By Michael Lewis
Over the past decade, I have written obituaries for 21 members of the Rochester Lancers family, mostly for FrontRowSoccer.com and BigAppleSoccer.com. That has included players, coaches and a wife of an owner.
With a celebration of life scheduled for former Lancers and U.S. men’s national team defender Jim Pollihan scheduled for Harrisburg, Pa. on Saturday, here is a look at those who were associated with the one-time North American Soccer League franchise who have passed away since 2014.
This story also includes parts of obituaries of owners John Petrossi (1976) and Pat Dinolfo (2006) and midfielder John Pedro (1980) and one of Peter Short from 1983.
Petrossi was Lancer’s savior: But he claimed he never liked soccer
This obituary was printed in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on Nov. 25, 1976
John Petrossi was never one to avoid controversy.
The Rochester Lancers’ principal owner, who died early yesterday at the age of 68, saved the soccer team from extinction in 1973, but was frequently criticized for his methods.
Once he barred writers from the team’s Holleder Stadium locker room. When his team was in first place in the North American Soccer League late one season, he fired the coach, without the approval of the other board of directors. He even said he thought the city of Rochester could support a professional soccer team.
He was compared to the Oakland A’s controversial owner, Charles Finley. Other called him a “sweet dear old man.” And one team official called him a Benedict Arnold, for his remarks about the City of Rochester.
Yet, were it not for Mr. Petrossi, the Lancers would have had their gravestone chiseled long ago. When he bought into the financially ailing club in 1973, Mr. Petrossi saved it from extinction, although he said he never liked soccer.
“My two good friends, Ray LeChase and Ralph DeStephano were always talking about some hobby,” Petrossi once said. “When this thing [buying the Lancers] came up, they talked me into it. I never thought we’d ever have to go the deep financially.
“I was bored and frustrated. I was ready for anything. If it hadn’t been soccer, I’d be in something else, like baseball.”
Soccer was his life – and death
Former Rochester Lancers star midfielder John Pedro lived for soccer. Last Sunday, his love for the sport probably killed him.
The 29-year-old Pedro, who had heart problems the last two years, died of a heart attack after he played 23 minutes in a B Division game in Lisbon, Portugal.
Pedro collapsed on the field, never regained consciousness and died at a hospital several hours later, said Buffalo Stallions assistant coachc Luis Dabo, who said he had talked to Pedro’s wife.
It was Pedro’s first game after doctors had driven him the go-ahead to play again after a two-year layoff. For most of his career, Pedro starred for CUP of the Portuguese A Division.
“We heard that he returned to soccer,” Dabo said. “We were considering bringing him to play for the Stallions because he was a great indoor player. His wife said, ‘I’m sorry. I have some bad news for you. He died yesterday.’ I’m still not over the shock.”
Pedro’s death ended his dream of moving to the United States with his wife and their two-year-old daughter. while playing with the Lancers in 1976 and 1977, Pedro said that he hoped to become a U.S. citizen.
In his two years with the Lancers, the 5-9, 145-lb. Pedro was the team’s most consistent midfielder and playmaker. He scored one goal and added 13 assists.
Lancers president Pat Dinolfo called him “one of the classiest midfielders to play here.”
Chairman of the board Charlie Schiano remembered the way “he was able to to put the ball right on the button. He was a a better passer than [Joe] Horvath. He was one of my favorite players. What a tragedy.”
But there was another side of Pedro. “There wasn’t a finer gentleman,” Dinolfo said.
HITTING THE WALL — PART II: Fans took ‘Peter Korotki’ to their heart (1984)
This story originally was published in the March 8, 1984 edition of Soccer America. It is used with permission
When he gets together with his former teammates from the Newark Ukrainian Sitch, Philadelphia Spartans and Rochester Lancers, Don Lalka will be sure to remember to toast his fallen comrade, Peter Korotki.
Peter Korotki forever endeared himself to the Ukrainian fans because he was a fierce competitor with a never-say-side attitude.
“On the field, he was a very intense competitor,” Lalka said.
Peter Korotki might be better known to the North American soccer community by his actual name, Peter Short.
Short was killed in Los Angeles two weeks ago during an apparent robbery attempt he was trying to stop. He was 39.
When he played with the Sitch in 1966, Short so endeared himself to the Ukrainian fans that they called him Peter Korotki, “korotki” meaning short in Ukrainian.
“All the fans loved him,” Lalka said. “They took him to heart. He enjoyed it. It was like they adopted him.”
But Short’s gone.
Undoubtedly, Short’s death shocked many people.
“You don’t think he’s dead right now,” said former Lancers great Carlos Metidieri, the North American Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player in 1970 and 1971.
“It’s unbelievable,” Former Lancers midfielder Francisco Escos said.
“Oh my God, oh my God,” a choked-up former Lancers coach Sal DeRosa said after learning of the news. “I am shocked.”
Say what you want about the Rochester Lancers, but they were the cornerstone of the NASL in the early 1970s. Short, appropriately, was the cornerstone of the Lancers’ defense, helping them to their only title in 1970 and achieving individual honors as a first-team All-Star in 1971 and 1972.
Almost to a man, Short was remembered as a hard-nosed competitor.
“He pushed everybody to play hard,” said De Rosa, the coach of that championship team. “He used to argue with [midfielder] Gladstone Ofori, who was a good, but lazy player on the field. He felt he and everyone else had to give 110 percent.”
Metidieri remembered those arguments. He was in the middle of them.
“Peter and I were like this: We hated each other now, loved each other later. I’m a lazy player,” Metidieri said. “He likes to run and fight. He used to call me, ‘You lazy bum.’ We hated each other on the field and got drunk at his parties. I’m glad I had a few good times with him. I met my wife at one of his parties.”
To Rochester lawyer Felix Lapine, who also was Short’s agent in those early days of soccer, he was the master of the head ball.
“He never missed one,” Lapine said, “and you don’t like to say never. At that time, the lights at Holleder [Stadium] were not as good as they are now. He’d out-jump the opposition. He was my kind of player. Not the cleanest player, but he got the job done, whatever it took.
“That nose of his, I think it went in eight different directions. It was all over his face. He must have broken it a zillion times.”
Charlie Mitchell, former Lancers captain, and defender and Tulsa Roughnecks coach, remembered those head balls.
“We were very close during our playing days,” said Mitchell, who is a successful restaurateur in Tulsa. “We seemed to complement each other. He won all the ball balls in the air. I got the ground balls for him.
“He was his own person, very strong-willed. He said what he felt. He didn’t have two faces. I have always respected him. He lived for soccer at a time when it was a way of life.”
Short also lived for his family.
To Escos, who recently resigned as assistant coach of the Buffalo Stallions, Short was a family man.
“Peter was a quiet kind of guy,” he said. “I’ll remember him the way he treated his wife. When we went out, he always talked about his family.”
Short is survived by his wife, Jenny, and his 10-year-old son, Tommy. In lieu of flowers, Short’s family has asked friends to send contributions to the Peter Short Memorial Fund to take care of Tommy’s medical needs and education. The family would not offer specifics on Tommy’s medical condition (Peter Short Memorial Fund, Security Pacific Bank, Airport Branch, North 1st St.., San Jose, CA 95110).
To Lalka, Short was someone who needed a helping hand — or in this case a car — in the early days of his North American playing career. When they played for the Philadelphia Spartans (remember the National Professional Soccer League, the forerunner to the NASL?)., Short, Roy Turner and Lalka had to commute to Philadelphia. Lalka lived in Rochester, Short and Turner in Toronto. But one day customs officials started to crack down on players from Canada who earned money in the U.S.
“They started turning players back,” Lalka said. “”I got a call from my coach. ‘Get in your car and see if you can get Peter Short over,’ he said. I drove to Toronto. In a car, you can have 50 million things, so I smuggled him over. I put all kinds of things in the trunk. … After that one time I smuggled him, he stayed.
Unlike many foreign-born players, Short didn’t take the money and run. The Englishman became one of the NASL pioneers, playing for the Spartans, the Lancers, Dallas Tornado, Vancouver Whitecaps, Denver Dynamo and Minnesota Kicks.
He also worked as an assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Aztecs and San Jose (now Golden Bay) Earthquakes.
He also became a United States citizen.
Whether he was known as Peter Korotki or Peter short, He will be missed.
“My wife showed me the newspaper [Short’s obituary],” Metidieri said. “I don’t want to read it. I want to remember him when he was alive.
“It’s disgusting. What’s the difference that they got the guy [alleged murderer]? Peter’s gone. Hos is that going to bring Peter back? Now, I’m scared. You don’t know what will happen. We live in a bad world right now.
“Mr. Short, Metidieri concluded, “will always be in my memories for the rest of my life.”
Owner Pat Dinolfo passes away (2006)
Rochester Lancers president Pat Dinolfo passed away on April 13, 2006.
He was 79.
Dinolfo was an owner of the North American Soccer League team from its inception in 1967 to its demise in 1980.
He was a member of the Italian American Sport Club. While there he discovered soccer, and wound up as one of the original Lancers’ investors.
When asked about why he got involved with the Lancers, Dinolfo responded: “God only knows why I invested in a soccer team in 1967. I’ve asked myself why for a long time. It was supposed to be a fun thing. It’s just something that snowballed throughout the years.”
Dinolfo attended Marshall High School in the city, played football, and was a hurdler on the track team. He attended the University of Rochester while working as an assistant manager at his family’s business, the Arrow Food Market. He eventually transferred to, and graduated from St. Bonaventure University, before earning his law degree from the University of Buffalo Law School in 1955. He went into practice three years later, while building up various real estate holdings, and entering into some construction ventures. He also had served in the Army from 1945-47 as an instructor of weapons and tactics at West Point Military Academy, standing as
an honor guard for President Truman.
Dinolfo eventually served as a member of the NASL executive committee, labor committee, indoor soccer committee, and long-term planning committee, helping to form league policies, rules and regulations, and player contracts through the NASL Players Union. His reputation for being fair and practical led to an appointment as an arbitrator, appointed by FIFA to resolve
disputes over ownership rights of foreign players.
Owner Charlie Schiano was, more or less, the bad cop. He needed a good cop, and had one in another attorney and co-owner Pat Dinolfo, who was lower key — although he certainly was not the shy and retiring type. That’s not to say Dinolfo, who became team president in 1968 after starting out as treasurer, didn’t have his moments. At a North American Soccer League meeting discussing the Lancers’ historic participation in the Concacaf Champions Cup in 1972, Dinolfo did a rather, well, un-Dinolfo-like thing.
“Phil Woosnam [commissioner] and [New York Cosmos president] Clive Toye said, ‘Maybe you should not go because you might get beat too badly and you’ll embarrass the whole league,’ ” Schiano said. “Pat did what I usually would do. He took a chair and threw it across the room. I said, ‘Pat, that’s my role. You’re the nice guy. I’m the bad guy.’ But Pat threw it anyway.”
He was married to Evelyn and they had three children.
A LEGEND FROM HIS FIRST KICK: Friends, ex-teammates remember Stojanovic
Nov. 20, 2010
TORONTO — From just about the very first time he touched a soccer ball in North America, Mike Stojanovic became a Canadian soccer legend.
Less than a day after stepping off a plane from Yugoslavia in the mid-seventies, Stojanovic scored several goals for the Serbian White Eagles in a key win over archrival Croatia in a National Soccer League game.
“He arrived at the airport at 11 o’clock at night,” said Ken Stanojevic, then the White Eagles general manager. “I took him to the secretary of the league, made a registration at 12 o’clock at night. The next day we had a game against Croatia. He was one of the best on the field. He scored something like three goals. He was unstoppable. He was very, very fast. He had a tremendous shot. He made himself famous right there in that game. . . . Right away he became our favorite player.”
Stojanovic, a former Rochester Lancers striker and member of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, passed away from stomach cancer on Thursday. He was 63.
