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1967-1980 Rochester Lancers

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Rochester Lancers American Soccer League (1967-1969)
North American Soccer League (1970-1980)

Born: 1967 – ASL expansion franchise.
Folded: November 24, 1980

Stadium: Holleder Stadium (22,000)

Team Colors: Blue & Gold

Owners:

NASL Champions: 1970

 

The Lancers were Rochester’s first professional soccer club. The team formed in 1967 as an expansion entry in the semi-pro American Soccer League. Aquinas Stadium, a 20,000-seat high school football field on Ridgeway Avenue, served as the Lancers’ home pitch. Lancers co-founder and Chairman Charles Schiano was an Aquinas grad but the team drew its name from Schiano’s college alma mater – the University of Windsor Lancers in Ontario, Canada.

In 1970 the Lancers and the Washington Darts jumped from the regional ASL to the more ambitious North American Soccer League (NASL). The move likely saved the NASL from folding. The USA’s top soccer league had just four franchises willing to continue in 1970. Poaching Rochester and Washington from the ASL reversed the NASL’s downward spiral. By the time of Pele’s seismic contract with the NASL’s New York Cosmos in 1975, the league boasted twenty franchises.

Rochester’s earliest star was the 5′ 4″ Brazilian striker Carlos Metidieri. The “Little Mouse” poured in 33 goals and 15 assists in 1970 and 1971, earning back-to-back NASL MVP honors. With Metidieri up top, the Lancers advanced to the 1970 NASL championship series. The format was a two-game total goals competition against the Washington Darts. After racking up a 3-0 victory in Game One at Aquinas Stadium, the Lancers held off a furious Darts effort in Game Two, losing 3-1, but taking the 1970 crown by virtue of a 4-3 margin on total goals.

Changes were afoot during the 1973 season. Financial problems forced Schiano and partner Pat Dinolfo to sell controlling interest in the Lancers to real estate developer John Petrossi for $60,000. Meanwhile, the City re-named Aquinas Stadium that July, in honor of Aquinas Institute graduate Maj. Don Holleder.  Holleder, a college football All-America at West Point, was killed in action in Vietnam in 1967. On the field, the Lancers finished last and missed the playoffs for the first time in the NASL. Carlos Metidieri departed for the NASL’s new expansion team in Boston following the 1973 campaign. The Lancers entered a period of mid-decade mediocrity.

Owner John Petrossi died of cancer in late 1976. Charles Schiano and Pat Dinolfo re-acquired controlling interest in the team. The Lancers had their final thrilling season in 1977. Despite an 11-15 regular season mark under Head Coach Don Popovic, Rochester made it into the postseason thanks to the NASL’s forgiving playoff format. Then the Lancers caught fire. They dispatched St. Louis via shootout in the first round.

Next came a wild two-game quarterfinal with arch-rival Toronto Metros-Croatia. The repressed nationalist rivalries of Cold War-era Yugoslavia amped up the playoff atmosphere. Popovic was Serbian and his Lancers teams of the late 1970’s were stocked with his fellow countrymen. Meanwhile, to the NASL leadership’s great chagrin, the Toronto club was run with a blatant ethnic/nationalist identity by Croatian ex-pats in Canada.

In game one, Lancers midfielder Francisco Escos picked up two yellow cards – an automatic ejection. But referee Henry Landauer lost track of the card accumulation and allowed Escos to play on and Rochester to remain at full strength. The Lancers won on penalty kicks. NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam acknowledged the error but denied Toronto’s protest of the match result. (The Escos incident is still cited decades later in Soccer For Dummies.) In game two in Toronto, the Lancers prevailed 1-0 despite finishing the match two men down. The Lancers earned a semi-final showdown with the powerhouse New York Cosmos club.

The first leg of the 1977 semis in Rochester drew a sellout of 20,005 to Holleder Stadium. The Lancers fell 2-1, but were still had a shot on aggregate goals heading into the second leg at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. 74,000 Cosmos fans awaited the Lancers in the Meadowlands. Popovic’s squad returned to its 11-15 regular season for and lost 4-1.

Internecine warfare between the Lancers owners helped sink the team’s final seasons. As the team’s financial situation worsened further at the end of the 1970’s, the Rochester-based owners sought new capital. A pair of Long Island-based investors, John Luciani and Bernie Rodin, pumped over a million dollars into the Lancers in 1979. The two factions faced off in court during the 1980 season. The NASL booted the Lancers franchise out of the league that November.

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The Rochester Flash replaced the Lancers on the local soccer scene in 1981. The Flash played in the 2nd Division American Soccer League, where the Lancers began life in 1967. They played three seasons at Holleder before folding in 1984.

Holleder Stadium was demolished in 1985.

Over the years the Lancers drew their biggest crowds for derbies against the star-studded New York Cosmos. But the teams fiercest rivalry, according to former Lancers beat writer Michael Lewis, was with the various iterations of the NASL’s Toronto franchise. Lewis has a wonderful look back at the Rochester-Toronto soccer rivalry on Big Apple Soccer here.

