Rarely does the underdog win. It happens all the time in the movies but in the reality of professional sports, the team that has the best players and most money usually comes out on top. For the most part, fairy tales are for Walt Disney films.
However, at the very tail end of the twentieth century, a real life miracle occurred in North American soccer. The Rochester Rhinos, members of the A-League at the time, recorded four consecutive victories against MLS teams en route to hoisting the 1999 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. One of the most integral members of that squad, who also scored two goals during that cup run, was Mauro Biello.
The Montreal native, Canadian international, and of course Montreal Impact assistant coach, embedded his name in U.S. soccer history along with the rest of his teammates when they defeated the Colorado Rapids 2-0 in the final. In the games prior, Biello showed his true value on the field as a goal scorer. In the second round, Biello netted a 62' minute game-tying goal. The Rhinos would go onto win in overtime 2-1. During the quarterfinal stage against the MLS side Dallas Burn, the Concordia University product again got himself on the goal sheet with a 72' minute tally for the home side. Again, Rochester would go on to win 2-1 in extra time.
Moments after the quarterfinal match up, then-Dallas Burn striker Jason Kreis criticized the playing field in Rochester and predicted the Rhino's run would come to an abrupt end once they played on a "real field." Obviously, that prediction was flawed. One has to wonder if that game was mentioned in casual conversation when Biello met Kreis on the touchline last Saturday. Kreis is now the manager of New York City FC.
After dispatching the Burn, Biello and co. won a wild 3-2 game in hurricane type winds against the Columbus Crew to earn a berth in the final. Two weeks later, they defeated the Colorado Rapids in Columbus, Ohio with the winning goal coming from substitute Doug Miller. As the party inside the stadium spilled out into the parking lot by the team and fan buses, the Rochester faithful fittingly chanted, "If you can't join 'em, Beat 'em!"
Tonight, the U.S. Open Cup resumes in the fourth round stage which marks the entering point of MLS teams. There are a handful of lower division teams still in play, all with the dream of becoming the next 99' Rochester Rhinos. One of those teams is the 2015 edition of the Rhinos, who will be taking on the Philadelphia Union. Manager Pat Ercoli will be behind the bench for the Rhinos tonight and was also behind the bench in 1999 with Biello's team. A Toronto, Ontario native, Ercoli will be looking for some of that Canadian magic he and Biello cooked up during that unforgettable run over a decade and a half ago.
2015 will mark the 102nd year the tournament has been contested. It is the third longest-running open soccer tournament in the world with just over sixty organizations having the right to say they lifted the trophy. Very few were as improbable as the Rhinos in 1999.