Brooke Barbuto said that leaving Rochester was a difficult decision. (Photo courtesy of the Rochester Lady Lancers)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Brooke Barbuto returns to action in United Women’s Soccer when the Rochester Lady Lancers host Syracuse Development Academy in both teams’ season opener, although she won’t be wearing the colors you might think.

Barbuto, the reigning league MVP and a dynamic player with the Lady Lancers in 2018, will play for Syracuse in the team’s first game at Charles A. Schiano Field at Aquinas Stadium in Rochester, N.Y. Sunday at 2 p.m.

“I think it will be great,” Barbuto said in a recent interview. “Anytime the teams will play each other here on out will be a little bit of a local rivalry, similar to the indoor MASL [Major Arena Soccer League] when Rochester played Syracuse a lot of the fans would travel. I don’t anticipate our league having as many fans do the commute. However, I think it will be a great local rivalry and having a connection that coaches can work with.”

While she might sound like a traitor, there is a good reason why. Barbuto was born and raised in Syracuse and her daytime job just happens to be in the Central New York City. He also is the assistant women’s coach at SUNY-Cortland, which is 33 miles south of Syracuse.

Leaving the Lady Lancers “was definitely a tough decision,” said Babuto, who also was an assistant coach with the team. “I have nothing but really good things to say about Rochester and say about the experience I had there and the players, coaching staff and the administrative staff.”

But let’s face it, it is easier to commute to your job when it’s a half hour away at the most, rather than a 160-mile roundtrip via the New York State Thruway.

“I don’t live in Rochester, so the commute was tough,” Barbuto said. “I was obviously coaching youth sports. I wasn’t there as much as I would have liked to be and as much as I would have enjoyed being there and being able to help and practice and form better bonds with my teammates.”

Michael Paolini, who is the head girls coach at Syracuse DA, was Barbuto’s youth coach for six years. Now, she works for him.

“He’s my boss,” she said. “Similar to what I said about Rochester, I have nothing but great things to say about him. He’s literally created endless amount of opportunities for me, gotten me involved in the club game and a great reference and mentor for me in the college game, just helping me become a better coach and helping me to create references and resources.

“So when they were joining, knowing that I coached youth soccer in Syracuse, I thought what a great opportunity for me for the girls I mentor, the younger players going to their practice, helping and be a positive role model and have the ability for them to see me play. What a great opportunity to create something in Syracuse and really be a positive role model for the younger generation. It’s something like put a lot of time and thought into. I thought it would help my connection with the younger players, help them realize that all the hard work and dedication that I put in, that the things I expect from them, I put in myself. So, holding myself to the same standards that I hold them to.”

After playing four years in Finland and Iceland, Barbuto decided to continue her soccer journey. She admitted that she did not know what to expect of the UWS when she joined Rochester.

“It had been so long since I played in a league in the U.S.,” she said. “I went into it with no expectations. I just went into it knowing that I would do everything I could to help myself, perform to the best of my ability and help my team.”

Then came the team’s opening match against the New England Mutiny on a rainy night in East Longmeadow, Mass. and Barbuto was convinced the league was for real.

“They were a great team,” she said. “The speed of play was unbelievable. Pouring rain. Definitely a competitive game. Both teams went out there, willing to fight, willing to compete and leave everything on the field. From that game on, this wasn’t a joke. Tis league definitely was a stepping-stone. I realized how good the league was. … The quality is a very good quality.”