 

Rochester Lancers Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Part owner and team President John Petrossi died of cancer on November 24, 1976 at age 68.

Lancers founder and owner Pat Dinolfo passed away on April 13th, 2006.

Lancers all-time leading scorer Mike Stojanovic died after a battle with stomach cancer on November 18, 2010 at the age of 63.

 

Rochester Lancers Video

The Lancers take on the New York Giants before 41,305 at Giants Stadium. May 28th, 1978.

 

 

Downloads

June 9, 1971 Rochester Lancers vs. New York Cosmos Game Notes

June 15, 1977 Rochester Lancers vs. New York Cosmos Game Notes

This New York State Tax Commission petition from 1987 sheds some lights on the ownership squabbles of the Lancers final seasons.

 

Links

American Soccer League Programs

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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June 24, 1979 – New York Cosmos vs. New England Tea Men

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Shep Messing Rochester LancersNew York Cosmos vs. New England Tea Men
June 24, 1979
Giants Stadium
Attendance: 41,428

North American Soccer League Programs
130 pages

 

This June 1979 match marked the North American Soccer League debut of Dutch national team midfielder Johan Neeskens.  Neeskens, a key member of Holland’s World Cup final teams in 1974 and 1978, was arguably the last truly impactful European star signed by the New York Cosmos (1971-1985), a club that became world famous for importing foreign stars to America.  (Neeskens would also hang on longer than the others and was the last big name left when the Cosmos played their final season in 1984).

The Cosmos’ opponent on this Sunday afternoon were the New England Tea Men, and a national TV audience on ABC joined the 41,428 on hand at Giants Stadium.  The Tea Men were struggling through a wretched sophomore jinx season, but they always played the Cosmos tough.  During New England’s expansion season in 1978, the Tea Men were the only NASL club to beat the eventual champion Cosmos twice.  On July 12th, 1978 New England beat the Cosmos 3-1 in New Jersey, ending the Cosmos two-year, 23-match unbeaten streak at home.  Coming into this game 11 months later, the Cosmos had built up a new 12-game home winning streak.

Johan NeeskensJohan Neeskens was the story going into the match, and he was strong in midfield, nearly scoring on a volley just over the New England crossbar in the 55th minute.  But the story of the day – surprisingly – was a pair of young American stars who’d dropped out of college the previous year to play for the Cosmos.

21-year old David Brcic, who left soccer power St. Louis University in 1978 to sign with New York, got his first start of the season, after spending the first sixteen matches deep on the bench behind both Jack Brand and Erol Yasin.  Brcic was outstanding, making 10 saves and recording a clean sheet against the Tea Men.  It was a rare moment of outdoor glory for Brcic.  Though he stayed with the team until it’s demise in 1985, he never won the outdoor starting job, seeing most of his action during the Cosmos’ winter indoor seasons of the 1980’s, which the club never seemed to take especially seriously.

The other young standout was 20-year old midfielder Rick Davis, considered by many to be the finest American player in the game.  Playing in his 30th pro match, Davis had earned a reputation as a reliable distributor, earning 7 assists through the first 16 matches of the 1979 season.  But he had never scored a goal, until the 50th minute of this game, when he put a knuckling shot past Tea Men goalkeeper Kevin “Cat” Keelan.  Davis was too surprised to celebrate and walked calmly back to midfield while his teammates leaped and yelled around him.  It was the only goal of the match in the Cosmos 1-0 victory.

Prior to the 2:30 PM kickoff, there was a preliminary match between the New York Freedoms, champions of the amateur Cosmopolitan Soccer League’s Major Division, and a team of Cosmopolitan League All-Stars.  Over the years, more than a dozen Cosmopolitan League alumni made it up to the NASL and other American pro leagues.  You can check out the press notes and rosters from this match in the Downloads section below.  The All-Stars head coach was Dr. Gerry Klivecka, brother of Cosmos’ manager Ray Klivecka.

Former Cosmos star goalkeeper Shep Messing is pictured on the cover of the day’s KICK Magazine program, but by this time he was upstate New York, playing his final season of outdoor soccer with the anything-but-glamorous Rochester Lancers.

 

==Downloads==

June 11, 1979 – Dutch Star Johan Neeskens Signs With Cosmos Press Release

June 24, 1979 New England Tea Men Game Notes 

June 24, 1979 New York Cosmos Game Notes

June 24, 1979 New York Freedoms vs. Cosmopolitan All-Stars Game Notes

 

==Links==

New England Tea Men Home Page

New York Cosmos Home Page

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June 9, 1971 New York Cosmos vs. Rochester Lancers

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New York Cosmos ProgramNew York Cosmos vs. Rochester Lancers
June 9, 1971
Yankee Stadium
Attendance: 2,017

North American Soccer League Programs
14 pages

 

Very early program from the first season of the New York Cosmos soccer club back in 1971.  This was long before the deep-pocketed club began importing World Cup stars from Europe and South America in the mid-1970’s and only 2,017 souls came out to the Bronx on this evening to watch Manhattan’s newest soccer team played the Rochester Lancers, the defending champions of the North American Soccer League.

