Doug Miller’s Magical Return to the Pitch

If a script was written about what transpired at Marina Auto Stadium Saturday, it would have been rejected as just too preposterous, even by Hollywood standards.

Think about it:

A 49-year-old head coach of the local soccer team comes on as a second-half substitute to play in the stadium that he had never played in but in many ways helped build. And not only does he score a goal, but he accomplishes that feat some 24 seconds after coming on.

Unbelievable, huh?

It happened. There were witnesses and video of Doug Miller’s achievement during the Rochester Lancers’ 5-3 National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) victory over the Greater Binghamton FC Thunder Saturday evening.

“Pretty incredible,” said Rochester forward Will Stone, who set up Miller’s goal.

Miller is a Rochester soccer icon, having been the attacking cornerstone of the great Rochester Rhinos teams in the United Soccer League (USL). He filled the nets for the Rhinos 75 times over 146 league games in two tenures with the club when it played at Frontier Field, a minor-league baseball park.

As fate would have had it, Miller never played a competitive second at the soccer stadium – he left the team in 2005 a year before it opened – until Saturday.

So, Lancers owner Sam Fantauzzo and the club decided to give Miller an opportunity to play at the venue.

Assistant coach Adam Schwartz, who was running the team on the bench, felt it was time for Miller to make an appearance early in the second half. In the 52nd minute, when he replaced Alex Harting, who hugged Miller as he ran onto the field. Binghamton defender Brion Jackson shook Miller’s hand, not knowing he would be beaten by someone more than twice his age in a few moments.

Miller wasn’t emotional on the sidelines. He was thinking tactics and what he had to accomplish on the pitch.

“For me, my runs are very good, so playing simple and playing quick. If I look at every time I was in possession of the ball and what I did with it, it was positive. Connect the next pass because I hadn’t played a competitive match in what, five years. And outdoor I hadn’t played a competitive match in 13 years. So connect the pass get it to the guys who are creative and make my runs because then I could get onto the end of the ball.”

Stone stripped a Binghamton defender of the ball in the right corner and sent a cross to an open Miller – he got past Jackson on the right side – before drilling home a seven-yard shot to give Rochester a 3-1 advantage.

“I ran to press the ball,” Miller said. “As soon as he strips them, I know as long as I backpedal, I am in the seam between the outside back and the center back and I am in the clear. So, it’s now it’s just getting to the spot where the ball’s going to be and the keeper stays on his line. So, from eight, nine yards out, I had the whole goal to shoot for.”

After depositing the ball into the net, the stadium erupted.

Miller? He had two things on his mind.

“I think God is good and where’s my wife, so I can go and kiss her,” he said. “I told her after I score I would kiss my wife. They’ve [his family] been through this for 22 years. It’s cool to do it 22 years later.”

Miller’s wife Kari and daughters Kayla and Kalista attended the match.

Stone and his teammates enjoyed the moment. He and a few others put both arms in front of them and bowed to their coach, mimicking that they were not worthy.

“He’s a legend,” he said. “I mean, everyone loves him around here. So, proud of him. I’m pleased he got his moment.”

Miller was so ecstatic about the goal he pulled up his blue shirt but didn’t take it off. Still, the referee slapped him with a yellow card.

“I actually told him, ‘I didn’t take it all the way off so it’s not a yellow card,” he said. “I only pulled it over my head. But what are you going to do?”

Miller began playing professionally when many of the players on the field were not even born yet. He remembered when he watched his heroes growing up in New Jersey.

“Yeah, it’s part of the game,” he said. “If they really knew the history, they’re young kids. They’re 18-, 19-year-old. They could be my children. When I got the chance to play against Richard Chinapoo and those guys, Daryl Gee, who played for the Cosmos, I knew that because I watched these guys at Giants Stadium.”

Stone, who finished with a goal and two assists, wasn’t surprised of Miller’s achievement.

“In training, he’s always finishing,” he said. “He’s 49. He can’t exactly run around the field, but he’s still got the finishing touch, which is good.”

Rochester (5-3-3, 18 points) certainly had the finishing touch, scoring five goals, but it fell short of their goals Saturday. They needed to fill the net and hold Binghamton to as few as goals as possible, so they could improve their goal differential in a fight for a playoff berth in the East Conference. Combined with a 2-1 win at Binghamton Sunday, the Lancers are at plus four, not near enough to help with a possible tie-breaker with second-place Cleveland SC (6-1-3, 21), which is at plus 23. The top two teams in the conference will reach the postseason.

The Lancers conclude their second NPSL season at home against the Fort Pitt Regiment on Saturday, July 7.

“We had three objectives coming in,” Miller said Saturday. “The first objective was three points. The second objective was to score goals and the third objective was not to concede any goals. The first two I was pleased with. You score five goals, that’s a pretty good showing. Conceding in the fashion which we did, not so happy. I think it’s an uphill battle.”

Contributor: Michael Lewis/NPSL.com
Photo Credit: Michael Lewis/NPSL.com

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