Rhinos, Rapids Win to Set Up A-League vs. MLS War in '99 U.S. Open Cup Final on Sept. 14 in Columbus
The Rhinos twice roared back to tie the score in the second half with the wind at their backs and went on to complete the dramatic upset with a surprising 25-yard bomb with just seconds left in injury time to beat the Crew, 3-2. After finding themselves down 2-1 with five minutes left on the clock, the Rhinos got the equalizer from vocal leader Scott Schweitzer on a free kick that deflected off teammate Tommy Tanner and past a wrong-footed Mark Dougherty in the 86th minute. The game winner came in the third minute of injury time when left-footed defender Tim Hardy dribbled left, cut the ball back to his right foot and buried a rocket in the far corner of the goal past a stunned Dougherty.
The improbable, but well-deserved victory was the Rhinos' third against an MLS team in this year's competition, having knocked off the defending Open Cup champion Chicago Fire and Dallas Burn in the third round and quarterfinals, respectively. The win gives Rochester a solid 5-3 all-time record versus their Division I counterparts in Open Cup play, with wins over Tampa Bay and Colorado in 1996 accounting for the other two. More impressively, the Rhinos improve to 9-3 in overall Open Cup play, giving them the best Open Cup record of any team from any level over the past four years.
The loss was doubly devastating for Columbus, who lost in sudden death overtime in last year's final and would have had the chance to play in front of their home crowd had they advanced to the Open Cup final.
In the night's first match, Colorado also saved their best for the second half, knocking in three goals during the night's biggest downpour and going on to earn a soggy 3-0 shutout over Charleston. High-scoring forward Jorge Dely Valdes opened the scoring in the 55th minuute on a nice touch from Ross Paule and finished the Battery off in the 87th minute on a back-heeled pass from midfielder Paul Bravo. Bravo also had the team's second goal and helped the Rapids turn the tide in the second stanza after an even first half that saw them outshot 8-6.
The win sets up the first A-League vs. MLS final since 1996, ironically when the first-year Rhinos fell to a red-hot D.C. United team, 3-0. MLS teams also won the '97 and '98 titles, but the A-League has more than held its own this year, winning five of the nine match-ups going into the final.
Tonight's winners will battle for the Dewar Trophy in the 1999 U.S. Open Cup Final on Tuesday, September 14, televised live at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN for the first time in the tournament's history. For ticket information, contact the Columbus Crew at 614/447-CREW (2739).