Carlos Metdieri scored for and against the Lancers in their home openers. (Photo courtesy of the Lancers)
By Michael Lewis
With the Rochester Lancers kicking off two seasons with a doubleheader at Charles A. Schiano Sr. Field at Aquinas Institute Sunday afternoon, it is fitting to look back at the 14 home openers of the original version of the team.
The Lady Lancers welcome Buffalo FC in a United Women’s Soccer contest at 2 p.m., followed by the men, who host Cleveland SC in a National Premier Soccer League encounter at 5 p.m.
Here’s a look back at 14 home openers from back in the day:
Aug. 27, 1967
Prior to the opening kickoff, Congressman Frank Horton kicked out the ceremonial ball and welcomed the team to the Western New York sports landscape. “Rochester is a very sports-minded community,” he said. “The Lancers will find enthusiastic support for their first year in the American Soccer League. I’m sure that everyone in the Rochester area joins me in wishing them a very successful opening season. Rochester already has two outstanding professional sports teams, the Rochester Red Wings and Rochester Americans, and we look forward to having a third.”
Well, not exactly right off the bat. Wearing thinly striped blue and white uniforms, the Lancers were outplayed by the Boston Tigers, losing 4-2 before 2,006 at Aquinas Stadium. Rochester Times-Union sportswriter Skip Myslenski wrote that the home side “bungled and bobbled their way” to defeat in their American Soccer League season opener.
“The Lancers played like any new team, minimally prepared, players basically unfamiliar with each other, showing sporadic moments of brilliance, more consistent ineptitude and confusion,” Myslenski added.
Alex Loj, writing in the morning Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, had less opinion and more facts in his story:
“Jorge Benitez, regarded by some as the best soccer player in the country, spoiled Rochester’s debut in the American Soccer League by pacing Boston to a 4-2 triumph yesterday, at Aquinas Stadium before a slim crowd of 2,006.”
A one-man wrecking crew, Benitez scored twice and set up two other goals in the Tigers’ romp. Carlos Metidieri and Bob Mherabian also scored for the visitors. Luis Fernando tallied the first competitive goal in Lancers history in the 20th minute off a nice feed by Tommy McGlennon. Nelson Leite added a 48th-minute goal for the George Baker-coached side.
Aug. 3, 1968
Rochester was awarded the win in a game that ended prematurely. With seven minutes remaining, Roberts snapped a 2-2 deadlock for a 3-2 advantage over the Fall River Astros. Astros head coach John Bertos then ran onto the field and to argue with referee Tom Clements that he had to call offside should have been called. Clements and his linesman headed for their car. Fall River goalkeeper Luiz Serrano reportedly grabbed a corner flagpole and punched out one of the car’s windows while several Astros players pounded on the vehicle. Clements was injured and couldn’t continue. ASL president Charlie Schiano, who also was the Lancers general manager, declared the Lancers as winners. Geraldo Monteiro and Warleey Ornelas pushed the Astros 1-0 and 2-1 leads but goals by Bergamo and Allison equalized to give head coach Ricardo Musci a winning debut.
May 4, 1969
Goalkeeper Dick Howard lived up to his nickname, Mr. Zero, as she registered the clean sheet in a 1-0 Rochester victory over the Boston Astros in front of 4,206 as Frank Pike won in his first game at head coach. Tibor Vigh struck for the lone goal early in the second half. Gustavo Garais dropped a routine shot. Allison raced in and flipped the ball to Vigh, who scored from 16 yards.
May 3, 1970
The Kansas City Spurs spoiled the Lancers’ North American Soccer League home debut with a 2-0 win in front of 5,381 fans. Spurs captain Manfred Seissler, who joined Rochester in 1971, led the visitors with a brace. A disorganized front line limited the Lancers’ scoring opportunity. The result started a bad trend in which the Lancers experienced trouble securing points at home during the reign of head coach Alex Perolli.
May 1, 1971
Though they were defending NASL champions, the Lancers hardly were treated like one as problems with Aquinas forced them to play their opener at Silver Stadium, then the home of baseball Rochester Red Wings. Metidieri scored one goal and set up two others in a 3-1 win over the expansion Toronto Metros in the first meeting of what turned into an incredible rivalry between the two teams. Case in point: Lancers goalkeeper Claude Campos weas was kicked in the face by Metros player-coach Graham Legatt and missed five weeks after suffering a double cheekbone fracture and a broken jaw. Sal DeRosa became the first Lancers coach to return to the bench from the following season.
May 14, 1972
Off a marvelous performance at the Concacaf Champions Cup in Guatemala, Rochester failed to cash in on a man advantage and settled for a 1-1 draw with the New York Cosmos in front of 4,123 spectators. Cosmos striker Randy Horton was red carded after kicking Eli Durante. The Lancers, guided by player-head coach Adolfo Gori, attempted only eight shots. “I played the worst game of my life,” two-time defending NASL scoring champion and MVP Metidieri told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “The team played poorly. We just had no luck.”