Stanojevic and several former Lancers teammates reminisced and mourned the death of Stojanovic at the Turner and Porter Funeral home on Friday night. More than 100 people from the Serbian and soccer community attended the wake. Stojanovic’s funeral was held Saturday, when he was buried.
Stollie, as he was nicknamed, made his reputation in the North American Soccer League. He scored 51 goals in 115 matches over five seasons for the Lancers and added 23 more for the San Diego Sockers while earning NASL player of the year honors in 1982.
Midfielder-forward Mike Bakic, who played with Stojanovic on the 1977 Lancers, remembered “how superior he was, physically, especially his speed and his strength to overcome many tackles.”
And then there was Stojanovic’s sense of humor. “He was hilarious,” Bakic said. “He was one of those guys where you didn’t have to buy a ticket to watch the show. He was always coming up with some funny stuff.”
On the field, nothing that he did was funny to the opposition in the NSL.
“There were many occasions when he was just unbelievable,” Bakic said. “I remember a game against a team that was very tough in another city — Ottawa. I don’t know if we won 7-0 or 8-0, but he scored all of the goals. Believe me, we had some good players on the team that were capable, more than capable of scoring. But somehow it worked out that he got all of them. That’s one of those things that is hard not to remember.”
Blagoje Tamindzic, who was the Rochester goalkeeper on the 1976 team, called Stojanovic a “good man, good friend, helluva a player. . . . Very unusual talent. “When I am looking at him while laying in the coffin, I am thinking about some things like we did. It’s like a movie. .We all know what he did for soccer here. Helluva player. We never had a player like that.”
Another former Lancer, goalkeeper Dick Howard, called Stojanovic “certainly one of the icons of Canadian soccer over the years.” Howard played with and left the Lancers before Stojanovic joined the club, but got to know the striker in recent years. Both have been inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame.
Asked what he remembered the most about Stojanovic, Howard replied, “thanking myself that I wasn’t in goal facing him because he was a dynamic player in and around the penalty area, and out and out goal-scorer.”
Even in his older years, the outspoken Stojanovic did not hesitate to give his opinion.
“Ironically, I got to know Mike very well in the last two, three years,” Howard said. “We always seemed to bump into one another at different games and had a chat about the good old days and Mike was always sort of critical of the quality of strikers that we were seeing whether it was a Toronto FC game or a Canadian Soccer League game.”
Howard was a member of the Canadian National Team coaching staff when the team made a run at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Canada needed to defeat Cuba in its final game, but could muster only a 2-2 draw as El Salvador and Honduras qualified. Stojanovic had become a naturalized Canadian citizen.
“We had an outstanding team,” he said. “With Stollie and Branko [Segota] up front, we thought we were going to go through.
“I got a real appreciation at that time because we had training games against the Cosmos and had a very good preparation for the tournament. I felt good because in the past Canadian teams had problems scoring goals and here we had two out and out goal-scorers in Segota and Stojanovic.”
OFFSIDE REMARKS: Remembering the Black Panther
Jan. 5, 2014
Eusebio, one of the greatest soccer players to run on and walk this planet, died on Sunday. He was 71.
I won’t go deeply into his list off accomplishments. During his generation, the Black Panther was considered second only to Pele as a goal-scorer. He performed for Benfica in Portugal for most of his career. He earned a ton of international honors, although his most memorable performance had to be at the 1966 World Cup when he rallied Portugal from a 3-0 deficit to upstart North Korea in the quarterfinals, connecting for four goals en route to a 5-3 triumph. The Koreans had stunned heavily favored Italy in the opening round, 1-0.
I did have the honor of seeing him play and even score a goal at the end of his career.
A few personal memories:
I witnessed Eusebio play in his very first North American Soccer League game — in Rochester on June 14, 1975. He wore the red, white and blue colors of the Boston Minutemen, who suffered a 4-1 loss to the Rochester Lancers.
From what I recall, he really did not do too much that rainy Saturday night at Holleder Stadium.
“We knew exactly how to play them tonight,” Lancers coach Ted Dumitru told me, adding that midfielder Tony Simoes, Eusebio’s former teammate from Portugal “is a playmaker. We simply let them pass the balls to those two and trapped them at midfield. It was like a zone defense.”
Dumitru, incidentally, eventually settled down in South Africa and was that country’s national coach for a while.
Before the game, I remember someone from the Minutemen handing me the press release that the club had signed the Black Panther — on Friday. No one bothered to tell the media. Talk about a major public relations blunder. The Lancers could have used the publicity; they drew an estimated 4,500 for that Saturday night encounter.
I almost got an opportunity to watch Eusebio play on a regular basis. The North American Soccer League team I covered at the time, the Rochester Lancers, picked him up on waivers for a day in 1976 after he was released by the Boston Minutemen. The team decided to relinquish his rights to the Toronto Metros-Croatia “because we didn’t want to push or force the issue,” Lancers general manager Sal De Rosa said at the time.
The Lancers did not have very much money to play with at the time, even for a 33-year-old midfielder nearing the end of his career.
“I talked with Eusebio in Mexico and there weren’t any financial difficulties with him at all,” De Rosa told me at the time. “What we offered him was in the same range we offered Bobby Moore.”
That’s right, the Lancers pursued Moore, the former English great, earlier that year. Moore eventually signed with the San Antonio Thunder for $100,000.
“Like I said, we weren’t going to push it,” De Rosa said. “The situation we have here with the abundance of midfielders, he might have had difficulty making the team. His presence might have disrupted our game plan. It took a while for the Cosmos to adapt to Pele last year.”
But the Cosmos eventually won a championship with Pele — in 1977.
The Metros-Croatia? They won the 1976 Soccer Bowl in improbable style with Eusebio leading the way.
And oh yeah, Eusebio did eventually make an impact against the Lancers. In the regular-season finale in Toronto that decided home-field advantage in the first-round of the playoffs on Aug. 15, Eusebio scored for the Metros-Croatia only 67 seconds into the match rifling home his 16th goal of the season, a pass from Ivan Lukacevic past Lancers goalkeeper Blagoje Tamindzic. the hosts added a second goal before holding on for a 2-1 win.
Three days later, the teams were back at Varsity Stadium in Toronto. They battled to a 1-1 deadlock before Gene Strenicer connected for the game-winner for Toronto with a second remaining in regulation. The NASL had no stoppage time in those days. The diminutive midfielder who scored the goal forever was known as 89:59 Strenicer by the most ardent Lancers supporters.
Hmmm. Wonder if that goal — a score by the visitors with one second remaining — would have been allowed at Holleder.
Eusebio went on to play for the Las Vegas Quicksilvers of the NASL and the New Jersey Americans of the American Soccer League before completing his career with the Buffalo Stallions in the original Major Indoor Soccer League in 1980.
As it turns out, De Rosa was coach of the Stallions in 1980 and he finally got his man for one last hurrah.
GOODBYE, SAL, GOODBYE, OMERO: Ex-Rochester Lancers coach Sal DeRosa, ex-defender Omero Paris pass away
Two members of the original Rochester Lancers have passed away — former coach Sal DeRosa and ex-defender Omero Paris.
DeRosa, a native of Italy, coached the Lancers to their only North American Soccer League championship in 1970, taking over the team midway through the season after Alex Perolli left the club. He was 82.
Paris, who died on Friday, was 77.
DeRosa had three tenures with the Lancers, also directing the team’s fortunes in 1967 and 1973 as well. He also was the coach of the Miami Toros for a short time in 1972, selecting Massapequa native Alain Maca as the very first draft choice in NASL history that year.
After the 1973 season, DeRosa became the Lancers’ assistant general from 1974-75 and the club’s GM in 1976.
He went on to become coach and general manager of the Buffalo Stallions in the Major Indoor Soccer League, being involved in some memorable confrontations with the four-time champion New York Arrows.
Paris was an original member of the Lancers, who made their professional debut in the American Soccer League in 1967. He also was a starter on the Italian American Sport Club team that captured the 1963 U.S. Amateur Cup title.
Many players from that team formed the 1967 Lancers squad.
According to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Paris died “unexpectedly.”
A Greece, N.Y. resident, Paris survived by his wife Esther of 56 years, children, Helen (Robert – former spouse) Monell, Carla (Joseph) Alfieri, Linda Scally, Omero (Nicole) Paris; grandchildren, Robert M. Monell, Andrea (Peter) Borrelli, Alessandra, Marisa and Joseph Alfieri, Michael and Nicholas Scally, Omero, Anthony and Samantha Paris and great-grandchild, Gianna Borrelli. He is also survived by sister-in-law, Mary (Charles) Vaccaro.
Paris also is survived by an extensive family in his hometown of Celano, Italy. Siblings include Vittorio (Armandina) Paris, Flora and Bina Paris, Adrianna (Italo) Di Pascasio, Domenica (Bruno) Torrelli as well as several nephews and nieces.
Visiting hours are Thursday 3-8 p.m. at the Dierna Funeral Home, 2309 Culver Road, Rochester, N.Y.. His Funeral Mass will be celebrated Friday 10 a.m. at St. Lawrence Church. Entombment at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital or Camp Good Days and Special Times in his memory.
OFFSIDE REMARKS: Remembering Bruno Sniders
Oct. 6, 2014
If Bruno Sniders was a baseball pitcher, he would have thrown nothing but fastball.
Instead, he was a sports columnist who threw nothing but fastballs in a career that spanned six decades.
He passed away last Wednesday in Rochester, N.Y. at the age of 78.
Bruno — yes, I am calling him by his first name, not his last as many of us would do in obituaries — was a colleague of mine at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle — a friend, mentor, teacher and in the beginning, a rival at the Rochester Times-Union, when there were afternoon newspapers (the older generation can explain to your children and grandchildren on what afternoon newspapers were; heck you might have to explain what newspapers are as well).
During my early days in the business, I learned much from Bruno. As a columnist he was versatile enough to cover every sport, though he wasn’t afraid to tackle soccer at a time when it wasn’t the cool thing to do as many writers shied away from it as though they would contract a contagious disease.
He wrote about the Rochester Lancers, who experienced incredible adventures during their 14-year existence. Bruno was never afraid to hold their feet to the fire, whether it was the owners, management, players or coaches. He was never afraid to take a controversial stand on a subject, even if meant he would wind up in the middle of it.
He was a character and had some character as well.
Bruno loved writing and sharing his opinions with the rest of the world.
“Readers loved his style of writing which didn’t hold anything back,” his stepson Tom Grassadonia was quoted in the D&C last Friday. “When it came to his work as a journalist, he was known as a perfectionist.”
On the very afternoon that he passed away, Bruno talked about the state of the NFL, according to the D&C.
“I’m a journalist, so I have to be a cynic,” Snider said, Grassadonia told the newspaper.
As a young writer just out of college who was getting his feet wet in the business and trying to learn about a sport that wasn’t on TV and had few books written about it available in the USA, I was like a sponge, absorbing whatever I could find from fellow writers and even editors. Since I worked way back in the “stone age” — this was before cable TV, cell phones, the internet and even video tapes — I had to look under rocks for information.
So, I learned from the likes of Bruno, reading his column and talking to him.
He sometimes would get it wrong, claiming that Pele would never sign with the Cosmos.
(Kenn Tomasch found the famous line and relayed it to me via Facebook: “Pele wasn’t going to the United States to play any more than Moshe Dayan would join the Egyptian Air Force.”)
After the Black Pearl did sign, Clive Toye, then the Cosmos president, would bring that up to me every now and then.
The longest conversation I ever had with Bruno was the ride home from a memorable playoff game from Toronto after the Lancers managed to pull off one of their greatest victories despite playing not one, but two down in enemy territory on Aug. 17, 1977. And I do mean enemy territory, the Lancers had several Serbian players from then-Yugoslavia on the team and the Toronto team they faced were named the Metros-Croatia. So, if you know anything about the Serbian-Croatia conflict, there was a war sometimes happening on the field, which also spilled off of it as well, especially with the Croatian fans.
