Metros vs Pennsylvania Natives: a look back
Ron Ferguson; March 20, 2004
Ron Ferguson recaps the most obscure Metro game. Ever.
Despite the painful ending to the painful inaugural season (God, would that become a painfully familiar sensation...), 1996 had seen Metro supporters weather one hell of a storm that included dramatic managerial change, globally renowned names and controversy. The Metro-D.C. rivalry rose like a dual phoenix out of the otherwise forgettable campaign to dog fight high above the rest of the league and Macca had firmly entrenched the ESC in section 101 and put us on the U.S. map with our first away trips. Bang! Metro had a history. What better way to spread the gospel of Metro's arrival onto the landscape than their first ever off-season friendly in the hinterlands, away to some outfit calling themselves Pennsylvania Natives?
On Friday, November 15th, I made the trip to Lackawanna County Stadium in Scranton, PA for this epic encounter along with long-time Metro sufferer Footix and his unsuspecting wife and 10-year-old son. We sat with fellow founding ESC member Dan Hanks and his wife who have since moved back to the Czech Republic, perhaps to escape the notion that we are hurtling towards the tenth anniversary of the event.
It may have been one of the three coldest sporting events I have ever been to, and that includes a February lacrosse game in which I played at college where the temperature was 5 degrees at Loyola College in Baltimore in 1990. It was unbelievably cold. Footix and I stopped at the soccer outlet in the Poconos on our way to Scranton and we each bought ski caps to combat the temperature.
The ESC was given a ton of free tickets by the Metro regime and we put the word out on the old spiders mailing list that free tickets would be distributed to members making the trip. Not a single member approached me at the designated meet spot. Not one. The tickets were later folded into issue #5 of The Stars and Beyond where there also appeared a match report with lineups and a reprint of the local promotional flier which featured the phrase Big League Soccer Comes to Northeast PA. If big league soccer meant Travis Rinker, Jeff Zaun, Cris da Silva, Damian Silvera and Rob Johnson, then big league soccer indeed it was.
The Natives were a supposed all-star team assembled by some guy named Christopher Nils Connolly, whose bio in that evening's program makes the claims of his being "the youngest ever defender in the English Premier League" for Nottingham Forest (not to mention that at the time he was 16 it was not the Premier League), to have been capped by England during qualifying for Spain 82, and the most vague of claims, to have been voted "one of the best young defenders in European professional soccer." More frightening, still, was the Soap Opera Digest style publicity photo of him next to his inflated bio. No team or player photos, just the gaffer with his best Spandau Ballet haircut and jumper pulled suggestively up past his elbows to show off his newly purchased tanning bed bronzing. It may have been 1996, but this cat was stuck in 1986. I know this much is True.
Their logo that was splashed all over the program and fliers for the event was the predictable black and white paneled soccer ball with a Mohawk haircut and warrior feathers trailing. It took some genius all of five minutes to come up with that one. The fliers also made claims to the match being the Charity Challenge, although later verbiage claims "partial proceeds to go to charity" and further reading between the lines implies that the entire night was a promotion for some local soccer camp scheme. The fliers also were pushing World Cup stars Tab Ramos and Antony De Avila, neither of whom appeared.
The Natives roster included past and future Metro castoffs Dahir Mohammed, Mirsad Huseinovic, Louis Ken-Kwofie, Cordt Weinstein and Travis Rinker, with Kevin East, formerly of Columbus Crew. Rinker actually played for Metro in the match. Also on the Natives roster was some chap named Lufti Naamesa whose bio had him making a name for himself at Jihad of the Syrian First Division. Can't imagine he'd be too popular playing in Scranton, PA these days. No worries; this was the one and only match this rag-tag set of fugitives ever played under the Natives moniker.
By game time the temperature was so low, that it was painful just sitting in the hard, plastic bucket seats and you found yourself constantly shifting from cheek to cheek trying to convince your ass that it wouldn't become a permanent frozen fixture of the stadium. By halftime the further temperature drop meant that the evening was less a sporting event and more a reenactment troupe staging a portrayal of the 101st Airborne at the Battle of the Bulge. Coffee and hot chocolate had completely sold out well before the break, and with Dan's wife managing to procure one of the last styrofoam cups of warmth, those of us seated nearby began looking at her in the same way that those castaways stared at Bugs Bunny and envisioned a giant roast turkey. The match itself was typical Metro fare, lots of running with little result. Looking back on the evening via the match report in TSAB, I notice that Savarese and Mohammed were their respective teams' top players. Gio just ran down everything within his personal gravitational pull, while Mohammed, for long periods of the match, seemed to be the only participant capable of answering the Casey Stengel demand of "can't anybody here play this game?"
Savarese scored in the 34th and 66th minutes and Mohammed pulled one back for the hosts at 70. The real excitement though was watching Roberto Donadoni navigate the seams in the artificial turf and the exposed dirt baseball diamond in those unbelievably frigid conditions. Don't cry for Robi, though. It's easy to come off when your stand-in is none other than, erm... Ted Gillen.
And now, for your trainspotting pleasure, the lineups:
MetroStars: Meola (Thornton 15), Rinker, Zaun, Harty, da Silva, Donadoni (Gillen 70), Silvera, Joseph, Johnson, Wood, Savarese
Pennsylvania: East, Green, Mohammed, Muldrow, Naamesa, Renderos, Constantinou, Huseinovic, Ken-Kwofie, Jaramillo, Weinstein
We're still awaiting nostalgic reminiscences of the night from then Metro PR honcho Jeff Bradley, who surely can shed further light on this historic evening, if he's thawed yet. Yes, it was that cold.