May 29, 1973
Who says scoreless draws are boring? Well, DeRosa, his third tenure as head coach, certainly made it interesting after his team’s 0-0 tie with the Miami Toros in front of 2,500 rain-soaked supporters. DeRosa said that referee John DiSalvatore should have awarded the hosts a penalty kick late in the match. “We were robbed,” he said. “Carlos was all alone with the goalie to beat, and he was knocked down. What more do you need to call a penalty kick?” Toros goalkeeper Ruben Montoya produced three vital second-half saves.
May 26, 1974
Another frustrating start. First, Italian actress and special guest Gina Lollobrigida was supposed to kick out the first ball, but the game commenced while she was walking to the field from the press box. Then Paul Child further spoiled the day by heading the ball home with 10 minutes left to lift the San Jose Earthquakes a 2-1 victory in head coach Bill Hughes’ home debut before 7,557 fans at the newly named Holleder Stadium. U.S. international Boris Bandov struck first for the visitors on the hour before Tommy Ord equalized two minutes later. Rochester outshot San Jose, 20-10. There were some renovations at the stadium. Showers had been installed, so the players wouldn’t have to dress at Jefferson High School anymore and there was some grass on the field. But Hughes wasn’t happy with the pitch’s condition. “The ground was terrible,” he said. “The ground was so hard that the players couldn’t control the ball like they normally do.”
June 1, 1975
What a fiasco just getting to the game. The match originally was scheduled for May 18 against the Baltimore Comets, but a city foul-up in seeding the field forced that contest to be rescheduled. That forced the Lancers to play their opening six matches on the road. Moreover, they also were forced to spend between $5,000 and $6,000 to reprint tickets and programs. As for the game itself, rookie keeper Jim May made 14 saves in his NASL debut and Eli Durante tallied twice and Ord once in front of a crowd of 4,811 for Ted Dumitru’s team.
May 16, 1976
Head coach Dragan Popovic’s enjoyed a winning home debut with a 3-1 win over the Chicago Sting in front of 6,255 spectators. Vitor Moia scored two goals and Mike Stojanovic headed one in with his back to the goal. Craig Reynolds assisted on two goals.
May 8, 1977
The Lancers ended a seven-game domination by the Toronto Metros-Croatia dating back to 1974 (including a controversial playoff elimination in 1976) as they prevailed in the new shootout, 1-0, before 4,033 fans on a wind-blown Sunday. Two former Metros players starred for the home side. Goalkeeper Jack Brand denied Toronto on four of its five tie-breaker attempts and defender Miralem Fazlic converted the game-winning shootout against his friend and former teammate, keeper Zeljko Bilecki.
May 7, 1978
With the team still riding the high of 1977 playoff run and Lancermania, a club-record home crowd came out to watch the Lancers register a 3-1 win over the Houston Hurricane. Joszef Horvath, Jim Pollihan and Francisco Bolota found the net for Rochester. Pat Ercoli, a 20-year-old rookie who didn’t know he was playing until an hour before kickoff, also stood out with two assists.
April 22, 1979
Ibraim Silva scored 4:29 into sudden-death overtime (that’s what it was called at the time) to give the Lancers a 1-0 victory over the Washington Diplomats as goalkeeper Shep Messing made his home debut. Rochester was forced to play the final 38:09 of the match after Renato Cila was red-carded for kicking former Lancers midfielder Horvath at 56:40. A club-record home-opening crowd of 8,253 watched the game, but team president Pat Dinolfo was disappointed about the turn out. He expected a crowd of between 10,000 and 12,000. “I don’t know what people want,” he said. “Everybody knew we were playing. We have an exciting team, a good team. The attendance today was very disheartening, very disheartening.”
May 4, 1980
It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but the Lancers certainly didn’t complain. Gene Strenicer, whose last-second goal for Toronto eliminated Rochester from the 1976 playoffs was credited with a goal that deflected off defender Bobby Smith and past goalkeeper Bob Rigby with 2:57 left in regulation in a 1-0 triumph in front of another club-record home-opening crowd of 8,489. Rigby called it “a million-in-one-shot.” Lancers head coach Ray Klivecka sipped champagne, courtesy of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, in the locker room. He wasn’t celebrating for the team’s first victory of the young season (1-3) or the franchise’s 100th win, but rather for his first victory as Rochester coach.
No one realized it at the time, but it was the Lancers’ last home opener of any kind until the 2011-12 Major Indoor Soccer League when a 21st century version of the team returned. The Lancers returned to the great outdoors with men’s and women’s teams in 2017.