The Lancers pulled off the miracle as Ibrahim Silva scored in the 79th minute to pull out a rather improbable 1-0 win.
The main sports headline over my story in the D&C that day read:
Hi-ho Silva, Lancers ride again
Bruno’s column was entitled:
The Magnificent Nine
Here is the beginning of it:
TORONTO — Call them the “Magnificent Nine” or the “Fabulous Unbeatables.” Whatever they’re called, they play like Supermen.
Nothing quite like these incredible Lancers has been seen in Rochester since the championship years of 1970 and 1971.
Last night’s playoff game had it all — drama, suspense, violence, an ineffective referee and Ibrahim Silva.
Silva put the finishing touch in a Cinderella story that is just beginning, leaving the Rochester Lancers virtually speechless last night.
Well stated, Bruno.
Needless to say, the Lancers were riding high. We could not believe it as well because their next opponent in the North American Soccer League playoff semifinals was the New York Cosmos and Pele. They were only two wins away from going to the championship game in what had turned into that Cinderella season.
Because we entered the U.S. at an earlier point than the Rainbow Bridge, we did not have the immediate options of taking the New York State Thruway home. Instead, a good portion of our trip was on Route 104. It was August — right in the middle of peach season.
I can’t remember the many conversations that we had — many of them probably were about the previous night’s game, the upcoming one and Elvis Presley dying (yes, the King passed away on game day) — but I do remember stopping to buy some peaches at a road-side stand.
Bruno was a peach of a guy and writer.
OFFSIDE REMARKS: Remembering Alex Loj
Oct. 16, 2014
Another week, another mentor who has gone to that great soccer newsroom in the sky.
Two weeks ago, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle sports columnist Bruno Sniders died. One of his passions was writing about and telling the world of his opinions — the good, bad and ugly — of the beautiful game.
Last week, Alex Loj passed away. He was 69. While not a columnist like Sniders, Loj (pronounced Loy), was a pioneer back in the day. Alex covered the sport at a time when there wasn’t a line of writers wanting to cover it when professional soccer tried to become a big time American sport in 1967. Translated: it wasn’t the most fashionable thing to do at the time.
Then again, Alex had a unique background. You might say he had soccer in his DNA.
The Ukrainian native was a three-time All-Scholastic selection at Edison Tech in Rochester, N.Y. He went on to cover the Rochester Lancers from their very first season in the American Soccer League 1967 through the 1971 North American Soccer League season. He missed part of the 1970 season, but he had a pretty decent excuse. He traveled to Mexico to cover the 1970 World Cup, watching Pele and what is considered the greatest World Cup team of all time.
Alex eventually left the newspaper and went into public relations, working for the Lancers, ASL and Brockport State, among other pursuits. His No. 1 passion was soccer. So, he continued to attend Lancers games on a regular basis. It was there how I met him. In 1975, Alex probably saw a young, enthusiastic writer who probably wanted to cover any other sport but soccer at that time.
So, unselfishly, Alex took me under his wing and gave me an education. Not that he set up a classroom and explained the particulars, but he explained some of the peculiar points of the game and answered many a question.
I thought he knew it all, but certainly wasn’t a know it all.
Being a subjective game and having gotten my soccer legs, some of that education became conversations about the sport, philosophies and game situations and so on.
In his later years, Alex became a regular contributor on several soccer radio shows where he shared his insights and opinions about the beautiful game.
He earned the title, the “Dean of Soccer,” and was considered the father of Rochester soccer journalism.
Now, that might sound funny to some of you, but there is a vibrant history of the game in that northwestern New York City.
It was jump-started by the Italian American Sport Club, the forerunners of the Lancers, winning the U.S. Amateur Cup in 1963. It continued to the Lancers, who won their only NASL title in 1970. The baton eventually was passed to the
Rochester Rhinos, who dominated the A-League in the nineties with several championships (they are also are the last non-MLS team to win the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup; in 1999).
The Rhinos are still alive and kicking, calling the soccer-specific Sahlen’s Stadium home. They have been joined there by the Western New York Flash, one of the best women’s professional teams around, and even the second incarnation of the Lancers as an indoor team (they kick off their fourth season in November). Add the fact that Rochester is the hometown of the great Abby Wambach, you get an idea of how important the game is to this city that borders on Lake Ontario.
And Alex Loj was back there in the beginning.
Through the years, we became friends. For one of the several Lancers reunions, he invited me to stay with him and his wife Mary for an extended weekend in the late 1990s as we constantly talked about our favorite sport.
I was hoping to see him again when he was inducted into the Lancers Wall of Fame last year, but his health did not allow him to attend. I did get an opportunity to talk to his son, Eugene for a quite a long time that night.
Speaking of talking and talking about soccer, I would love to hear the conversation — or should I say an exchange of opinions — between Bruno Sniders and Alex Loj in heaven. It should be one doozy of a debate.
Everyone should have at least one mentor in their younger years.
I consider myself quite fortunate. I had several, including Alex Loj.
OFFSIDE REMARKS: Ted Dumitru: an appreciation
May 31, 2016
The news hit me like a ton of soccer balls.
My wife Joy told me that the former coach of the South African national team, Ted Dumitru, had passed away. He was at a Johannesburg mall, collapsed and died last week. He was 76.
I felt shocked and sad, very sad.
And I had good reason to be. Ted Dumitru was the first professional soccer coach I had ever encountered, covered the quoted.
At the time, Ted Dumitru was in one sense, a man without a country, trying to prove himself to be in land that was desert when it came to international soccer. Oh yeah, we knew of Pele and George Best, but we did not understand how complicated the rest of the soccer universe was.
Born in Bucharest, Romania, Dumitru was forced to give up playing soccer due to an injury. So, he turned to coaching and became the youngest coach to direct a team Romania’s Diviza A with Stiinta Craiova, (now known as Universitatea Craiova), at the ripe old age of 25 for the 1964-65 season.
He wound up coaching Altay Izmir, Besiktas and Mersin in Turkey before he was ordered to return home by the Romanian government.
“I don’t have any regrets about leaving,” he told me for a story in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle in May, 1975. “I have some empty spots I have to fill. I have to watch what I say because I have a brother and a sister over there. I can’t correspond with them because of fear of harassment. I’m not afraid of myself but for them.”
The Romanian National Sports Council ordered him to return home.
“I couldn’t return,” said Dumitru, who had a wife, Helen, and a four-year-old daughter, Andrea, at the time. “I had contracts with several clubs in Turkey and it was impossible to break them. Romania said that’s all right, that they’ll take care of it.”
He traveled to Germany and requested political asylum before deciding to move to the USA in May 1972. Meanwhile, Dumitru was sentenced in absentia to 20 years’ imprisonment.
There was nothing like the USA.
“The Romanian government had told me, that anything you win was a result of your education in the Communist regimentation,” he said. “You must emphasize not the personal activity but the system. It was against my will and because this reason, started my conflict.
“For my family, the biggest thing was liberty. In this country, I can express myself, my decisions and my opinions. I don’t have to explain why.”
Actually, he originally did not want to pursue a sporting career.
While growing up, Dumitru became interested in electronics, but elected to play sports, instead.
“Sports wasn’t my big attraction,” he said. “Because of the political situation my mother and I realized that I could not reach a high position in electronics. We decided to use my natural abilities in track and field.
“I was very lucky when I was young because my brother was a well-known basketball player. He was 6-foot-6 and the idol of many fans. In Eastern Europe, once you prove your value in sports, they forget about your political background. You have to take advantage of it. That was exactly my case.”
In the USA, he wound up as the University of Texas club soccer coach. When the Lancers fired Bill Hughes midway through the 1974 season (despite the team moving into first place), he was hired amid controversy because he was “only” a club soccer coach at a college.
In those days, the problem was there was no way to corroborate his background. Heck, at that time, anyone could make up a resume and claim he accomplished this or that.
Dumitru, as it turned out, was telling the truth.
Jim Paglia, who was chairman of World Cup Chicago 1994, was the marketing and public relations director of the Lancers back then.
“He often asked me to do advance scouting while on the road doing my primary PR work,” Paglia said. “As a result, we sometimes roomed together on the road so he could get a complete briefing on the opponent once he arrived in a competitor’s city.”
As a novice in soccer, Paglia was stunned by Dumitru’s brilliance.
“After having been exposed to the contrasting styles of crafty Sal DeRosa and the less than successful approach of Bill Hughes, Ted was totally unexpected,” he said. “His humble, quiet nature and sometimes unwarranted concerns about speaking English belied a brilliant mind. He was professorial in his command of every aspect of the game. He introduced me to the concept that to be a world class coach, one needed to study the sciences. Physiology, kinesiology, psychology, geometry and nutrition were subjects in which he was as learned as he was the X’ and O’s.”
Dumitru was different than many other coaches, in his generation and today.
“He opened up to me and exhibited trust in ways that still baffle me,” Paglia said. “He insisted I not only attend team practices but that I participate. Rather than send non-English speaking players to do community events and clinics [all the players had day jobs anyway] he wanted me to do them. However, it was critical to him that I be fit and capable of demonstrating skills.”
Ted Dumitru was ahead of his time. I remember reading his study of the game that was well over the ahead of this novice in soccer.
Paglia discovered how multi-talented the Romanian-born coach was.
“Somewhere, I still have an original draft of a technical paper he gave me to edit that detailed the science behind a concept he had for an athletic shoe design that consisted of air pockets in the sole that reacted to the shifting of the wearer’s weight,” he said. “Remember, this was written more than 50 years ago, long before the Air Jordan, ‘technology at any ridiculous price era.’ ”
The 1975 Lancers will not be remembered for playing beautiful soccer or for winning. The team finished at 6-16. Despite that poor record, the ownership wanted Dumitru back, but he would only return if the club went professional — ie. paying players more money that they didn’t need to second job away. It never worked out and Dumitru sought greener pastures.
“But almost as suddenly as he appeared on the scene, he left,” Paglia said. “I was saddened. We never spoke again. However, it was Ted that sparked the desire in me to coach, something I’ve done for the past 38 years.
“Ted was one of the most dignified men I have ever known.”
Eventually, Dumitru found his haven — or was it heaven — in Africa and settled in South Africa, where he forged a reputation as one of the top club coaches. He wound up directing the two biggest clubs and rivals at one time or another — the Kaiser Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates, who clash regularly in the Soweto Derby. That would be the equivalent of someone coaching the Red Bulls and New York City FC (since City is only in its second year, let’s give that possibility some time to come to fruition).
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Dumitru was part of my education as a soccer writer. Some of the things that he said were way over my head since I was just trying to grasp the rudimentary rules and basics of the game.
When I ventured to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, I tried to get in touch with Dumitru several times through his current club, Mamelodi Sundowns, but with no luck.
It was my loss.
Rest In Peace, Ted Dumitru.
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME: Frank Caricchio did not play soccer for the money
March 12, 2018
Frank Caricchio certainly did not play soccer to get rich.
He played the beautiful game because he loved it.
“It was not the money,” he said during a 2013 interview. “It passion. You got hooked. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but maybe it’s like you have a drink of wine and you like to have another drink. You play soccer and you play more and more. That’s what it was. You get hooked on the sport. Luckily for 99 percent of us, our families helped us out. They knew this is what we wanted to do. They really came together to us, followed us and we were appreciative of them.”
Caricchio, an original member of the Rochester Lancers, passed away Saturday. He was 78.
He loved the game so much that when he served in the Army at Fox Dix, N.J. in the early sixties, Caricchio was given a weekend pass so he could play for the Italian American Sport Club, which captured the 1963 U.S. Amateur Cup.
