Doug Miller

By far, he’s the greatest goalscorer in American soccer history. In total, he netted 530 goals in the A-League, MISL, NPSL, US Open Cup, and MASL, earning multiple MVPs and accolades across a career that spanned four different decades. But those numbers only tell part of the story.

In 1999, he accomplished what many thought was impossible by scoring the goal that gave the Rochester Raging Rhinos the most important US Open Cup trophy in the competition’s 109-year history. To date, that’s the only time a non-first division team has won the cup since MLS entered the competition.

Leading into the 25th anniversary of that memorable title, we met with Doug to look back at his storied career, the golden era of soccer in Rochester, and the run that cemented the Raging Rhinos as the team of the century.



We met Doug on the sidelines of a U-12 match. You could hear him shout instructions all the way in the parking lot, delivered with the same intensity that characterized his masterful playing days. And his young pupils could play too. They ended up upsetting one of the best teams in the area 3-2. As we well knew going into it, he’s no stranger to manifesting David vs Goliath storybook endings. After all, that’s the theme of his whole career.

“It all started when I was seventeen,” he says. “A buddy of mine asked if I wanted to go to the Olympic Festival Tryouts at Rutgers, and I had no idea what it was, but I still showed up. Everybody was older than me, and it was intimidating,” he remembers.

Up to that point, Doug had been playing for local soccer clubs in Succasunna, NJ, and he’d also had a pretty successful varsity soccer career individually – even if his high school only won ten games in four years. What chances could he really expect at those tryouts?

“My experience playing soccer up until that time was very sheltered. I remember going to play with the state select team at the time, and it was a shock. Everybody else was out there with Copas, and they just had a swagger about them. I was able to run faster and score many goals, but I was so immature. You’d see players like John Harkes, Tab Ramos, Tony Meola, and all these other guys who played at a high level were just so much more seasoned at that age than me,” he says.

At the Olympic tryouts, though, Doug would get his first chance to start carving a real path in soccer. He caught the eye of Loyola College during that weekend, and the door finally opened to start competing at a higher level.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Peter Vermes ended up transferring from Loyola to Rutgers, and that’s what opened up a spot for me to get a full scholarship. I was planning on going to community college, but I was fortunate enough to get that scholarship, go to Loyola, and start competing in D1.”

That twist of fate was all Doug needed. During his time at Loyola, he’d start perfecting the craft that led him to become the prolific striker everyone got to know in the pros.

“During my second year, all I did was work on my left foot – finishing, dribbling, and driving balls. I became a more complete player, and I think that was my first big jump. I went from being really immature to turning into a man who was going to play this game seriously.”

At Loyola, his list of accolades grew. He was the top player in his conference, and in 1991, he finished as the 10th top goalscorer in the whole country. Still, he didn’t get invited to the College All-Star Game – an ideal opportunity for young players to springboard themselves into the pros.

“Again, it all happened at the last minute. I got a phone call from my coach asking me if I wanted to go out to Kansas City to the game, and I just said, ‘Sure, when do I leave?’ They told me I had to fly out the next day, so I just got on a plane and went to the game. It was another instance of stepping into something that I wasn’t prepared for. I wasn’t originally supposed to be there. I showed up at the hotel, and nobody knew who I was. Everyone got their jerseys in the locker room, and they didn’t have one for me. So I took that and harnessed it.”

Doug ended up playing and scoring the game-winning goal. The very next day, he was the number one pick for the Kansas City Comets in the MISL Draft. Everything was going according to plan, but the tumultuous state of soccer at the time would deal him an unexpected card.

“The team folded almost as soon as I got there,” he says.

It was a shocking blow, but Doug was soon picked up by the Baltimore Blast. One season later, the whole league folded, and he was once again left in limbo. He’d end up joining the Harrisburg Heat of the NPSL, and he’d drive two hours from school to train and play with the club. Anything to keep his dream of playing pro alive.

“I remember saying to my dad, ‘Man, why am I doing this? I’m sleeping on couches, maybe making a little bit of money, but I haven’t taken any major steps in my life.’ I was ready to go back to New Jersey, but he just encouraged me to keep going. Cleveland Crunch had just sent me an offer, and my dad told me to just go and see how it went. Maybe I’d win a championship.”

Those two years in Cleveland ended up being his most successful up to that point, winning two NPSL championships, and catching the eye of the Rochester Raging Rhinos. In 1996, they swiftly signed him, and it’d kick off one of the greatest American soccer stories of the ‘90s.

“It was the perfect storm,” he says with a tinge of nostalgia in his voice.

And it really was. The city’s long history with soccer, and the immigrant communities that made up the fabric of the town, were itching for the return of the beautiful game to Rochester. It’d been years since they’d had a club, and the arrival of the A-League [second division at the time] Rhinos satisfied that longing for professional soccer right at home.

