American soccer writing, history & data.
The USISL had gone through a regular rotation of names since its founding in 1986. But, in the offseason before the 1999, the organization changed its name to the United Soccer Leagues. That name would stick as the organization continues to call itself to this day.
The USL A-League was stable and grew from 29 to 30 teams. The long-time Nashville Metros franchise, around since the 1990-91 indoor season, suspended operations just before the season. But original Metros owners launched the Tennessee Futbol Club which took over the Metros' schedule. Less than a week later the club was renamed as the Tennessee Rhythm because the USL thought the original name was too generic. It was league policy for teams to steer clear of names like Football Club or United.
The Montreal Impact left the A-League prior to the 1999 season to focus on indoor soccer by joining the National Professional Soccer League that winter. The financially strapped California Jaguars were relegated down to the USL D3 Pro league. And, seeking greener pastures, the Albuquerque Geckos moved to become the Sacramento Geckos.
New owners took over the Raleigh Flyers which was renamed the Raleigh Capital Express. Three new franchises would join the A-League: the Lehigh Valley Steam of Allentown, Pa., the Maryland Mania of Baltimore and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The Indiana Blast was promoted from the USL D3 Pro league to the A-League one year ahead of schedule.
The class of the A-League continued to be the defending champion Rochester Raging Rhinos in the east and the Minnesota Thunder in the west. The teams ended the season with identical 22-6 records. As the regular season ended, Rochester also made a Cinderella run in the 1999 U.S. Open Cup.
After qualifying for the tournament proper through the early games of the A-League regular season, Rochester beat the New York Freedom of the USL PDL in the second Round. In mid-July, the Rhinos upset the Chicago Fire 1-0 before 10,107 at Frontier Field in the Third Round. Mid-August saw Rochester beat another MLS team when it edged the Dallas Burn 2-1 in overtime before 10,730 at Frontier Field in the quarterfinals.
Rochester traveled to the Virginia Beach Sportsplex to face the Columbus Crew in the USOC semifinals on September 1. The 2109 in attendance saw the Rhinos take a come from behind victory over another MLS side beating the Crew 3-2 with goals in the 86th and 90th minutes.
Rochester would beat the Lehigh Valley Steam 2-1 in the first round of the A-League playoffs at home on September 10. The U.S. Open Cup final would be just four days later at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Rochester would hand the Colorado Rapids a clean sheet beating the MLS squad 2-0 and rais the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy before the 4455 in attendance.
Rochester would continue its run and make it all the way to the USL A-League final. On October 16, the Rhinos would visit the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn. to take on the Western Conference champion Minnesota Thunder. The Thunder had been league finalists three of the last five years and were beaten by Rochester in the 1998 A-League final. Minnesota would finally break through by beating Rochester 2-1 before the 9987 in attendance.
The season did not go as well for the Sacramento Geckos. The franchise had left Albuquerque due to unpaid debts and a less than a month into the season began having trouble in Sacramento. In May, the San Diego Flash organization agreed to purchase the Geckos for $100,000. But, just a month later, the franchise reverted to its original owners after the Flash organization pulled out. In mid-July the A-League terminated the operating rights of the Geckos' ownership group in Sacramento and transferred those rights to the owners of the Boston Bulldogs, Cape Cod Crusaders, and Boston Renegades. The team was called Team Sacramento and completed the remainder of the Geckos' schedule. The Sacramento A-League franchise was formally terminated in December of 1999.
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