by Steve De Rose
October 16, 2001 - USL First Division (USL-1)
2001 A-League Final
by Steve De Rose
Pardon me if you've heard this before. The United Soccer League's highest level - the A-League - staged its 2001 Final this past Saturday night. A throng of 13,692 turned out to witness the home team, the Rochester Raging Rhinos, surpass the visiting Hershey Wildcats by a 2-0 score. It was the Rhinos' second straight A-League Championship, and their third in the past four seasons. The game also marked the sixth largest attendance in Rhinos history.
The match occurred during a magnificent night as far as weather was concerned. The temperature on the scoreboard at Frontier Field measured 73 degrees.
The game began with the Rhinos having the first half-chance in the third minute. A cross from Neathan Gibson on the right wing, aimed at Martin Nash in the Wildcats' penalty box, just eluded him. The first ten minutes found the Rhinos making incursions upon the Wildcats, but failing to put a shot on the net.
After the quarter-hour, the Wildcats began seeing some opportunities in the Rhinos' end. Hershey's Steve Klein nearly beat a Rochester triple-team near the top of the box in the 17th minute. Fourteen minutes later from the same area, he was able to get off a shot which missed left. The Wildcats were clogging up the middle of their defense, and the Rhinos seemed unable to utilize their wings to pull them apart. Half time came with the scoreline still unblemished.
In the dressing room at halftime, Rhinos' coach Pat Ercoli stressed to his charges that they needed to open up the field more, to make overlapping runs on the wings. This did produce more offensive forays in the Wildcats' end, but it also laid the Rhinos open to a potentially debilitating counter-attack. In the 53rd minute, the Wildcats' Ze Roberto got a step on his marker on the center left wing. He got off a shot which was low, and headed for the far corner. Rhinos' goalkeeper Scott Vallow managed to get his left arm down to the ground and parry the ball away.
The Rhinos brought on Carlos Zavala soon thereafter. He was barely on the pitch before he rashly tackled a Wildcats player and received a caution. Soon after, though, he was making sprints on the left wing. A Rhinos' free kick found the head of Kalin Bankov, but his header was a glancing one which went wide right.
The breakthrough occurred in the 63rd minute. A Rhinos' shot was blocked and the ball bounded near the top of the box where Martin Nash collected it and fed it back outside the box to Stoian Mladenov. He took two steps to his left, and fired off a shot which skipped and bounded past Wildcats' goalkeeper Jon Busch low to his left. The Rhinos nearly doubled their account off the subsequent kickoff. A switching pass was stolen by Kirk Wilson, but his swift shot from just outside the box produced a superb save from Busch.
The Wildcats were rankled. They increased their efforts, but the adhesive Rhinos' defense were thwarting their manuevers. Not even the entrances of former Rhino Doug Miller and Ben Ferry made much of an impact. Another Rhino free kick opportunity on the right wing was played to Lenin Steenkamp in the box, but his header missed the mark. In the 78th minute, the Rhinos' K. Wilson beat everybody to a ball on the right wing by-line, but he could not get his cross through.
The match was finalized in the 87th minute when another shot by Wilson beat Busch, but struck the left post. It came back into play where Jimmy Tanner sidestepped an outcoming Wildcats' defender and laid the ball off to Mladenov. With Busch slightly out of position, he placed his shot low and left for a 2-0 advantage, the final score of the game.
I had a ballot for the game's Most Valuable Player. There was space to name four players: three offensive and one defensive. My choices:
and for the defensive player, Scott Vallow (all of the Rhinos).
Clearly, the Rhinos are the class of the A-League. The coach of the Milwaukee Rampage, Boro Sucevic, has been quoted as saying that Pat Ercoli has the most difficult coaching job in the USA. "I believe he's the only coach in America that's under pressure to deliver a championship every year," said Sucevic. In just about every other country on the planet, the Rhinos would be in the top division. That they outdraw some franchises in Major League Soccer despite playing in a converted baseball ground should only add to their value with that circuit, but they will continue to be passed over. Perhaps it is just as well. The Rhinos are probably more significant, and most likely, more profitable, playing in the A-League.
Rochester Rhinos 0 2 = 2 Hershey Wildcats 0 0 = 0
63' Rhinos Stoian Mladenov (Martin Nash) 87' Rhinos Stoian Mladenov (Jimmy Tanner)
Discipline: 38' Rhinos Martin Nash [Caution|Foul tackle] 59' Rhinos Carlos Zavala [Caution|Foul tackle]
Rochester Rhinos [Umbro: White with Black Stripes] Scott Vallow; Scott Schweitzer, Mali Walton, Bill Sedgewick, Kalin Bankov; Nate Daligcon (Carlos Zavala 58', Fuseini Dauda 89'), Stoian Mladenov, Martin Nash (Tommy Tanner 88'), Lenin Steenkamp; Kirk Wilson (Jamel Mitchell 90+'), Neathan Gibson (Jimmy Tanner 71'). Hershey Wildcats [Umbro: Dark Green] Jon Busch; Mike Henning, Drew Kopp, Nigel Henry, Chris Marinos (Ben Ferry 70'); Chad Evans, Ze Roberto, Doug Watson (Doug Miller 56'), Kyle Swords (Mike Williams 81'); Mike Feniger, Steve Klein.
Rhinos Wildcats Shots 6 + 10 = 16 2 + 4 = 6 Saves 0 + 2 = 2 1 + 1 = 2 Fouls 8 + 4 = 12 8 + 10 = 18 Offsides 0 + 0 = 0 2 + 3 = 5 Corners 0 + 3 = 4 1 + 3 = 4
Referee: Eric Simmons. Assistant Ref. 1: Chip Reed. Assistant Ref. 2: Richard Eddy. Fourth Official: Kevin Barci.
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I thank the A-League for their cooperation, without which this article would have been impossible.