Gabriel Batistuta
Obscure Metro Files: Metro vs Fiorentina
July 24, 2014

If you are like us, you don't care about the Arsenal friendly. Big deal! Another big name team coming here on a preseason vacation. Arsenal? We've had AC Milan, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich (twice!), and even the Chinese national team! But it all started against Fiorentina...

The MetroStars were floundering eight games into the 1996 season. The 3-5 record was beyond deceptive, as two of those victories came in the dreaded shootout. The team had just five points in those eight games. They scored a total of nine goals: eight by Giovanni Savarese, and an... own goal. You think this year is tough? Clearly, you have a short memory.

So in came Fiorentina, clearly a by-product of GM Charlie Stillitano's Italian connections. (We bet he wanted AC Milan. He always wanted AC Milan.) All was set for a terrible MLS team to face off against one of Europe's best... But it couldn't be that simple.

The day of the game, head coach Eddie Firmani quit. "I feel it is in the best interest of the club to step down now," Firmani said. "Things are not going well. It's best that it happened now because it gives them enough time to recover. Some of the national players were against me. One or two players got upset with the overall picture. But I can tell you, there is no animosity."

Firmani refused to identify the players, but Stillitano confirmed. "I talk to the coaches and the players every day; that's part of my daily routine. I was aware there was tension and misunderstanding between the players and the coach." "No question we were not on the same page," goalkeeper Tony Meola said. "It's six weeks into the season and we don't know what our role is."

Let that last sentence sink in. Aren't we glad we came such a long way!...

In any case, assistant coach Ralph Perez took over the reigns temporarily (Stillitano would soon hire Carlos Queiroz, but not in time for this match). One small problem: Metro didn't have enough players to field a team. Robeto Donadoni was away with Italy and the Euros. Tab Ramos was out, as usual. Zach Thornton, Damian Silvera, Miles Joseph and A.J. Wood had pre-Olympic duty. With MLS roster limits razor-thin, Metro had to call up four players from the minor-league Long Island Rough Riders.

A quick aside to look at the quartet, perhaps the most obscure collection in team history (which is saying a lot). There was defender Travis Rinker, who actually made his Metro debut a week before versus New England and had a call-back later in the season, totaling 31 minutes in three substitute appearances. Fellow defender Laurence Pitturo played his only game in Metro colors. Kevin Anderson, who would go on to have a respectable career in MLS with Colorado and Tampa Bay, started in midfield. (In amazing side note, Anderson played for Metro once again -- on loan from Tampa for Lothar Matthaus farewell tour in 2000. One of the teams they played? Hans Backe-coached, pre-Red Bull, Austria Salzburg. You can't make these things up.) Finally, midfielder Paul Riley, heading for a long coaching career with the Rough Riders, and currently in charge of Portland in the NWSL. Whew.

So, yes, a patch-up Metro team, plus these four call-ups had to play a rather massive Fiorentina squad that finished fourth in Serie A. Headlining the team was all-world Gabriel Batistuta. Metro had no chance.

For a half, it looked like they did, as Meola stopped the Italian onslaught and the teams went into the break scoreless. But in the 65th minute, Nicola Caricola decided that his countrymen needed a break, and fouled Batistuta in the box. Anselmo Robbiati scored on the penalty kick, and the flood gates opened. Batistuta, Giacomo Banchelli, and Robbiati again made it 4:0. Was it as bad as it sounds? The 25,021 in attendance probably tried to forget. Metro ended with four shots; Fiorentina with 29, 20 of them on goal. Yep. It was that bad.

But, honestly, we didn't care even back then...

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