“Me and a few guys from Cleveland had signed in May of 1996. There were huge expectations, especially from us just having won a championship in Cleveland. They’d brought in marquee players to catapult this team, and it just wasn’t happening. We didn’t win a single one of our first eight games.”

That would all change on July 12th, 1996, when the Raging Rhinos opened up the brand-new Frontier Field. It was an inflection point for the team, the city, and Doug himself.

“There were 14,700 people at the game,” he remembers. “We were playing Montreal, who’d won the championship the previous year, and we went down 2-0 early.”

In one of those divine moments that the sport likes to hand out once every blue moon, Doug scored a hat trick to turn the score around and give the Rhinos the win.

“There’s a picture of me somewhere running with my shirt off as the crowd celebrated with me. I get goosebumps just thinking about that. It was euphoric.”

From that game on, the Rhinos went on an 18-game unbeaten streak, which they rode all the way to the A-League Final and the US Open Cup Final. Doug also scored 19 goals in 13 games during that run. It was almost the perfect start for this brand-new club.

“We played against Valderrama’s Tampa Bay Mutiny, and then we met DC United in the final. We were fortunate enough to have a lot of home games in the Open Cup because we were bringing in 14,000 people every game. Whenever most teams came to our stadium, it was like the game was over before it even began, We would go out like lunatics, and just hammer our opponents,” he says.

Unfortunately, after the Open Cup Final was postponed by a couple of weeks, Doug and most of his teammates were already playing in their indoor seasons, which meant they’d have to face DC United with almost no training. They’d end up coming short of winning that year’s Open Cup, but they’d achieved something much greater. They’d lit the fuse of soccer in Rochester, and the next three years would see the sport reach a fever pitch in the city. And it’d ultimately catapult them to glory just a few years later.

“We were ahead of our time with the Rhinos,” he mentions. “For the city, it just felt like soccer was finally back. I don’t know what the expectation was from the ownership going into it, but everything just exploded. We were on billboards, they made a credit card with my picture on it, and we were on Kodak Kodagram cards – it was crazy. My now-wife and I would go out and people would be coming up to me in the middle of restaurants for autographs. We would be doing paid appearances, we’d get watches, everything. We were treated like rock stars. The community just embraced us as their own.”

It was a special number of years for Doug. He met his wife and got married, he started coaching in the city, and he racked up MVPs and trophies while playing both indoor and outdoor year-round. And it all led up to the greatest championship run of all. The 1999 US Open Cup.

“We were David vs Goliath,” Doug says proudly. “We were always the underdog because we weren’t in MLS, but none of us felt any lesser. Our players, our coaching staff, and all of us had the quality to compete at the highest level. And we did.”

That year, they faced the Chicago Fire, Dallas Burn, Columbus Crew, and the Colorado Rapids on the way to the title. Not only was it an uphill battle for the Rhinos, but it was also a redemption arc for Doug.

“It’s probably one of the most legendary runs in the history of the US Open Cup. For me, personally, it meant so much. I had signed a year-round deal to play indoor in Buffalo, so I didn’t really know how things were gonna go with the Rhinos. The coach and I didn’t really see eye to eye, so the thought was that I would just be a reserve player. They’d just bring me on if they ever needed me late in the game. I wasn’t going to be a marquee player like I was in ‘96, ‘97, and ‘98,” he admits.

“In that whole run, I mostly used off the bench,” he says, “But I prepared every game as if I was going to start. Every time I got an opportunity, I wanted to show everybody that I could go and score goals,” he adds.

Heading into the final against the Colorado Rapids, his coach even told him he shouldn’t expect to play. It was a devastating decision, but again, Doug came through in a moment of adversity. He’d end up being the protagonist of one of the most important goals in US soccer history.

“The coach had told me I wasn’t going to play. But in the back of my mind, I prepared myself and just thought, ‘We’ll see who has the last laugh.’”

It’d been a fraught first half, and neither team had been able to break through.

“I could see our coach just looking down the bench in my direction,” remembers Doug. “I knew my time was going to come.”

Finally, Doug stepped on the field in the 62nd minute, and less than five minutes later, he scored the game-winning goal. It sealed the greatest upset in the modern era of the US Open Cup.

“For me, it was redemption,” he says. “It was that feeling of ‘You can knock me down, but when I get back up, I’m going to help my teammates win.’”

To this day, it’s the only time a non-first-division team has won the trophy since MLS came onto the scene.

“We went through every MLS team possible, and there were no other teams at a higher level who could say we didn’t beat them. At the time, though, it felt just like any other championship I had won in my career. I was fortunate to have won many titles in the 90s, so it didn’t immediately feel like we were the best team in the country,” he admits.

“Now, 25 years later, I do look back and say, ‘Yeah, we were the best team in the country.’ And I had a major part to play in that too. It just makes you feel good to look back at that accomplishment. It made a lot of people happy and that’s really the most important thing. All of us, and the people of Rochester, will never forget those moments.”