“It was very difficult,” he said. “I used to get a pass, Luckily, it was sent a pass to my CO. I would be in the office, and they would go, ‘Here you go again, you’ve got another game.’ I would go on the weekends. I would go home and play. Mainly, it was the cup games. That was a big commitment for the club.
“At that time, I was lucky because I was in the best shape of my life. We were always training.”
Born in Italy, Caricchio moved to the United States with his family in 1953.
Caricchio was an outstanding forward at Charlotte High School. As a senior, he was a unanimous selection to the 1956 Rochester Democrat & Chronicle’s All-Scholastic Soccer team, recording a season-best 33 points.
He played for the Italian American Sport Club for a decade, captaining the team and was a regular on the side that captured the 1963 national championship, which helped spark interest in pro soccer in Rochester. From there, the Lancers were born.
Usually a backline player for the ISAC, Caricchio turned attacker to help the team record a win over Patchogue in the 1966 Eastern Cup finals. He called it a highlight of his IASC career.
“We were losing 1-0,” he said. “The last 10 minutes I told the coach to move me up because in high school I was playing forward. The last two minutes of the game I scored the tying goal. It was very exciting and in overtime we won 4-1. We had lost to them before. As [an] amateur player for this club, it definitely was the highest.”
While the team was primarily composed Italians, from time to time, other nationalities also joined the team, including Brazilians, Ukrainians and even some players from Canada when the team was in a mode to make a serious cup run. Despite this mesh of nationalities, the players got along, for the most part.
“We had a mixture of different nationalities,” Caricchio said. “If you have all Italians, all English, you have the tendency to argue more. We had Germans. We had English. We had American born. So we had a mixture of a lot of people. We didn’t want to argue with one another. If there was something we could overlook, we did. If it was another Italian, we would have told him off. If it was an Italian to a German or an Italian to an England [player] you have a tendency to calm down and try to please or show the other person that your nationality was just as good as theirs. Plus, we were all good friends.”
Caricchio, who worked for Kodak, performed for the Lancers in the American Soccer League from 1967-69 and was the starting right back in their very first game at Aquinas Stadium, a 5-2 loss to Concordia of Germany on Memorial Day 1967.
He went on to coach the Greece Athena High School girls team, Mother of Sorrows, a Catholic school in Greece, Bishop Kearney H.S. boys team, and an Italian-American men’s team.
At Athena, Caricchio build a powerhouse program, reaching the Section V championship game five consecutive times, including winning the 1996 title and reaching the state semifinals.
In October 1995, Caricchio’s Athena team defeated previously undefeated Mercy and future U.S. women’s star Abby Wambach, 3-1.
“We knew defensively we would have to shut down Abby Wambach,” Caricchio told the D&C. “She had one chance today — I don’t think it was even a good chance, but a halfway chance — and she scored. She’s definitely the player we have to mark.”
In 1997, Caricchio was named the All-Greater Rochester girls coach of the year, the same year that Wambach was named girls player of the year. He stepped down after that season with a 99-21-2 record because he said it was “time to move on.”
In 2005, he was inducted into the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame and was inducted the Lancers’ Wall of Fame last year.
Caricchio, who lived in the Rochester, N.Y. suburb of Greece, is survived by his wife of 52 years, Anna Maria; daughter, Lisa (Neil) Cook; cherished grandchildren, Amber, Jesse, Dylan, Damon, Nicole, Leah; and great-granddaughter, Sabrina; sisters-in-law, Mary Caricchio, Piera Cafarelli, Amy D’Angelo, Rita (Roy) Mikulski; brothers-in-law, Gaetano DeRosa, Louis (Mary) D’Angelo, Sebastian (Camille) D’Angelo and many nieces and nephews
He was also predeceased by his daughter, Sabrina Colf.
Visiting hours will be held at Thomas Funeral Chapel in Rochester, Tuesday from 4-8 p.m. A funeral will be held at Mass Holy Cross Church Wednesday at 11 a.m. Interment will be at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
The Soccer Is a Kick in the Grass radio show will remember Caricchio on its Monday show on WYSL radio (1040 AM) at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
A SOCCER VOICE IS SILENCED: Wayne Fuller, voice of original Lancers, passes away
Feb. 9, 2018
Former Rochester Lancers radio announcer Wayne Fuller has passed away.
He was 70.
Fuller, who had a classic baritone radio voice, called almost 200 games on radio for the Lancers in the original North American Soccer League from 1975-80 and the Rochester Flash in the American Soccer League in 1981.
He was inducted into the Rochester Lancers’ Wall of Fame in 2012 and was a member of the Batavia High School Sports Hall of Fame.
Fuller also did play-by-play for the Buffalo Stallions (Major Indoor Soccer League), Rochester Ravens (United Soccer League) and many high school and college sports.
A graduate of Batavia High School and SUNY-Albany, Fuller worked for radio stations in Albany and Rochester, including WHAM and WYSL and hometown WBTA in Batavia.
He also was the public-address announcer for the Batavia Muckdogs minor-league baseball team.
Fuller held several positions with Empire Trailways starting in 1964 and with New York Trailways in 1994.
The Dwyer Stadium press box in Batavia is named after Fuller.
His survivors include cousins Ann Socha of Albuquerque, N. Mex., Ellen Reed of Albuquerque, N. Mex., Sarah LaBreque of Boulder, Colo., Donna Rogers of Avon, Douglas Fuller of Marietta, Ga., Cheryl Trueman of Marietta, Ga., Tony Fuller of Marietta, Ga., Wirt Fuller of Batavia, N.Y. Linda Call of Stafford, N.Y. Sandy Swanson of Batavia, Janice Hawley of Batavia, Tom Socha of Rochester and Shannon Pille of Rochester.
Calling hours will be from 4 to 7 p.m. on Monday at the H.E. Turner & Co. Funeral Home, 403 East Main St., Batavia, where services will be on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.
He will be laid to rest in East Bethany Cemetery in Batavia.
Memorials can be made to Volunteers For Animals, P.O. Box 1621, Batavia, N.Y. 14021 or Alexander Dollar For Scholars, P.O. Box 296, Alexander, N.Y. 14005.
OFFSIDE REMARKS: Remembering Wayne Fuller, one of a kind
Feb. 9, 2018
As I have said many times before, the worst part of being a writer is writing obituaries.
Now, magnify that several times if you knew the person.
I had the privilege of knowing Wayne Fuller and it is with a heavy heart to announce that the former play-by-play man of the original Rochester Lancers has passed away at the age of 70.
I got to know Wayne from just about the outset of my pro writing career as we both “covered” the Lancers in our own unique ways from 1975 to 1980. He did it live, I had the luxury of gathering my thoughts for a story after the game.
Wayne was a consummate pro, had a classic radio voice, did his homework on the Lancers and their opposition, knew his soccer and always had a question or two on controversial subjects.
He also had a few intriguing moments on the air for which he will be remembered.
On June 11, 1977, the Lancers broke a league-record tying 14-game road losing streak via a 3-1 victory over the host San Jose Earthquakes as substitute Craig Reynolds tallied twice. It was their first road win in 14 months as Rochester vaulted from fourth to first-place in the Northern Division with a 5-6 record and 45 points.
Wayne was so ecstatic after Reynolds scored the insurance goal with 35 seconds remaining in the game that he accidentally ripped his telephone line out of the wall. Transmission back to Rochester was lost for 15 minutes. “We didn’t know about it until the station [WSAY] called us back,” he said. “It was the excitement on my part.”
Lancers public relations director Jerry Epstein, who remained in Rochester and listened to the broadcast, was worrying about the worst scenario. “I was thinking of picking up the paper and finding out we lost, 4-3.”
In August of that year, Fuller described the Lancers’ remarkable 1-0 playoff win over the host Toronto Metros-Croatia, despite playing two men down for almost half the game. Mike Stojanovic found “an open Ibrahim Silva in the box and he scored one of the biggest goals in Lancers’ history, so big that Wayne Fuller lost his voice calling the goal!” Andrew Battisti, co-host of the Rochester soccer radio show, “Soccer is a Kick in the Grass” told the National Premier Soccer League website in 2017.
And Wayne had a sense of humor.
In a rough and tumble affair that sometimes reminded spectators of pro wrestling rather than the beautiful game at the Toronto Blizzard July 18, 1979, Peter Lorimer booted a free kick off the rear end of Silva, who was standing too close to the play. “Now, that is soccer!” Fuller sarcastically bellowed into his microphone, not unlike what the Charleston Chiefs announcer said about hockey during a fight scene in that legendary movie, Slap Shot! Yours truly doesn’t remember much more of the game except that the Blizzard prevailed in a shootout.
But he took his job seriously.
In 1980, Wayne took on further responsibilities as he was named Lancers public relations director in the team’s most tumultuous season as owners battled for control of the team. The Rochester owners controlled the votes (they fired head coach Ray Klivecka, who was backed by the downstate group), the New York owners had the fresh money (and they decided not to pump much, if any, into the team). The club went downhill quickly on and off the field during that summer.
On many occasions, the owners wouldn’t answer some tough questions from the media. So, we had to go through Fuller on many occasions. He admitted that he did not want to know all the goings on behind the scenes and wind up lie to the media, which would destroy his credibility. So, he did so on a need-to-know basis on his part.
Like I said, a consummate professional.
And a good friend, as well.
GOODBYE, LUIS: Former Lancers forward Fernando, who scored team’s 1st competitive goal, passes away
Oct. 2, 2018
Luis Fernando, an original Rochester Lancer who recorded the team’s first competitive goal and who forged a reputation as a lethal goal-scorer in Western New York, has passed away.
Fernando died last Friday. He was 76.
A native of Brazil, Fernando, whose family name was Figueiredo (many Brazilian players go by their first name and middle names) emigrated to the United States in the sixties. He played for Dnipro and the Italian American Sport Club, helping both sides successful seasons while scoring countless goals. For example, he struck for a hat-trick in Dnipro’s 5-1 win over Buffalo Germania in a Northwester Cup match Jan. 11, 1966.
Fernando, who mostly played inside left, was known by many in the Rochester soccer community as “Canhoto,” which means Lefty in Portuguese, because he usually played with his highly skilled left foot.
He helped the IASC reach the U.S. Amateur Cup finals of the 1966 competition before the squad fell to the Chicago Kickers in the title match in the Windy City, 5-2.
On May 28, 1967, a 25-year-old Fernando played a key role in the ISAC’s comeback from a 2-0 deficit in what turned out to be a 4-2 victory over the equalizer for the ISAC in a 4-2 victory over the Ukrainian-American Sport Club in the semifinals of the Northwestern Cup game at Cobbs Hill Park.
Two days later, Fernando came off the bench in the Lancers’ very first game, a 4-2 loss to Concordia Sport Club of Germany at then Aquinas Stadium. Fernando, who played inside left, did not score in the match, but placed a shot on goal that the goalkeeper saved in the 37th minute.
In the team’s second exhibition match that year, Fernando stunned against Chelsea of England by drilling a hard shot into the left corner of the net only 55 seconds into the game in a 6-1 defeat at the same venue.
Fernando has the unique distinction of scoring the Lancers’ first goal in a competitive match in the team’s inaugural match in the American Soccer League at Aquinas Aug. 27, heading home a Tommy McGlennon feed in the 20th minute in a 4-2 home defeat to the Boston Tigers. Boston head coach Sal Atria praised Fernando’s performance in the midfield to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
An interesting footnote to the game: Tigers forward Carlos Metidieri, a fellow Brazilian who would join the Lancers and lead the team to the 1970 North American Soccer League title, scored the first goal of the match as the visitors grabbed a 2-0 lead.
Fernando’s promising career with Lancers was short-lived due to a left leg injury suffered early in the season. He reportedly torn ligaments in his left leg in September before undergoing an operation. He played with the Lancers through the 1968 season.
