A-League: Thunder finally claims title

Minnesota, the bridesmaid but never the bride three times in the '90s, finally earned its first national title when it beat the Rochester Rhinos, 2-1, to take the A-League title Oct. 16 in Blaine, Minn. The Thunder scored goals three minutes apart at the close of the first half and the start of the second half, propelling it past the Rhinos for its first A-League title in front of 9,987 fans at the National Sports Center. The Thunder had lost in three other national finals: 1994, 1995 and 1998. Six Thunder players made their fourth championship game appearance: Gerard Lagos, Amos Magee, John Swallen, John Coughlin, Mark Abboud and Don Gramenz. When it looked like the teams would head into the halftime intermission scoreless, the game's MVP, Magee, launched an improbable missile off the crossbar over Rochester goalkeeper Pat Onstad's left shoulderin the 43rd minute. The rebound caromed directly to Lagos eight yards out, and he calmly headed the ball into the vacated goal. "It was a great shot and Amos deserves that MVP," said Swallen, the A-League MVP in 1999. "He's been the heart and soul of this team just as much as myself and a couple of other guys still on the team." Magee received a header from Coughlin inside the penalty box. With the ball on his right, he turned his body and ripped a full volley toward goal that dipped onto the crossbar. "The first one was the biggest one," said Minnesota coach Buzz Lagos. "We had that confidence at halftime up 1-0 and putting them behind the eight ball. It enabled us to come out and play pretty hard early on." The goal was the fourth of the playoffs for Lagos, another player on roster with four title game appearances under his belt. The assist was the first of two on the evening for Magee, enabling him to finish second in A-league during the postseason with 10 points. He set up the second goal just over a minute into the first half when he worked a give-and-go play with Pawel Nowak, freeing the Poland native for a breakaway against Onstad. Nowak broke in on the left side and slotted a 16-yard shot under the sliding keeper to double the lead. "There are these guys who say a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous lead to have, but I love it," Buzz Lagos said. "They still have to score twice to beat us." Rochester drew one goal back in the 56th minute when Darren Tilley skipped a low right-footed shot just beyond the reach of Swallen's left leg from 10 yards out. "It couldn't have been a more perfect ending to a perfect season," Swallen said. "For me personally, the whole team and the whole state of Minnesota. In the 10 years I've played, every second has been worth it." CHAMPIONSHIP Oct. 16 in Blaine, Minn. Minnesota 2 Rochester 1. Goals: Lagos (Magee) 43, Nowak (Magee) 46; Tilley (Daligcon) 56. Minnesota -- Swallen, Bankov, Coughlin, Sylvester, Gramenz, Leventhal, Nowak (Raines, 74), Gentile, Mladenov, Lagos (Schneider, 81), Magee. Rochester -- Onstad, Sedgewick, Restrepo, Schweitzer (Tim Hardy, 71), Walton (Zavala, 54), Tanner (Kirmse, 46), Daligcon (Young, 81), Allnutt, Biello, D.Miller, Tilley. Referee: Terry Vaughn. Assistant Referees: Ricardo Salazar, Elias Bazakos. Att.: 9,987 A-LEAGUE CHAMPIONS 1999 Minnesota Thunder 1998 Rochester Raging Rhinos 1997 Milwaukee Rampage 1996 Seattle Sounders 1995 Seattle Sounders 1994 Montreal Impact 1993 Colorado Foxes 1992 Colorado Foxes 1991 San Francisco Bay Blackhawks 1990 Maryland Bays
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