Contributed by Steven Torres
Photo of 1971 Rochester Lancers, source NASLJerseys.com
With the New York Red Bulls hosting CD Guadalajara (Chivas) in the second-leg of the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League, we take a historical look back at the first time two clubs represented the U.S. at the confederation tournament when Elizabeth Soccer Club and the Rochester Lancers competed in the 1971 regional competition.
Even though the two clubs had different results during the 1971 edition of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup, Elizabeth SC, from Union, New Jersey and the Lancers, who were a North American Soccer League (NASL) team from upstate New York, both held the two-time defending confederation champion, CD SC Cruz Azul of Mexico to consecutive draws.
Elizabeth SC, who were also the first club from New Jersey to qualify for the Champions' Cup, had progressed to the 1971 CONCACAF tournament after it captured the National Challenge Cup (U.S. Open Cup) the year before. Founded in 1924, the team from "The Garden State" had also won five Cosmopolitan Soccer League Championships (CSL) prior to its berth to the international event.
Elizabeth SC opened the 1971 Champions' Cup on October 3, against Cruz Azul and behind a strong backline that was led by goalkeeper Andy Tutulic, the hosts held La Maquina to a scoreless tie to the delight of the crowd of 2,500 at Farcher's Grove in Union.
The New Jersey side became the first U.S. club since 1963 to earn a point against a Mexican team during the Champions' Cup. However, due to schedule conflicts, Elizabeth SC withdrew from the tournament and forefited the second-leg encounter in Mexico, with Cruz Azul securing a spot into the CONCACAF Final Round.
Meanwhile, the other U.S. representative at the 1971 Champions' Cup, the Lancers, had earned its berth to the confederation's event after winning the NASL Title the year before. It was also the first time an NASL team coompeted at the CONCACAF tournament.
Under the helm of Italian coach, Salvatore "Sal" DeRosa, Rochester began its Champions' Cup run by eliminating Pembroke Hamilton of Bermuda in the opening round. After winning the first-leg, 4:1 on Oct. 3, at Rochester's Aquinas Stadium, the Lancers won the series (5-2 aggregate) by holding the host Bermudian side to a 1:1 draw in the return match at the National Stadium in Hamilton three weeks later.
The Lancers were scheduled to face "Chivas" in the next round, however the Mexican side withdrew from the tournament giving the NASL Club a berth into the CONCACAF Final Round.
The six-team round-robin confederation final group took place at the Mateo Flores Stadium in Guatemala City, Guatemala in March of 1972.
Rochester opened the final round on March 12, to a crowd of 40,000 that witnessed the NASL side post a 2:0 victory over SV Transvaal of Suriname, Brazilian forward Eli Durante scored in the the first half for the Lancers and then Italian striker Carlo Dell-Omodarme added one with 10 minutes remaining.
Four days later, Rochester battled Cruz Azul to a 1:1 draw in front of 25,000 spectators. After a scoreless first half, the Mexican side took the lead with a goal from midfielder Jose Luis Desachy in the 60th minute, however the Lancers got the equalizer with a tally from German forward Manfred Seissler seven minutes later.
In Rochester's third group encounter on Mar. 19, goals from Scottish defender Charlie Mitchell and Argentinean midfielder Francisco Ecos gave the defending NASL Champion a 2:0 win over Aruba's SV Estrella.
The Lancer's five game CONCACAF unbeaten streak came to an end on Mar. 23, after they dropped a 3:1 encounter to hosts CSD Comunicaciones of Guatemala in front of 25,000 spectators. Midfielder Oscar Molina scored twice and forward Peter Sandoval added one for the six-time Guatemalan League Champions, while Seissler had the only tally for Rochester in the loss.
The Lancer's run for the confederation crown also concluded three days later (Mar. 26) when it dropped a heartbreaker, 1:0 to 12-time Costa Rican Champion LD Alajuelense. The crowd of 40,000 saw Costa Rican international defender, Walter Elizondo score the game-winner, via a penalty kick that beat Brazilian goalkeeper from Rochester, Claude Campos, with 15 minutes remaining. DeRosa's side had to settle for a fourth-place finish at the 1971 Champions' Cup.
Written by Steven Torres