Also known as Luis Fernando Figueiredo, the former soccer player’s wife of 47 years, Maria, died exactly a year ago today, Oct. 2, 2017 in Highwood, Ill. She was 69.
OFFSIDE REMARKS: Tommy Ord, an appreciation
Dec 16, 2020
On Feb. 6, 1975, a soccer neophyte got the opportunity to cover his first professional soccer game.
It wasn’t the traditional outdoor variety that has produced passionate supporters at all four corners of the globe, but the indoor game.
The event was the NASL Indoor Qualifying Tournament, one of four regional competitions that would lead to a national championship. The North American Soccer League wanted to start an indoor league to help teams supplement the players’ meager incomes. And the indoor game had more goals. The lack of goal-scoring was the bane of many American sports fans on why they did not find beauty in the beautiful game.
Rochester, N.Y. was chosen as one of the regional tournaments at the Community War Memorial.
This 22-year-old writer knew very little or nothing about the game but was grateful the indoor game was akin to hockey. So, there would be something to write about – i.e. goals and goal-scoring opportunities.
The Rochester Lancers dropped a 4-3 decision to the Boston Minutemen that Thursday night.
Given that I was on deadline and needed to talk to players ASAP, I decided on ones from English-speaking countries. That included Andy Rymarczuk of the United States and Tommy Ord of England.
Rymarczuk was no problem. Ord? That was an entirely different manner. The 22-year-old striker spoke with a Cockney accent and with my ear not accustomed with that tongue at the time. Not surprisingly, it had problems communicating that to my brain. I did not quote Ord in the story because I didn’t need to be sued for misquoting a player in my first soccer article (I had been assigned the Lancers’ beat only a few weeks prior).
Flash forward to the outdoor season. For a team that finished with a pitiful 6-16 mark, Ord turned into the lone shining light for the Lancers. He tallied 14 goals and four assists in 18 matches on a side that found the net but 29 times in 22 games. That was a remarkable scoring rate, with little help from his teammates filling the net.
We’ll get to that in a moment.
As a first-year soccer writer, I was a sponge, and the learning curve was steep.
I got a lesson on watching the play away from the ball when the Cosmos played the Lancers at Holleder Stadium just after Pele signed with the team that June. Pele had not trained with the team yet, so he did not play.
While the Cosmos were on the attack on the west side of the field, I noticed a battle royal between Cosmos captain and central defender Werner Roth, who someday would be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, and Ord, though there was no ball, on the east end.
Roth took Ord by the neck while the Lancers’ striker elbowed his marker in return. And on it went. They seemed to be jockeying for position and superiority even though the ball was light years near them. It gave me a greater appreciation of off-the-ball play because it is easy to get hypnotized by following the bouncing ball.
What a fighter he was, even when he didn’t have the ball.
Thanks for the lesson, gentlemen.
As it turned out, Ord had the last laugh, scoring twice that day to lift Rochester to a 3-2 victory. Less than two months later, the two rivals were teammates.
As for the phrase last laugh, Ord was not one to gloat about scoring. He was soft-spoken and polite. I don’t remember having any problems with Tommy. I don’t recall him taking his teammates to task, except when admitted he was tired of being the lone target man. I didn’t blame him. Of course, when you’re scoring at that clip, the likelihood of getting asked tough questions was a longshot. Then again, what was there to criticize?
Ord passed away Tuesday at the age of 68. It hit a lot of people hard because he was well liked and respected. It hit home with me because he was only six months younger than me. More than being an entertaining soccer player, he treated me well. His death also was a reminder to put life into perspective and on how short time we have on this planet.
I mourn for Ord and send by deepest sympathies to his family and friends.
Like I said, Ord had a wonderful season as a one-man show for the Lancers in 1975. The club could never find him a scoring partner as the Lancers tried six players on a revolving tryout basis. They brought in players spanning five countries from three continents on a one-game tryout basis, for the most part.
The team had hoped to team Nigerian Yakubu Mambo with Ord, but they lost him to a preseason knee injury.
Jacrist Leroy, a Jamaican international, was brought in and he played in the final minutes of a 4-3 loss to the Miami Toros that May 2 and subsequently was released.
The club then signed Alvaro (Nene) Antonio Teixeira, reportedly a member of the Brazilian national team. He played the second half of Rochester’s 2-0 win over the Boston Minutemen and was dropped after the May 9 game.
Lee Newlyn, a 6-3 forward-defender from England was signed. He played one game as a substitute in the 5-0 away loss at the San Jose Earthquakes June 6.
The Lancers looked to the British Isles for some help. They thought they had some from Glasgow Celtic’s Jim Johnstone, but the Earthquakes signed him first.
Allen Taylor, a former teammate of Ord’s at Chelsea, had difficulty obtaining a visa and then had to return to England when his mother passed away.
The seventh and final player was Willie Berrington of Montrose, then of the Scottish second division.
Needless to say, this took its toll on Ord because the opposition knew who to double team game in and game out.
“I can’t do it myself,” he told me June 30. “As a striker, I’m up front myself. Most teams have two strikers.”
Yes, those were in the days when teams used two and sometimes three forwards.
In late July, the Lancers sold Ord for a then NASL record sum of $75,000 to the Cosmos. They had three games remaining in the season and Eli Durante was second to the English forward with three goals. The Lancers closed out the season with three consecutive defeats during a six-game losing streak. Ironically, George Gibbs tallied twice in a loss to the Philadelphia Atoms (Norm Wingert, the father of future Major League Soccer defender Chris Wingert backstopped the winners in the net) to finish the season with four goals. That was good for second place behind Ord.
Like I said, quite a season.
Unfortunately for Ord, he never quite rediscovered the scoring magic he enjoyed with the Lancers.
Oh, in his first Cosmos game, he struck twice in a 2-0 triumph to eliminate Rochester from playoff contention. That story you could not make put, not even by the greatest irony writer of them all, O. Henry.
Ord did have his moments. After he was traded by the Vancouver Whitecaps to the Seattle Sounders during the 1977 NASL season, he went on a tear, scoring nine goals in 10 games. He connected for Seattle’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss to the Cosmos at Soccer Bowl, Pele’s final competitive match. That encounter gave Ord a unique double as the only player to participate in the game in which the Black Pearl scored his first NASL goal (1975) and in his final match (not counting Pele, of course).
GOODBYE, TOMMY: Ord, former NASL player (Lancers, Cosmos, Sounders), passes away
Dec. 15, 2020
Tommy Ord, who played for the New York Cosmos, Rochester Lancers and Seattle Sounders, among several days and who made North American Soccer League history, has passed away.
He was 68.
His long-time friend and former teammate, George Gibbs made the announcement on his Facebook page Tuesday morning.
“Today I have just received some very sad news about my very close friend from school days through playing professional soccer with in England and the United States,” Gibbs wrote. “My dear mate Tommy Ord has passed. I am at a loss for words at the moment. RIP Tom. We shared so many fun times together in our youth. You will always be in my heart ❤️. Love you Tom. Now you can score those wonderful goals above. …”
Gibbs later said on this writer’s Facebook page:
“Fantastic friend, player, person, great sense of humor. Proud to call him my friend. RIP Tom.”
Ord was involved in several historical milestones in the NASL.
In 1975, he enjoyed a career year with the Lancers, recording 14 goals and four assists in 18 games for a team that would finish at 6-16 before he was dealt to the Cosmos for $75,000. At the time, it was the highest transaction made between two league teams.
He also had the distinction of playing in the NASL game that featured Pele’s first goal in 1975 and in the Black Pearl’s final competitive match in 1977.
In the 1975 match in Rochester, Ord started for the Lancers, but did not score in what turned into a 3-0 Cosmos victory.
In Soccer Bowl 77, Ord tallied Seattle’s lone goal in a 2-1 Cosmos triumph in Portland, Ore.
The London, England native also performed for the Montreal Olympique, Vancouver Whitecaps, Tulsa Roughnecks and Atlanta Chiefs in the NASL and for the Buffalo Stallions and Phoenix Inferno in the Major Indoor Soccer League.
GOODBYE, RON: DeFrance, Rochester TV announcer, dies
Aug. 19, 2018
Ron DeFrance, a long-time Rochester, N.Y. TV personality and former Rochester Lancers announcer, passed away Sunday. He was 82.
DeFrance diagnosed with cancer in February. He passed away at Patrick Place Comfort Care Home in Scottsville, N.Y. Sunday.
A former sports announcer, DeFrance was a member of the Rochester Lancers Wall of Fame as he did play-by-play for the North American Soccer League team.
During a four-year span (1973 to 1977), DeFrance was the host of Rochester’s most popular TV show, Bowling for Dollars on Channel 13. At the height of its popularity, the show reached 152,000 viewers a day, a considerable amount for a city the size of Rochester.
The amiable DeFrance’s folksy charm fit in well with the show.
“The show was made for me,” DeFrance told the Democrat and Chronicle in 1974. “What I mean is that I can be myself and be casual. That’s the type of person I am and Bowling for Dollars give me a chance to be myself on the air. I think that’s the kind of emcee they wanted.”
A 1955 graduate of Aquinas Institute, DeFrance’s friend, Eddie Meath urged him to skip college and get some broadcasting experience right away. DeFrance’s first radio job was a Rock ‘N Roll announcer at WAXC-AM in Newark, N.Y, east of Rochester, before working at stations in Columbia, S.C. and Ithaca, N.Y.
DeFrance was hired as a staff announcer at WOKR-TV (Channel 13) and eventually was promoted to sports director before becoming the host of Bowling for Dollars.
“It was kind of a letdown going from Bowling for Dollars it sports, where it became cut and dried,” DeFrance said. “It was hard for me to get back into that swing again.”
DeFrance also was the host of weekly shows Fun-Time Junior Bowling and the Brighton-Panorama TV Roll-offs. He also was the executive director of the Greater Rochester Area Bowling Proprietors Association.
During his Lancers Wall of Fame introduction speech Andrew Battisti noted that DeFrance was the Lancers play-by-play man on WOKR match broadcasts with Charlie Schiano on color commentary and served as MC for many events and promotions at Holleder Stadium for the Lancers. He also did play-by-play for the Red Wings and high school sports.
DeFrance is a member of the Frontier Field Walk of Fame, the Bowlers Alliance of Rochester Hall of Fame and the Rochester USBC Bowling Association Hall of Fame. He was named Rochester Press-Radio Club Sportscaster of the Year in 1984.
On June 30, DeFrance was inducted into the Lancers Wall of Fame in ceremonies between games of a doubleheader involving the Lancers’ men and Lady Lancers games at Marina Auto Stadium. DeFrance could not attend the induction.
DeFrance was the second Lancers’ media personality who passed away this year. Lancers’ radio announcer Wayne Fuller died in February.
GOODBYE, IBRAIM: Silva, who scored one of the most important goals in Lancers history, dies
March 2, 2020
Ibraim Silva, who scored one of the most important and dramatic goals in Rochester Lancers history, passed away on Saturday.
He was 65.
Silva passed away at his home in Vila Praia de Âncora, Portugal after a sudden illness. No details are known about his illness.
His son, Ibraim Verde Silva, announced the former midfielder-forward’s death on his Facebook page.
Silva’s passing stunned his former Lancers colleagues.
“I have a heavy heart because Ibrahim made life worth living,” said former Lancers trainer Joe Siriranni, co-host of the Soccer Is a Kick in the Grass show.
Charlie Schiano, the former chairman of the board of the Lancers, echoed similar sentiments.
“My heart is broken on this one,” he said on the show. “This is like when Stollie passed.”
Schiano was referring to Lancers all-time scorer Mike Stojanovic, who died in 2010.
“It was a very heart-wrenching moment for me because Ibraim was just a good guy, a good kid, a great player.”
Added former Lancers head coach Don Popovic on the radio show: “It’s sad news, obviously. … Ibraim Silva was always smiling, always joking, a beautiful person.”