The hero on this night was the immortal Willie Mfum, a veteran of Ghana’s 1964 Olympic team and the American 2nd division, who scored three goals on headers all within an 11-minute span of the 2nd half to power the Cosmos to a 4-2 victory over the defending champs.  1971 NASL Most Valuable Player and scoring leader Carlos Metidieri tallied for the Lancers in the 2nd half, but it was too little, too late.

 

==Downloads==

June 9, 1971 New York Cosmos Game Notes 

June 9, 1971 Rochester Lancers Game Notes

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Written by AC

September 5th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

July 15, 1977 – Rochester Lancers vs. New York Cosmos

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Rochester Lancers vs. New York Cosmos
July 15, 1977
Holleder Stadium
Attendance: 17,572

North American Soccer League Programs
76 pages

 

This mid-July 1977 North American Soccer League match between the Rochester Lancers (1970-1980) and the New York Cosmos (1971-1985) drew the largest pro soccer crowd in Rochester’s history. 17,572 fans jammed Holleder Stadium, where the Lancers averaged just 5,052 fans per match through the first nine home games of the 1977 season.

The big lure was the Cosmos Brazilian superstar Pele, who was on his farewell tour, having already announced the 1977 season would be his last.

The Lancers were kind of a ramshackle operation and had trouble dealing with the big crowd.  Rochester Democrat & Chronicle sportswriter Bruno Sniders wrote at the time that even lightly attended Lancers matches were “punctuated by disorder, confusion and near chaos.”  The game started a mere 15 minutes late, which was remarkably punctual for the Lancers.

“It will probably mean another fine,” Lancers GM Dick Kraft told Sniders.  “But what the heck.  We owe the league so much money now, what’s another $100?”

Old school soccer fans who remember the NASL would probably assume an easy victory for the Cosmos in this match up.  The Cosmos were a perennial league power and emerging global super club.  The Lancers were a bunch of small-market Yugoslavs who n shever won anything.  But actually the memory doesn’t really serve in this instance.  The powerful Cosmos – fully loaded with Pele, Beckenbauer and Chinaglia – were hopeless on the road this season.  They entered the game with a four-game road losing streak.  The Lancers, meanwhile, were tough to beat at Holleder.  They were 17-4 at home over the past two seasons coming into this match.

In the event, the two teams went scoreless through regulation and two overtime periods.  Anywhere else in the world, the match would have been a tie.  But the NASL had its funky one-on-one shootout system.   Two of Rochester’s residents Yugoslavs – Mike Stojanovic and Miralem Fazlic beat Cosmos ‘keeper Shep Messing in the shootout to give the Lancers a 1-0 victory.

 

==Downloads==

July 15, 1977 Rochester Lancers vs. New York Cosmos Game Notes

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Written by AC

December 5th, 2012 at 4:59 am

August 13, 1977 – Rochester Lancers vs. Toronto Metros-Croatia

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1977 Rochester Lancers PlayoffsRochester Lancers vs. Toronto Metros-Croatia
North American Soccer League quarterfinal playoffs
August 13, 1977
Holleder Stadium
Attendance: 10,556

North American Soccer League Programs
52 pages

 

Great cover photo of the might Pele from the final season of his storied career with the New York Cosmos in 1977.  This edition of KICK Magazine was sold throughout the North American Soccer League during the early playoff rounds of the 1977 season, a fitting send off to the retiring King of Football.

This particular match was a quarterfinal joust between the defending Soccer Bowl champions, Toronto Metros-Croatia, and the Rochester Lancers.  The Lancers hosted Game One of the two-game series, with the finale set for Varsity Stadium in Toronto three nights later.  It was a wild series.

Pele 1977The first game in Rochester finished scoreless and went to the NASL’s unusual method for settling ties – the shootout.  The Lancers won the shootout to take a one-game lead.  Meanwhile, the injury-riddled Toronto squad filed a protest with NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam.  During regulation time the match officials issued two-yellow cards to Rochester’s Francisco Escos but neglected to send him off from the game.  The Lancers should have been forced to play a man down, but continued to play at full strength.  Woosnam acknowledged the mistake but refused to overturn the result.

Three nights later in Toronto, the Lancers did have to play short-handed.  They lost two men to red cards for fighting in the first half.  Despite playing two men down for the entire second half, the Lancers tallied the game’s only goal on a breakaway by Portuguese midfielder Ibraim Silva with fourteen minutes left to eliminate the defending champs.

 

Links

Rochester Lancers Home Page

Toronto Metros-Croatia Home Page

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