By Michael Lewis
The Rochester Lancers and Lady Lancers will return to their respective leagues next year, although their owner doesn’t know where they will play.
As it turns out, it will be up to a third soccer team to determine that — the Rochester Rhinos.
The Rhinos, who are on hiatus while their owners Wendy and Dworkin will make a decision on whether the team will return to the United Soccer League. The Dworkins are expected to make a decision in September.
If the Rhinos return, Lancers patriarch Soccer Sam Fantauzzo said his teams would play at Marina Auto Stadium, which they called home this past year. If they don’t, the Lancers most likely will return to Aquinas Institute, which they called home in 2016.
“Are the Rhinos coming back in USL Pro? Are they going to come back in a different level? Are the Rhinos going to move to a stadium somewhere else? Are they going to build a stadium somewhere else? I don’t know,” Fantauzzo said on his radio show, Kick This! Saturday morning. “There’s a lot going on behind closed doors.
“People wonder what’s going to happen to the Lancers. I told the Dworkins that if they renewed their lease, we would stay at the stadium and if they don’t, the outdoor Lancers and the Lady Lancers … if they move or build a stadium somewhere else, it’s probably not going to happen in time for our season. So we’ll probably go back to Aquinas. That’s all I really know.”
For the past two seasons, the Lancers played in the National Premier Soccer League and the Lady Lancers performed in United Women’s Soccer. Lady Lancers midfielder Brooke Barbuto earned UWS MVP honors this past campaign.
Fantzuzzo put to rest any talk or speculation that the Lancers would try to operate the stadium if the Dworkins decide not to renew the Rhinos’ release with the City of Rochester.
“I’m not in a position and I don’t think my partners would like to take on the risks and the headaches of a stadium,” he said. “It’s a big monster, man. It’s not like running a little pizza shop. Running a stadium of that magnitude and that size is a fulltime, major financial commitment and time commitment, something that someone who is close to retirement has no desire to do. So, that’s not going to happen for me.
“Maybe someone else out there in Monroe County wants to get involved with the Rhinos and save the stadium … if the Dworkins don’t. We hope to hear from the Dworkins soon on that.”
Fantauzzo said no decision on whether the indoor Lancers would return to the Major Arena Soccer League would be made until after the Dworkins’ decision.
“Indoor Lancers, people are saying, ‘What’s going on?’ ” Fantauzzo said. “I think it’s only fair to give the Rhinos and the Dworkins their fair time right now to work out their issues with the city, the stadium and the league, USL Pro and then we’re going to decide what we’re going to do.”
As for outdoors, Fantauzzo said he was staying with the NPSL for the men’s team.
“I think MLS is so on its game right now,” he said. “Every other league to me is the same. I don’t think the NPSL or the USL Pro is any different in the quality of play, the style of play. I like the NPSL. I think it’s a safer formula for me. I like the development of it. Two of our players are going to MASL this coming season. So that makes me happy.”
Fantauzzo concluded: “Right now, we don’t know what’s going to happen with the Rhinos, but we have the Lancers. If you’re looking for an outdoor soccer fix, the Lancers will be here next season. If the Rhinos are here, the Lancers will be supportive as possible with the understanding that they’re division one and we’re division two or three. So we get it. The Lady Lancers are the only women’s team in town and they’re exciting to watch.”