And one of the fastest players on the team and perhaps the league. And that was saying a lot because the Lancers boasted Stojanovic, who ran like the wind as well.
“His speed on the counterattack,” Popovic said of Silva. “He was the fastest player on our team, even faster than Mike Stojanovic. He was just lightning fast. His ball control was great.”
Silva joined the Lancers with three other countrymen — John Pedro and Vitor Moia for the 1976 North American Soccer League season. Pedro, whose career was cut short due to a heart ailment, died of a heart attack in a comeback attempt in 1980.
A five-year Lancers veteran, Silva distinguished himself during a four-day span in the 1977 playoffs.
During a wild scoreless draw with the defending champion Toronto Metros-Croatia, Silva scored twice during a shootout, the only man in history to do so, to boost Rochester to a 1-0 win in the first game of the quarterfinal series.
With the Lancers down to nine players due to a pair of first-half red cards, Silva tallied the game-winning goal at 78:35 in Toronto as Rochester recorded a stunning 1-0 triumph to clinch a spot in the NASL semifinals against the Cosmos.
Schiano also was the radio color commentator with Wayne Fuller for the game in Toronto.
“I can’t talk about great goals the Lancers have ever scored,” he said. “I now think of magic moments. Ibraim was a huge person in that magic moment.”
Down two players, Popovic used an ultra defensive formation.
“Popovic put Stojanovic on the top of the pyramid,” Schiano said, as two players were assigned to cover the striker.
Craig Reynolds took a throw-in to Silva, who bolted down the right flank.
“Stojanovic, being very smart, goes to the far post and he drags two defenders with him,” Schiano said. The goalie is 1 on 1. He just hesitates for a minute and Ibraim tips the ball, lifts it over his head. It was just a dream come true.”
“He was the best player on the field,” Popovic said.
In its next morning edition, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle ran the headline:
Hi-Ho Silva, Lancers ride again
After the match, Silva told the D&C: “Imagine, eight guys running against 10. That’s incredible. We knew we were going to win the game in regulation. We never thought about the shootout.”
Silva finished fifth all-time in Lancers points (51), sixth in goals (15) and third in assists (21). His best seasons came in 1977 (6 goals, 3 assists in 29 matches) and in 1979 (6 goals, 7 assists in 24 games). He competed in 100 regular-season contest for Rochester.
After he was waived by the Lancers during head coach Ray Klivecka’s short tenure with the club in 1980, Silva played with the San Jose Earthquakes for seven matches. He returned to the Lancers after Alex Perolli took over later that season.
Silva also played two games for the New York Arrows during the 1978-89 Major Indoor Soccer League season and for the Lancers during the 1976 NASL indoor tourney in which the team finished second.
Besides his American career, the lanky, 6-foot, 15-lb. Silva played for several clubs in his native land.
A member of Portugal’s Under-18 national team (four appearances), Silva performed for Vitória de Guimarães, Benfica, Anchor Praia FC, Varzim and Vianense.
After competing for the First Portuguese in Canada in 1981, Silva returned home and continued his career with Academic OAF from 1981-84. After a brief stint at Desportivo de Monção, Silva retired in 1984. In Portugal pro matches, Silva tallied 18 goals and 142 games.
He lived and worked in New York City for several years before returning to Portugal.
According to an obituary for www.radiovaledominho.com, a friend on social media called Silva “a great man, a great football athlete, a great businessman and a great friend of a friend.”
According to text from Silva’s son, the funeral is scheduled for Tuesday.
RIP, AGGIE: Wife of original Lancers owner Schiano passes away
July 18, 2022
Aggie Schiano, the wife of former Rochester Lancers owner Charlie Schiano, has passed away.
She was 86.
Schiano died on July 10, surrounded by her family after a short illness.
Born in Albany, N.Y. as Agnes G. Mulderry, she and Charlie were married for 62 years. The couple had five children – the Honorable Charles A. Schiano, Jr. the Honorable Michael P. Schiano, Christopher, Kathleen Granville and Sean Schiano. She also is survived by 11 grandchildren.
Schiano graduated of the Holy Name Academy in Albany, N.Y. and earned her master’s degree in education from the College of St. Rose in Albany. Aggie was an outstanding basketball player at St. Rose, earning the nickname of “Dead-Eye Ag.” She eventually was inducted into the school’s sports hall of fame.
She attended many Lancers games when the team competed in the American Soccer League and North American Soccer League.
Beyond her family, Schiano’s many loves and activities included cooking. She was an exceptional cook as her butter and chocolate chip cookies were well known.
A Funeral Mass was celebrated on July 15 at Holy Cross Church in Rochester, N.Y.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked friends to consider a donation in Aggie’s memory to the School of the Holy Childhood at 100 Groton Way, Rochester, NY 14623 or the Padre Pio Chapel, Frank Dimino Way, Rochester, N.Y. 14624.
RIP, TITO: Laurini, IASC national champion, original Lancer, coach, referee, passes away
Sept. 23, 2022
Tito Laurini was a soccer pioneer who helped influence the development of the beautiful game in Rochester, N.Y. in many ways.
He was an imposing taker of penalty kicks for the Italian American Sport Club, which captured the 1963 U.S. Amateur Cup national championship side. He was a member of the inaugural Rochester Lancers, who started professional soccer in the city. He also was the father and coach of the first women’s soccer player of renown in the city as Marianne Laurini set scoring records at St. John Fisher College.
He even had a short try at another type of football, American style.
Laurini passed away, it was announced on Friday.
He was 84.
“Tito was always an example of how a professional player should be during and after his career to all his fans!” said SoccerSam Fantauzzo, who revived the Lancers as an indoor team in 2011 and as men’s and women’s outdoor sides in 2017.
Born in L’Aquilia, Italy, Tito Laurini came over when he was 18-years-old, while visiting his mother’s three brothers in 1956. There were not many jobs available in the Abruzzi region in central Italy at the time, and Laurini said he was not interested in attending college.
“My parents didn’t want me to come, naturally, but my uncles were like parents,” he said. “I found myself very comfortable here, and I wound up staying. I was supposed to stay for three months, but eventually I ended up staying here all my life.”
Laurini found employment with Delco Products/General Motors for three decades. He also discovered the IASC, where he could play the game he loved so much for a dozen years.
It was, however, his on-the-field exploits that got his name in the local newspapers, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and the Rochester Times-Union.
A midfielder, Laurini’s strength was his ability to convert penalty kicks.
He could put them away like basketball players can sink free throws.
For example, in the IASC’s 3-2 win over the Carpathian Kickers of Detroit in the 1965 Amateur Cup Eastern quarterfinals, Laurini put away three PKs. After Detroit grabbed a 1-0 lead, Laurini slotted home the first into the left-hand corner past Art Kussner, the final one to the keeper’s other side.
“I was lucky to kick all three penalties,” he said. “Unbelievable. I was confident about taking it.”
Laurini’s secret? He did not try to blast the ball through the net; instead, he used finesse. “Probably placing the ball at the right place where I wanted, out of reach of the goalie,” he said. “I didn’t try to go there and kick the ball hard. My kicks were not very strong, but I would fake the goalie, thinking I would go to the right, and instead I would go to the left and vice versa. As long as you place the ball where you wanted, you will be ok, as far as you can away from the goalie. I was sure of myself by doing that. I was confident in myself.”
But never cocky. Laurini was a humble man on and off the soccer pitch.
He played for the Lancers in their first two seasons in the American Soccer League before returning to the IASC, playing through 1975. He was IASC president for two years and eventually was inducted into that organization’s Hall of Fame. In 2012, Laurini was welcomed into the Lancers Wall of Fame.
After hanging up his soccer boots for good, Laurini coached women’s soccer in the 1970’s and 1980’s, first with the Gates Carter Under-19 team for five seasons, a squad that won a national championship and toured Europe in 1979. He helped found the St. John Fisher College women’s team and served as coach from 1979-1986, winning a record 84 matches. Laurini also coached his daughter, Marianne, on the Gates Carter team and at St. John Fisher, where she set goal-scoring records.
“Quite a player,” Tito said.
Laurini also refereed high school and college matches, also worked as a linesman at Lancers games at Holleder Stadium, where he excelled as a player.
As it turned out, Laurini almost had a career switch to another brand of football – American style.
With the success of soccer-style specialist Pete Gogolak on the Buffalo Bills, NFL teams put up the periscope for soccer players who could boot a ball 40-50 yards consistently. Laurini decided to put his best foot forward and tried out for the Bills, who had just lost Gogolak to the New York Giants.
He lasted five days during the Bills’ pre-training camp, as he was cut on the final day. The Democrat and Chronicle reported that the Bills needed players with experience, and that Laurini had accuracy but needed more power. Laurini called that tryout “the most wonderful opportunity I ever had. It was a pleasure talking with such great stars as [quarterbacks] Jack Kemp and Daryl Lamonica, and eating at the dinner table with them.”
Still, the 5-11, 185-lb. Laurini wasn’t about to give up, and attended the New York Jets camp on Long Island. He didn’t make the team, but was offered to play for its farm club, the Jersey Jets. Also known as the Jersey Jayjets, the team called Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J. home. Laurini said he earned $100 a game. The team boasted defensive backs Randy Beverly, who would make two key interceptions for the Jets in their historic 16-7 upset victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in 1969, Earl Christy, who made an untimely fumble on a kickoff return in the infamous Heidi Game against the Oakland Raiders in 1968, and former All-American quarterback Bobby Schweickert, a $100,000-bonus baby, signing with the parent club, a sizeable amount at that time.
Laurini acquitted himself well for a novice in the Atlantic Coast Football League. Depending on what statistic you believe, he finished second in scorers, with 75 points on the strength of 48 PATs and nine field goals, according to the Asbury Park Press, or with 64 points (40 PATS, eight field goals, according to the ProFootballArchives.com) behind Waterbury Orbits wide receiver Roger Milici (78 points, 13 touchdowns).
Since he wasn’t about to give up his “day job” at Delco Products, Laurini took a bus to New York, and returned home Saturday or Sunday night. If Laurini needed to stay overnight, the Jets paid for his room in a hotel or an apartment.
“For the first two-three weeks, I stayed there, and my wife came over and stayed with me once in a while,” he said. “We had three small children. GM gave me three or four weeks personal time. After that, I had to go back on my job or quit. I wasn’t sure I would make the team or not. I couldn’t take the chance of losing a job, a good job.”
With the Jets’ regular kicker, Jim Turner, inconsistent converting field goals during the 1966 American Football League season, the team signed Laurini for a $10,000 contract as insurance on Nov. 5. “When I got to New York it was raining for three or four days, and Shea Stadium was full of water,” Laurini said about the Jets’ home venue. “I couldn’t kick at all because it was so wet. So [head coach] Weeb Ewbank told me, ‘Come back next week, and see what happens, but we’re going to California.’”
The Jets were scheduled to play at the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 3, and at the San Diego Chargers on Dec 11. Turner found the range in both games (four field goals), and suddenly the Jets didn’t need Laurini, who returned to training camp the next summer. It wasn’t meant to be, as Laurini pulled a groin muscle early, and stayed in New York for four days. “It was not improving,” he said. “I couldn’t even play soccer. I was lucky I didn’t quit my job.”
Looking back at his football kicking days, Laurini said, “If I had experience, it probably would have been a different story. But who knows? That’s the way life goes. Good and bad. And we try to accept both of them, whatever they are.”
RIP, DON: Lalka, Lancers’ first star player, passes away
Dec. 26, 2022
Don Lalka, a member of the original Rochester Lancers, and the first star of the team that received national attention, passed away on Christmas Night.
He was 78.
Lalka, a defender during his playing days, died from complications from a stroke, his daughter Larissa said.
