In its three years in the USISL, the Milwaukee Rampage had great success during the regular season and no luck in the playoffs.
All that changed this year.
The Rampage, which barely made the playoffs, won its second consecutive shootout to capture the '97 A-League title, beating Carolina 3-0 after the final ended 1-1 before a record crowd of 6,381 at Milwaukee's Uihlein Soccer Park.
Fans filled all corners of the new soccer complex to watch the Rampage dominate the shootout, just as it had done six days earlier, beating the Vancouver 86ers by the same score in the mini-game of their semifinal series.
Jon Szczepanski, Dan Stebbins and Nicolas Igel scored to decide the shootout after just three rounds.
Carolina's Maher Atta banged his shot off the post, while Yari Allnutt and Ed Radwanski had their shots blocked by MVP Carmine Isacco.
The win ended three years of playoff frustration for the Rampage. It had gone 52-10 during the regular season in the USISL but never advanced as far as the national semifinals.
"I thought we were going to win in overtime," Rampage coach Bob Gansler told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We've been on a roll. Even though we were upset with ourselves, because we should have put the game away.
"We gave them the counter, but we'll assess mistakes next year. Our slogan has been, 'It's do-able.' And tonight we did it."
Milwaukee was missing Canadian Eddie Berdusco because he was not allowed back in the United States after the Vancouver series due to visa problems.
Dan Stebbins picked up the slack, giving the Rampage the lead in the 65th minute with his seventh goal of the playoffs on a 20-yard shot past Carolina keeper Aidan Heaney.
Brian Loftin, who had single-handedly won Carolina's semifinal series against Long Island, almost equalized 10 minutes later when his bullet rattled the post.
Loftin didn't miss five minutes after that when he collected Heaney's long kick and beat Isacco from 15 yards.
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