The goalie is the key to soccer,” he said. “He’s the man between victory and defeat. I’m not bragging, but it’s always been our strong point.”
Phillips’ comments rankled DeRosa. “Washington doesn’t have the best team in the U.S. and we’ll try to prove it tonight,” he said. “We’re ready. We’re just waiting time now.”
As for Phillips’ remarks about goalkeepers, DeRosa was just as straight forward. “Rubbish,” he was quoted by the D&C. “I don’t like to predict what my team will do in advance, but we’re ready, willing and able. I just can’t understand how he can possibly say the goalie is the key figure in the game. Last week in Atlanta he allowed five goals. It goes to prove that without 11 key figures, the goalie is worthless.”
When he was told that Phillips said that the Darts were better than Rochester, DeRosa replied, “Maybe physically they’re better when it comes to contact, but I’ll prove to them which is the better team … starting tonight.”
Which the Lancers did in spectacular fashion en route to a 3-0 triumph.
Herrera, who had scored six of his eight regular-season goals in two wins over St. Louis, broke out with a brace. He connected once in each half. Marotte added another and the Lancers celebrated a 3-0 triumph in front of another impressive crowd of 9,321 at Aquinas.
“Our team, although very tense at the start, played with spirit,” Herrera said. “All of us were superstars.”
DeRosa concurred. “I can’t pick a hero and with a win like this, all 11 can share the honors,” he added.
Early on, Campos made a vital save on Warren Archibald, who had broken through defenders Phil Davis and Earle, forcing the keeper to grab the ball off the Trinidad & Tobago international’s feet. Rochester then started to find its footing. Herrera struck in the 26th minute, directing Yao Kankam’s drive past Phillips. He doubled the lead in the 61st minute. Ofori banked a shot off the crossbar that the Brazilian headed home. Marotte converted a penalty kick after Frank Odoi was fouled in the area in the 72nd minute.
“We will go to Washington next week with the same spirit,” DeRosa said. “We won’t go there with over-confidence.”
To be continued Sept. 13