Born as Bohdan Lalka in Rohatyn, Ukraine on July 3, 1944, Lalka emigrated to the U.S. with his parents at a very young age. Rohatyn is a suburb of Lviv, the second largest city in the western part of the Ukraine. When Lalka was one-year-old, his family was forced to escape the city because it was about to be reclaimed by the communists in 1945. His father was an anti-communist, and an active member of the underground movement.
“The communists were coming back, and my father knew it would be Siberia for us if we stayed,” Lalka was quoted by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
Lalka was in the Starting XI of the Lancers’ very first game, a friendly against Concordia of West Germany at Aquinas Stadium on May 30, 1967. Concordia won, 4-2, against a team that was combined side of local players and others who brought in to play.
“That first game was a lot of fun,” said Lalka was quoted in the book, ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. “But it was hard to communicate with a fellow you’ve never seen before.”
He attended Franklin High School and played basketball and ran track alongside Rochester legend Trent Jackson.
“Sports here have opened up everything for me,” Lalka was quoted by the D&C. “I got caught in the wrong sport and didn’t get rich, but the traveling … it opened things up. … At Franklin, there were blacks and Jewish and Italians and Ukrainians. Through sports, we learned to get along. If you scored 20 points [in a basketball game] on a Friday night, nobody cared where you came from.”
The 6-1, 175-lb. Lalka became adept at soccer, competing in ethnic and semi-pro leagues at 16. He started playing with the local Ukrainian-American team, earning club MVP honors in 1964, before signing with the Italian American Sport Club as it bulked up for a run at the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“I was ostracized in the [Rochester] Ukrainian community,” he said in the Lancers book. “Nobody talked to me in the Ukrainian community when I made that change. I’m not playing against the Ukrainians. It would have made it rougher if I played against the Ukrainian team.”
Lalka shined on the field and in 1968, doors were starting to open for Lalka, who had opened eyes with his performances. However, the communication process from the U.S. Soccer Football Association at the time could be considered sketchy, at best and ridiculous at worst.
While reading a newspaper at breakfast one morning in June, Lalka noticed he was chosen to try out for the U.S. national team team in St. Louis, in preparation for its qualifying run for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. With his mother’s vacation pay, he journeyed to St. Louis. At the camp, no one had his name, or a place for him to stay before he explained things to an official. One of 45 players, Lalka performed with the “Orange” team the next day. The session was organized by Atlanta Chiefs head coach Phil Woosnam, who also wore the hat of U.S. national coach.
Lalka played well and scored a goal, while demonstrating his leadership qualities and some courage. “Fullbacks don’t score goals,” he told the D&C. “But I did. There was a penalty kick in our advantage and everyone just stood there without any notion of who was going to take the shot. So I ran across the field, raised my hand, and said, ‘I’ll take it.’ ”
When the original list of 30 players was released on July 14, Lalka’s name was not on it. He took the news hard. “Next time I’ll have to try much harder,” he said. Because the Lancers were in preseason and were not a fulltime side, Lalka took some time for himself on a short vacation to Cape Cod for a few days.
On July 23, a letter from the USSFA that was addressed to Lalka was opened by his parents, who were surprised by this message:
“Congratulations! You have been selected as one of a squad of approximately 30 some players for the World Cup team. Eventually the World Cup will be reduced to the allowed number of 22 players, and we trust you will be one of the final selectees.”
The USMNT selections included several future members of the National Soccer Hall of Fame – defenders Bob Gansler, Werner Roth and Adolph Bachmeier, midfielder Pat McBride, and forward Willy Roy.
In 1969, Lalka joined the Syracuse Scorpions, who turned into the Lancers’ main rivals and captured the division title in a special playoff match against Rochester.
After retiring from professional soccer, Lalka coached the Eastridge High School boys soccer team, and the St. John Fisher College men in the seventies and eighties.
He also ran a Rochester soccer bar, the Goal Kick Lounge, not far from Silver Stadium, the original home of the baseball Rochester Red Wings.
Lalka also was the first coach and general manager of the Rochester Flash in the American Soccer League (1981-82), and was the Rochester Rhinos radio color analyst during their early days in the United Soccer League.
He also is a member of the Lancers Wall of Fame.
Funeral details were not immediately known.
RIP, JIM: Pollihan, former USMNT defender, 1st pro player to score an indoor goal in the USA, passes away
Feb. 12, 2023
Former Rochester Lancer and U.S. international defender Jim Pollihan, who scored the first goal in American professional indoor soccer with the New York Arrows in 1978, passed away on Sunday night.
He was 68.
Pollihan is survived by his wife Barbara, and daughter Madison.
Known to his countless friends as Polly, Pollihan forged a long career in soccer, indoors and outdoors, playing in the original North American Soccer League before moving to the indoor game as a player and then as a coach and eventually a general manager.
He was a member of the Arrows’ first Major Indoor Soccer League championship team in 1978-79 before joining the Houston Summit the next season. After the Texas side moved to the Maryland, Pollihan played four years with the Baltimore Blast.
A history maker
On a star-studded team that boasted plenty of firepower behind the likes of the high-scoring Branko Segota and Pat Ercoli (Steve Zungul did not compete in that match), Pollihan was an unlikely candidate to strike for the first goal in MISL history. He was a defender who wasn’t known to fill the net.
Still, he wrote his name into the history books, accomplishing that feat in the six-team league’s inaugural game for the Arrows against the Cincinnati Kids on Dec. 22, 1978. While overlapping on the left flank at 2:10 of the second quarter, Pollihan drilled a return pass from Luis Alberto past goalkeeper Keith Van Eron; the first of thousands of indoor goals.
Years later, Pollihan admitted that he didn’t think twice about his accomplishment.
“Nothing special,” he told this writer. “It didn’t dawn on me that this was the first goal. We had no idea how this league was going to be accepted, how long it would be around. So, it was no big celebration on my part. I was excited that a goal was scored, but we knew that in indoor soccer there was going to be more than one goal scored in that game.”
He was correct about that.
For an inaugural game that ushered in a new sport, the game at the Coliseum certainly had plenty of hoopla. Pete Rose, who was still playing baseball, and was about to sign as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies, and was part-owner of the Kids, kicked out the first ball. The Arrows won that match.
“It was an exciting time,” Pollihan said.
The great indoors
For Pollihan and his Lancers teammates, indoor soccer was an opportunity to keep in shape and earn a living playing the sport they loved so much. At the time, he, like the other American players, earned several thousand dollars a season.
“It was not large by any means,” he said. “The pay during the season was enough that I didn’t have to do work on any other jobs. When the season was over my pay would stop and I would have to find something to do. When the league came about, the pay scale was relatively low. … It allowed us the pleasure of getting paid to do something we love instead of finding a job in the offseason. The [MISL] salaries initially for the most part were entry level. The salaries grew very quickly. When the NASL started losing teams, the top NASL players came into the indoor game, and in some cases were making more money in the indoor game than the outdoor game.”
And it gave the Americans an opportunity to develop.
“We needed to play all-year round, not just during one season, the NASL season; 24 games, you were not getting a lot of time on the field,” Pollihan said. “You had a ton of down time in the offseason. We needed, as Americans, to really grow to compete with the South Americans and Europeans who were coming in to play consistently.
“It seemed like a very interesting and rewarding thing for players, where we could play year around. Play indoors in the winter, and go back to the NASL in the spring and the summer. Basically, be fulltime professional soccer players. It looked like to be very promising in that respect.”
The MISL lasted until 1992, but indoor soccer has been around for 44-plus years in several leagues, including the American Indoor Soccer Association (which became the National Professional Soccer League), Continental Indoor Soccer League, World Indoor Soccer League, Xtreme Soccer League, the second incarnation of the MISL and the Major Arena Soccer League, among others.
The early years
Beyond making MISL history, Pollihan forged a remarkable soccer career on and off of the field.
He was an all-star caliber player who was a regular at left back for the U.S. men’s national team during an era in which the team had a handful of opportunities to play each year.
Born in St. Louis, Mo. on Feb. 13, 1954, Pollihan grew up playing soccer in a city known for the sport. The St. Barts C.Y.C. Junior Peppsi League team that he was a part of won the U.S. Soccer Football Association national junior championship in 1970-71.
At Quincy, Pollihan was a high scoring forward with the most dominant NAIA team from the late sixties through the eighties. He led the Hawks to three consecutive titles and was named the NAIA tournament’s outstanding forward each time, earning tourney MVP honors in 1974. He also was an NAIA second team All American in 1974, and an honorable mention in 1975. Not surprisingly, he was inducted into the NAIA soccer Hall of Fame in 1982 and into the Quincy University Hall of Fame (the school changed its name years ago).
After finishing the 1975 NASL season at 6-16, the Lancers owned the third overall pick of the 1976 NASL draft and selected Pollihan, a Quincy College center forward and a two-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics honoree.
Benedictine College head soccer coach Terry Hanson, whom the Lancers hired as director of marketing and public relations, said that he played a vital role in drafting Pollihan.
“I tried to recruit him out of high school,” he said. “Every time we played Quincy, he killed us. I said he would never again be on a team where he kills me. I sat down with coach Dragan Popovic and recommended to draft Jim No. 1.”
Which he did.
From forward to defense
At the time, not many American forwards were playing regularly. With Popovic using a good chunk of his small player budget on foreign players, such as striker Mike Stojanovic, Americans were high-scoring forwards in college either sat or were moved to the back on defense.
Pollihan wound up with the latter, starring at left back for most of his five-year outdoor career,
“I asked Jim if he wanted to play. He said yes, and I put him on defense,” Lancers head coach Don (Dragan) Popovic Popovic said. “He’s the best American I have. I tried everybody at left defense. … I tried him for a few intrasquad games. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes, so the job’s his.”
Pollihan did play some up front in 1978 when injuries decimated the Lancers’ forward line.
In 1976, the 6-1, 185-lb. Pollihan was a fast study at left back, learning the position quickly and becoming one of the best U.S.-born players in the league. He was a finalist for rookie of the year in 1976, as Dallas Tornado defender Steve Pecher secured the honors.
Perhaps his most important save came after a controversial 3-2 loss to the Chicago Sting before a cozy crowd of 3,037 at behemoth Soldier Field on June 1, 1976, when he pulled an irate Popovic away from English referee Bob Matthewson after the game ended. Popovic was arguing with the referee.
Awards aside, the big thing for any American playing in the NASL and accruing minutes. The league had regulations to play at least two Americans – natural or naturalized on the field at all times or face stiff sanctions from the league. During his five-year tenure with the Lancers, Pollihan played 131 times, the second most in the team’s 14-year history. He started most, if not all of those matches, collecting six goals and nine assists. His most productive season was when he was used up front in 1978 after the forward position was decimated by injuries. Pollihan acquitted himself well, scoring five goals and assisted on three others.
In 1977, Pollihan was part of a physical backline that spearheaded the Lancers into the NASL playoffs. After recording only one road win during the regular season, Rochester defeated the St. Louis Stars in a shootout in the first round and upended the favored and defending champion Toronto Metros-Croatia in the quarterfinals. He was a part of the famous 1-0 win at Varsity Stadium in Toronto, in which the Lancers played almost half of the match two players down due to a pair of red cards. Rochester eventually came back down to earth against Pele and the New York Cosmos in the semifinals, dropping both games.
In a unique double, Pollihan earned the respect of his coach and his peers. He was named team captain by Popovic. At the advent of the NASL Players Association, he also was selected as the Lancers’ player representative. He worked overtime and a half trying to get as many teammates as possible not to play during a rather contentious NASL players strike on April 15, 1979. It lasted one weekend but made national headlines and waves.
Pollihan made his U.S. men’s national team debut in a 1-1 draw at Canada in a World Cup qualifier on Sept. 24, 1976. His final appearance came in that 6-0 shellacking by France at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. in 1979.