The Raging Rhinos ended the century as the top team in America, and Doug had been crucial to lifting that trophy. Even though he intended to re-sign with the club, the call from the front office never came.

Over the next couple of seasons, he played for the Buffalo Blizzard in NPSL and the Hershey Wildcats of the A-League, before making a triumphant return to Rochester in 2003. That season, he once again earned All-Star honors – as he’d done all throughout the ‘90s – and he finished second in the league in scoring.

In 2005, Doug announced his retirement, and he bowed out in style by scoring the last-ever goal the Rhinos netted at Frontier Field. Fittingly, he was the one to first score a goal at that storied ground in 1996, and he was the one to give it a proper send-off that day. By all accounts, it would’ve been the perfect fairytale end to his career, but Doug found a way to outdo himself yet again.

“It was a very emotional time,” he admits. “My kids were young, and my wife sacrificed so much for me. Whether I was playing soccer, coaching, or selling insurance, she was my rock. I knew how much she had done for our family, and it was the right time for me to step away from the game. At the time, my coaching program at Doug Miller Soccer was also starting to take off, and things were going well selling insurance. But the flame in my belly wasn't completely out.”

In 2011, Doug came out of retirement to play for the Rochester Lancers in what turned out to be an incredible stint.

“I was the first player that the Lancers signed, and I was MVP of the league at 44 years old. I also broke every scoring record there was in the new era of the MISL, which was amazing. I got to say I was MVP in three different decades and just continued to score goals.”

Later on in his 50s, Doug came out of retirement once more to play in two games in 2020 before the pandemic. It made him the first American soccer player to play in four different decades – a testament to his dedication to the game and his natural ability to sniff out goals.

“It takes a toll on the body, though, so I think that was really my last game,” he says with a laugh.

As we sit in his home after that U-12 match he coached, it’s tough not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of everything he accomplished. For hours, we sift through boxes and boxes of memorabilia from his playing days – jerseys, his first professional check, signed soccer balls, trophies, and old photos. In a little box, sits the 1999 Open Cup championship ring next to a few of his other ones from the multiple titles he’s earned.

With everything going on with the Open Cup this year, the conversation turns back to what he thinks about most MLS teams pulling out from the competition. After all, he was part of the only non-MLS team to have won the cup during the modern era, so it’s a question that begs answering.

“I think the magic of the Open Cup will always be there no matter what,” he says. “Any championship that you win at the professional level has magic to it. If the MLS first teams aren’t going to be playing in there, does it put a little bit of a question mark on it? Yes, per se, but that’s their choice. I don’t think the value of the Open Cup is going to change for the clubs who actually want to participate,” he states.

“If MLS chooses not to have their first teams play in the Open Cup, the Open Cup doesn’t lose its value. It’s a championship. If you choose to put your second team in, that’s your choice. That’s on you. The Open Cup will never lose its esteem and its value because it’s our cup – America’s cup. Back in ‘99, MLS would have liked to have made an excuse when we beat all of their teams. But they couldn’t. The Open Cup itself, if you win it, you’ll get a ring and you’ll make history. No one can ever take that away from you,” he concludes.

It’s a satisfying answer from someone who made an undeniable mark in the history of our sport in the US.

When it comes to whether he thinks anyone will repeat the Raging Rhinos’ incredible feat, he humbly says that even though it will be tough, “records are always meant to be broken.”

It’s a nice sentiment and one that he probably shares when it comes to all the other records he holds too. In a way, you can tell that the fire to compete still burns brightly, except he’s now channeling it to mold the next generation of history makers.

“When I started Doug Miller Soccer to coach kids in all these different communities, people thought I was Looney Tunes, but I knew I was doing something important. It was my way to give back and pass on everything I learned. If you live with the desire to be your best, determination to work hard, and dedication to never quit – you’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish. I try to instill that in everyone I coach because, at the heart of it, that’s what they’ll need to be successful in whatever they pursue in life” he says.

It’s a powerful message and a great nugget of wisdom for the road. Before saying our goodbyes, though, we get a few final photos of Doug and his family. They’ve been crucial to his success, and he emphasizes that they’re just as responsible for the historic soccer journey he embarked on.

“My wife and my kids sacrificed a great deal over my soccer career. They were my rock through it all. And it was special that at different points they were all involved with the Rhinos or the Lancers. It turned it into a family affair. I didn’t know it at the time, but now I see that my wife is the reason I went to Rochester. We met there. They were my biggest achievement,” he says.

“It’s good to reminisce,” he adds. “God puts us places, and when we look back we can connect all the dots. The MVPs are great, and the rings are great – no one can take those from you. But the most rewarding part has been to share it with my family.”

“It makes all the accomplishments, failures, and amazing experiences that much more meaningful.”

Photography by: Gabriel Bayona Sapag