On a blustery afternoon amid chilling winds and freezing rain in Rochester’s suburb of Pittsford, NY, the Rochester River Dogz earned a place in the 2018 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Hosting Stegman’s Soccer Club, a local amateur side and the parent club of Minneapolis City SC of the National Premier Soccer League, the River Dogz are themselves related to the NPSL team founded under the same name and since re-branded to the Lancers.
The River Dogz would defend their home turf, prevailing 2-1 to become the first open division amateur team from Western New York to qualify for the US Open Cup in the Modern Era (1995-present).
The River Dogz entered the competition through the Rochester District Soccer League, an elite amateur circuit recognized by USASA, but used the players and kits from the NPSL side. Similarly, Stegman’s, a member of the Minnesota Amateur Soccer League, fielded much of its NPSL roster and suited up in MPLS City’s jerseys.
The visitors struck in just the first minute of play, before the Minnesota-style weather took hold.
Nicholas Hutton sent dangerous service into the area from the right wing. Forward Ben Wexler did well to meet the cross but his strike whistled off the crossbar. Stegman’s Timothy Wills reacted first and poked home the rebound to take the early lead.
After conceding, the River Dogz regrouped and mounted some chances of their own. The hosts appeared to notch a goal in quick response after the right winger cut inside and fired a shot on his left that fell nicely to a teammate for an easy rebound. The assistant referee has raised his flag, however, and the score remained 1-0 for the Minnesotans.
Despite some flowing passing moves, Rochester’s equalizer came from another rebound. Rochester forced a turnover in Stegman’s third with coordinated pressure from midfield. Center forward Austin Gerber received a through ball that split Stegman’s defense and hit a heavy strike that goalkeeper Matt Elder reacted quickly to kick away. Unfortunately for the visitors, the balled popped out to attacking midfielder Stefanos Stamoulocatos and the former U.S. youth international buried the follow-up from a tight angle with his left foot to tie the match in the 26th minute.
Stegman’s number 11, Whitney Browne was active throughout the game. He forced Rochester’s Will Banahene into a diving save from a set piece in the opening 15 minutes and was not shy about unloading shots from distance either.
Rochester held court for much of the remainder of the first half. The River Dogz tried to build measured attacks through midfield, probing for an opening between defenders, while still effectively using the long ball upfield for Gerber to chase. In contrast, Stegman’s kept several players deep even when in possession in the final third.
In the second half, Stegman’s pushed forward more often looking for a second goal but left themselves more vulnerable to counterattacks. A quick break chance almost put the hosts ahead early in the second half but the shot from Anthony Rozzano’s cross bounced off the crossbar.
Rochester’s utility defender Alex Harling, having played center back, right back, and left back on Sunday preserved equity in the middle of the second half. Stegman’s capitalized on a poor pass from Rochester’s No. 14, who had just entered the match as a substitute, and attacked quickly through the middle. The visitors may have thought difficult part of the move was over when a Stegman’s attacker rounded Banahene, but Harling recovered expertly to clear the eventual shot off the goal line.
Shortly after nearly conceding on one end, Rochester grabbed the go-ahead goal at the other. Gerber received another well-timed through ball that put him through with Elder and set himself up for a right-footed instep shot curled low to the far post. To his credit, Elder got a touch on the shot but could not prevent the game-winner from dribbling over the line.
Facing elimination after an unforgiving qualification process, Stegman’s rose to the occasion. The visitors moved the ball around the field well while pressing forward with urgency, peppering Banahene’s goal with efforts.
“Stegmans came to play that’s for sure,” said River Dogz general manager/assistant coach Marc Mandell. “After an early goal a minute into the game, our players had to buckle down and focus on how to get back in the game. I was very pleased that we were able to come back being a goal down to win 2-1. Our goalkeeper Will Banahene was definitely the man of the match coming up with some huge saves and Austin Gerber came through with the game-winning goal for the second game in a row.”
Perhaps an effort to run the clock down, two Rochester players received bookings in the final minutes of the match. The first was to Rochester’s No. 11 for his part in some shoving and gesticulating during a fracas near the Stegman’s goal and the second was to Rozzano for time-wasting after he cleared a ball past the bleachers once it had already crossed the sideline.
Stegman’s players showed well and can be proud of their efforts (after raising the funds to cover their airfare), but it was Rochester that came away with the 2-1 victory.
With the win, the River Dogz will qualify for the 105th edition of the US Open Cup that will begin next May. Their head coach, who has plenty of US Open Cup experience as a player with the Rochester Rhinos, was proud of his team’s performance.
“Rochester has a ton of local talent and I am happy to see the community rally around these guys,” said Doug Miller, who scored the game-winning goal for the Rhinos in the 1999 US Open Cup Final. “This cup means a lot to me and my ex-teammates and to be a part of it again is exciting”