Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 9/3/2018 (752 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With only minutes left in the biggest game of his life, Tony Nocita found himself in the locker room with blood dripping down his face.
It took just four minutes to stitch him up, but it felt like an eternity, knowing his team was down a man in the waning moments of the championship game.
It was the 1992 Canadian Soccer League final. Nocita, a Winnipeg native, had a rare opportunity to win a professional sports championship for his hometown. Nocita and the Winnipeg Fury were looking to upset the defending four-time league champions, the Vancouver 86ers.
After defeating the 86ers in Winnipeg in the first game of the series by a score of 2-0, the Fury were in great shape heading into Vancouver for the final game. As long as Vancouver didn’t win by two goals, Winnipeg would be crowned CSL champions.
Despite the tough odds, Vancouver was confident, and understandably so. They were defending champs, and in the six-year history of the CSL, Winnipeg had never won a game in Vancouver. In fact, during the ‘92 regular season, Winnipeg was blown out by the 86ers in Vancouver twice by scores of 5-0 and 6-0.
"When that final was going on, Vancouver was so convinced that they were going to win that they had champagne on carts and they wheeled it into the Vancouver dressing room with the anticipation of them winning," said Nocita, who spent eight years on the Canadian national soccer team.
Vancouver led 1-0 while Nocita was in the locker room getting sewn up, but they still needed another goal to tie the series on aggregate. With time running out, Nocita saw the bubbly brigade in a hurry to cover their tracks.
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"I could see the staff of the Vancouver team starting the move all the champagne into the hallway because they figured it wasn’t a sure thing anymore. They were leaving it in the middle of the hallway because they figured it might be ours," said Nocita, who played in the CSL for its entire six-year existence.
As it turns out, the corks were popped in the Winnipeg locker room; shortly after Nocita checked back into the game, team captain Steve Millar scored in the final three minutes to tie the game and clinch the title and it accompanying hardware, the Mita Cup. The victory made Winnipeg the permanent home of the trophy; it was the final game in CSL history. It sits behind glass at the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame museum.
"In the end, when we walked into the change room after we won — I’ll never forget — we didn’t care about drinking the champagne, we just wanted to pop all the bottles," said Nocita. "It was about an hour after the victory, there was at least three quarters of an inch of champagne all across the change room. it was like a puddle. We didn’t care, we thought they shouldn’t have thought they were going to win so easily."
It was an incredible turnaround for the Fury, who posted a dismal 4-18-6 record the previous season. It was a storybook ending for the franchise and something that Nocita still can’t believe he was a part of.
"It was one of those moments that you can never ever forget. The best part about that was realizing how many people back home would be happy about it," said Nocita, who stays involved in soccer as coach the FC Winnipeg Lions. "There’s a part of me that wishes I could have been in a bar back home watching the game, but of course I’ll take being on the field every time."
Taylor Allen Reporter
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
Hall Call is a weekly podcast series hosted by Taylor Allen that shares the stories of local sport icons by interviewing members of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
Taylor will talk to a new member every week, with a story featured in the Saturday edition of the Winnipeg Free Press and an hour-long podcast interview. The series can be found online at wfp.to/hallcall. You can also visit the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame inside the Sport for Life Centre building located at 145 Pacific Ave.
To hear more about Tony Nocita's career, including what it feels like to play for your hometown team, the early struggles of the Winnipeg Fury, his favourite memories from playing on the Canadian national team, playing at the 1989 FIFA Futsal World Cup, the current state of soccer in Canada and much more — listen to the podcast.