He was inducted into the Lancers Wall of Fame in 2017.
Feeling the Harrisburg Heat
He played for six indoor seasons – the St. Louis native recorded 35 goals 48 assists before entering the coaching ranks as a Blast assistant from 1986-91. He left the MISL to become the first head coach of the expansion Harrisburg Heat in the National Professional Soccer League. While he never won a title, although the team reached the 1995 championship series – Pollihan guided the side into the playoffs for his first seven seasons.
That Heat team included several players that went on to fame in soccer:
* Bob Lilley, who directed several USL Championship teams, most recently the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
* Danny Kelly, who coached the Baltimore Blast to six MASL crowns, and six in a row
* Current Blast head coach David Bascome, who was a member of the Bermuda national team
* Doug Miller, who enjoyed a long indoor and outdoor career. He scored a goal for the Rochester Rhinos, who became the last non-MLS side to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, in 1999.
* Todd Smith, who became New England Revolution general manager before he passed away in 2003.
* Bill Becher, who coached the Harrisburg City Islanders for an astounding 14 years, which is unheard of in professional soccer at any level these days.
* Denis Hamlett, the New York Red Bulls sporting director.
* Mark Pulisic, the father of USMNT standout Christian Pulisic.
“I was very fortunate when I first came up here to Harrisburg,” Pollihan said. “Some of the players who played with the Hershey Impact — I think we kept about six of them or so — and some the players that I knew when I was down in Baltimore [with the Blast] while coaching in the MISL at the time, I was fortunate to get a lot of those players and then realized afterwards how dedicated they were to the game,” he said. “Not just in the years they were playing. When they were playing in my first two years in Harrisburg, they sorted out a lot of the problems themselves, on the field problems, playing time problems, things that they really delved into it.
“It was obviously a major help as a first-time coach and a new franchise. It really paid off early for us and helped us to get the core of the team to stay together and helped us with the competitive edge that we had. We were a very good team from the beginning. It’s a complement to those guys and their dedication. a whole bunch of them have continued and have made their living through soccer, coaching colleges, coaching professional teams, running youth organizations. Their commitment has been phenomenal.”
After leading the Heat to a 24-16 record in his rookie season, Pollihan was voted the 1991-92 NPSL coach of the year.
The next season the Heat got off to a promising 2-0 start but stumbled in its next eight matches, losing all of them. An abysmal beginning like that might have put the coach on the firing line, but management stayed with Pollihan.
“One of the cardinal sins of sports is that management loses its patience and gets involved in areas they don’t know or understand much about,” said one front office official at the time. “We decided to work it out with Jim.”
Pollihan remembered the team management had many meetings during the losing streak. “But they weren’t crisis meetings,” he said in 1992. “There are three schools of thought when a team is losing. You can change the coach; you can change the players, or you can try to find out what the problems are and try to correct them. The easiest thing would have been, ‘He isn’t getting it done. Fire him.’ We tried to talk through it.”
Adding such franchises as the Wings and Cleveland Crunch, the competition became much more difficult in the NPSL this year.
“We knew the league was better,” Pollihan said. “We were better. We were playing the same way we played last year. With the new teams there were more forwards who are better finishers. We were losing the ball in crucial areas of the field and our defending zone. Teams were getting 2-on-1’s and 3-on-2s. We were getting beat on our own mistakes.”
Two memorable weekends
While not in his formal biography, Pollihan had two other notable achievements as coach. During a three-game road trip in in as many days, the Heat became the first professional indoor team to register three wins on the road. Harrisburg accomplished that with victories at the Canton Invaders, Detroit Rockers and Dayton Dynamo in January 1992.
“I don’t know if anyone has done that,” Pollihan said. “That was ta hallmark of the NPSL when Steve Paxos was the commissioner. It seemed that every year, you had to have one of those trips. Every team ended up doing it. Everyone wanted to play on weekends, have their home games on weekends because we draw so much better on weekends than you do during the week.”
In those days, the NPSL played 40-game seasons.
“The commissioner said, ‘Hey, we’re going to do that. We’re going to allow teams to have Friday night games, Saturday night games, Sunday afternoon or evening games,’ ” Pollihan added. “Very seldom did it happen when you had all three on the road like we did. But when we won all three. Either Monday morning or Tuesday morning when we were back in Harrisburg, commissioner made a call to the Heat office to let us know he was ecstatic and he could tell all these other general managers, coaches and owners, ‘Hey, it’s not that hard to do. A first-year team did it with new players, three games on the road. No complaining when you get three games in three days anymore.’ What we accomplished might not have happened again. I don’t know. It was fun. It was fun on the way home, that’s for sure.”
In 1993, the Heat defeated both division leaders – the Baltimore Blast, 19-9, on a Friday night and Wichita Wings, 13-0, on a Sunday – at home at the Farm Show Arena on the same weekend. The latter included goalkeeper Joe Mallia’s incredible feat of scoring a goal and recording a shutout in the same game. Goalkeepers have accomplished both, but rarely, if never, in the same contest.
“Those were some good times. We had some very exciting games and we pulled out some big, big victories,” Pollihan said.
In 1999, Pollihan moved into the Heat’s front office as vice president of soccer operations, through January 2003. Former Long Island University standout Richard Chinapoo took over the coaching reins. Pollihan was fourth among NPSL coach with 155 wins.
Pollihan left the Heat in 2003 to take a non-soccer related job. He worked for the state of Pennsylvania in the Department of Revenue and continued to serve soccer as a high school referee and a player in the Old-Timers League.
OFFSIDE REMARKS: Nuri Sabuncu, an appreciation
March 5, 2023
The first time I spoke to Nuri Sabuncu, it was on the phone in April 1977.
The Rochester Lancers had just announced he had invested about $60,000 into the North American Soccer League team and was named vice president.
Now, a $60,000 investment (that would be $296,207 or so in today’s currency) might seem like a drop in the bucket to today’s billionaires. But for most of us mortals, that is a significant sum to invest in anything, including a money-losing proposition such as soccer.
Nuri Sabuncu put his money where his heart was – into soccer, passion.
The Turkish-born Sabuncu was one of those rare soccer owners, or should I say, co-owners (along with Charlie Schiano and Pat Dinolfo of the Lancers), at least in the United States, who played soccer before calling the shots elsewhere.
As a former player, a star performer at that, he understood the game. Before venturing to the United States from his native Turkey, he played for world-renowned clubs Galatasaray SK and Besitkas JK. He attended Syracuse University to secure his master’s degree, before excelling on the field. He played for several amateur and semi-pro sides in the Rochester area, including the Italian American Sport Club, Ukrainian-Americans, Rochester Rangers and Simon Pures of Buffalo.
Heck, in his day, some of his scoring exploits were written up in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
Sabuncu passed away last week at the age of 90.
He had forged a huge reputation with his company, Nory Construction Co., which tackles many projects in the greater Rochester area over several decades.
During that first interview I had with Sabuncu, he talked about his passion for the beautiful game.
“I invested because I wanted major league soccer to stay in Rochester,” he said at the time. “They needed my help. You don’t appreciate anything until you lose it. To me, soccer is an emotional thing. Once you play it competitively, it goes into your blood.”
Quite frankly, at the time, I thought it was a lot of BS. But within a year or two, I understood what he meant. Soccer had become part of my blood – for just about the past five decades.
How much did those words resonate with this writer?
When I was describing passion for the sport in my book, ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers, I used Sabuncu’s quote in the fifth paragraph of the opening chapter.
During his time with the Lancers, I noticed that Sabuncu worked and spoke with dignity, especially when he and the team underwent much distress and duress.
One thing was certain: Sabuncu wasn’t afraid to speak his mind.
With about a minute remaining in the New York Cosmos’ 2-0 win over the Lancers at Holleder Stadium on July 7, 1978, the former’s Santiago Formoso sat on the ball.
The Rochester faithful booed, and Sabuncu, needless to say, was angered. “What [coach Eddie] Firmani should be doing is teach his team some sportsmanship,” he said. “Beat us by five goals, but this is strictly bush.”
During what was going to become a disastrous 1980 season, the Lancers managing to get past the Minnesota Kicks in a shootout, 2-0, after failing to find the net. They outshot the visitors, 22-11, that May 18 Sunday at Holleder.
Despite the victory, Sabuncu hardly was impressed.
“We’re not an exciting team,” he said. “We’ve scored [two] goals in six games. Where are we going? We need some exciting soccer, some offense. The players tried out there today, but we need a winger and a good center midfielder, brain trust of the attack.”
Sabuncu’s remarks previewed what was to come several days later as Ray Klivecka was fired as Lancers’ head coach.
The firing was another salvo in a war between two factions of team owners. The Rochester group of Dinolfo, Schiano and Sabuncu owned the majority of votes. The New York group of John Luciani and Bernie Rodin was supposed to pump in fresh money, which they stopped.
Not surprisingly, financial losses started to pile up. Through late May, no paychecks had been missed, but were late occasionally.
Sabuncu, who wouldn’t offer new information during the crises, wouldn’t deny the facts, on the other hands.
He admitted that he didn’t know how long the Rochester faction could keep paying. With payday being the last week of the month, the take from Wednesday’s (Toronto) and Sunday’s home matches probably wasn’t going to cover the salaries.
“Most of the money is coming out of our pockets,” Sabuncu said. “How long we can keep the club afloat with our money, I don’t know. But the team has been here for 14 years. If New York gets it, God knows what will happen. But there is no financial crisis now.”
Then Sabuncu changed his tune. “There always has been a financial crisis, but it’s nothing we can’t handle now,” he said.
Several weeks later, push almost came to shove.
Lancers players considered boycotting the highest drawing match of the season against the Cosmos in June because they were owed two weeks of back pay. Jim Pollihan, the team captain, said the possibility of a boycott was “seriously brought up” at a team meeting on June 9. The players decided to put it off until after the game.
The players had expected their paychecks for the weeks ending May 30 and June 7 when they returned home from their trip. “We’re not too happy about it,” Pollihan said, adding that he will try to talk to the team’s owners after the match because “it wouldn’t be fair to do anything until then.”
Asked why the team hadn’t received its salaries, Sabuncu responded, “We were on three away games. We had very high expenses. We just covered the trip. We are doing it from our pockets. We have no big corporation behind us. … We’re trying. Nobody can hate us for trying.”
Other problems mounted, especially between new coach Alex Perolli and teenage sensation Branko Segota, who almost singlehandedly boosted Rochester into the 1979 post season by striking for 14 goals in nine matches as an 18-year-old rookie.
There was a clash of personalities between the team and when Segota was replaced late in a game against the Washington Diplomats that June 16, he took his shirt off and threw it at Perolli.
Segota was suspended indefinitely by the team.
On Saturday, June 28, 12 days after the shirt-throwing incident, Segota put on a Lancers jersey again. He and the team owners literally kissed and made up, returning to practice after he was reinstated. Segota shook Sabuncu’s hand, and the team VP planted a kiss on Segota’s cheek.
Let’s face it, the club needed Segota and the teenager needed the team.
“He’s a kid yet,” Sabuncu said. “You’ve got to forgive kids. He’s big enough to call to say he’s sorry. To admit you make a mistake means you’re a man. … I’m glad to have him back as a man, as a grown-up Branko.”
It seemed he always knew the right thing to say.
After the Lancers folded, we went our separate ways, although I did see Sabuncu at several Lancers reunions over the years.
In 1996, the team had a special get-together during the Rochester Raging Rhinos (yes, that was the team’s original name) first season at Frontier Field. The Rochester Red Wings pull grass over the infield so the soccer team could play most of its home games there.
During that July afternoon, Sabuncu, though he never played for the Lancers, suited up for one of the old-timer teams that day (blue vs. gold).
He was 63 at the time.
As Nuri Sabuncu said, soccer was in his blood, and it never left it.
He didn’t just say it; he lived by those words.