May 2, 2015
When the Brooklyn Italians won their second U.S. Open Cup title with 10 men in 1991
This was reprinted from the Aug. 22, 1991 edition of Soccer Week
By Scott Gleba
Soccer Week writer
BROOLYN, N.Y. -- There was no way the Brooklyn Italians would be denied the 1991 United States Open Challenge Cup championship. Nothing was going to stand in their way.
Not the heart-breaking memories of last year's final, which they lost to the AAC Eagles of Chicago.
Not this year's semifinal opponent, RWB Adria of Chicago, which resorted to cheating in order to beat the Italians. Fortunately for Brooklyn, Adria was forced to forfeit its 1-0 victory after it was determined the club had used ineligible players.
Not the Richardson Rockets (Texas), who were an able opponent and provided the Italians with some stiff competition in the Aug. 10 final at Brooklyn College.
And most definitely not Steve Olson, the referee from Michigan who made a controversial call early in the match to eject Brooklyn defender Bill Manning.
In the end, it was the Brooklyn Italians, all 10 of them to overcame numerous obstacles to defeat the pride of the Sun Belt Independent Soccer League, 1-0, for their second national championship. In 1979, when the club was known as the Brooklyn Dodgers, it captured its first Open Cup title.
"We had the zeal to win. We just wanted to win so bad," said Ernest Inneh, Brooklyn's goal-hero. "I am so excited. I don't know what to say."
Inneh did not have to say a word. His actions on the field spoke loudly, though. It was his goal in the sixth minute which gave Brooklyn all the scoring it would need to clinch the cup.
The play started when Inneh somehow managed to get his head on a direct pass from Cesar Silva toward goal. With Rockets goalkeeper Brian Hall totally out of position to make a save, defender Billy Pettigrew desperately lunged to clear the ball off the goal line before it entered the net. But he was too late and Brooklyn took a 1-0 lead.
"I wasn't in the best of shape," said Inneh, who had returned from a trip to his native Nigeria two weeks earlier. "But I said, 'Give me the ball.' This is our home. We don't want to lose here.' "
Brooklyn College might be the Italians' home, but they did not receive any home advantage from Olsen. In the 23rd minute, with Manning and Rockets forward Alan Pamprin battling for possession, Olson blew his whistle to indicate, if anything, an apparent obstruction against the Italians' defender. Seconds later, the referee showed a red card, mandatory for a breakaway foul to Manning. The Brooklyn fans and bench exploded with disapproval.
Nonetheless, the Northeastern Professional Soccer League runner-up was forced to play two-thirds of the match short-handed. "I didn't say nothing," said Manning, who assumed he was kicked out for dissent, as he passed the Brooklyn bench on the way to the locker room.
Later Manning would say, "I never get in trouble. This is unbelievable."
But Brooklyn did not let the ejection get it down. The adversity only made it more determined to push ahead. "We stayed together," said standout midfielder Carlos Jaguande. "We did not rush anything. We were all united."
After Manning's dismissal, Mike Rybak made the coaching move of the game when he put right fullback Victor Ogunsanya into Manning's vacated libero slot. "He did a good job," said the coach, understating Ogunsanya's strong impact on the final outcome of the match.
"I told my coach that I prefer to play stopper," said Ogunsanya, who stifled countless Richardson blasts with his instinctive positioning. "I like to tackle."
If Ogunsanya likes to tackle and play defense, then Jaguande loves to attack. Just when Richardson thought it could cash in on its one-man advantage, the 20-year-old Jaguande put on a show and dominated the first 15 crucial minutes following Manning’s expulsion.
In the 32nd minute, a gorgeous cross to Inneh, off a perfectly coordinated give-and-go between Jaguande and Silva, resulted in one of the Italians' best opportunities.
Four minutes later, Jaguande almost made it 2-0 when he hammered wide a 25-yard shot following some crisp passing between Jeune Yves and Junior Superbia.
Richardson continued to attack the rest of the way without wit or menace. The only player who provided any kind of offensive spark for the Texans was the tireless Pamprin. He could have had a hand in knotting the score on two occasions in the second half.
In the 54th minute, Pamprin burned Valencia Digner with an incredible burst of speed down the right wing. Once he caught up to the ball, Pamprin crossed to a mysteriously unmarked John Reynolds, whose header sailed over the crossbar. It should have been the equalizer.
Pamprin almost caught the Italians defense napping in the 57th minute when he beat Ronan Wiseman to a loose ball in the box. The quick forward, with his back to the goal, pivoted off his left foot and rifled a shot just wide right.
As time wound down, Richardson almost forced extratime. Two minutes into injury time, Brooklyn substitute Lucio Russo fouled Rex Roberts just outside the box for a potentially dangerous dead-ball situation. Gian-Paulo Pedrosa stepped up to take the cliffhanger kick, but his weak attempt sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
"It was a very dangerous situation," said a relieved Rybak.
Minutes later, the Italians were cup winners.
"It's an honor to be the champion of the United States," Rybak said. "Especially for, coming from Russia 11 years ago."
"They tightened up nice," Manning said in regard to the defense's gutsy performance. "Maybe [the ejection] was a blessing in disguise."
If it was a blessing, Inneh sounded sure of a higher being's contribution when he said, "God was on our side."
There were many things on the side of the Italians. After last year's disappointment in the final and the bizarre change of events after this year's semifinal, one might presume Brooklyn was destined to win. Destined or not, Jaguande said, "We deserve it."