Salvatore “SoccerSam” Fantauzzo, owner of the Rochester Lancers, loves the city of Rochester.
“My grandfather Charlie Oliveri brought his entire family from Sicily in 1953 and fell in love with Rochester N.Y.,” Fantauzzo said. “Grandpa Charlie instilled in all his grandkids that America was the greatest country in the world. ‘God Bless America’ was his daily phrase and he especially loved Rochester N.Y.”
When SoccerSam opened his first Salvatore’s Pizzeria in 1978, Grandpa Charlie’s words stuck in his head and from day one Salvatore’s only used products and equipment made in USA and if available, made in Rochester N.Y. Salvatore’s 30-plus pizza chain is rated among the top 100 pizza franchises in America and all their American and local-based products are delivered by Palmers Food Service, the oldest family run company in Rochester. Salvatore’s employs more than 1,600 Rochester-area residents.
One of Salvatore’s slogans is “The Family Born in Rochester NY & Proud of It.”
SoccerSam wanted to bring his local love for Rochester to the sport he loved. In the early days of the Rochester Rhinos he worked hard to promote local Rhinos players on his TV and radio shows. He fought hard for these local players to get a fair chance on the field.
“In the early days of the original NASL and our original Lancers only a few local or American players were given the chance to play and that killed me,” Fantauzzo said.
Local players now will get their chance to shine with the 2019-2020 Major Arena Soccer League first division indoor/arena team. The Lancers will keep 30 players on their roster. The majority of the players were born or are living in Rochester and Buffalo.
Not many, if any, first division teams in the USA can say that.
“It’s a dream come true for me to have local players guys get this amazing opportunity to develop in front of their family and friends,” Fantauzzo said.
The entire Lancers coaching staff lives in Rochester. Head coach Doug Miller has called Rochester home since 1996. He met his wife Kari while he was playing for the Rhinos and she was dancing for the Rhinos dance team. Both of their daughters dance for the Lancer Dancers that Kari coaches. Assistant coaches Adam Schwartz, John Berardicuri and Marc Soltile are Rochester-born local soccer legends.
The Lancers already have signed 20 players for this season. Jeremy Ortiz, a New Jersey resident, is the only player not born or living in the area. Ortiz is an original Lancers indoor player, having performed for the team that kicked off the club’s indoor venture in 2011.
“This is Sam’s dream and my staff, and I are working hard to find and develop 29 local guys with the talent that can compete and win at this level,” Miller said.
The Lancers business office also is operated by two Rochester area born and raised women — president Ashley Maria King and director of operations Kayla Klark Kent Morieria. Both attended area colleges and interned with Rochester-based soccer teams.
“All 20 of our Game Day staff team is born or raised in Rochester N.Y.,” King said. “The majority of our staff fell in love with the game watching the Rhinos, Ravens, Western New York Flash and our original indoor Lancers.”
Whether the Lancers can compete with 22-plus rookies who have never played in the MASL is yet to be determined. The Lancers open in St Catharine’s, Ontario, Canada against the MetroStars of Canada on Friday, Nov. 22 and play there again on Sunday, Nov. 24. They return home to the New Dome Arena for their 2019-20 home-opening weekend against Utica City on Nov. 29 and Harrisburg Heat on Saturday, Nov. 30. Both games kickoff at 7 p.m.
Fantauzzo believed that they can win a championship this season. The original team won the North American Soccer League title in their debut in 1970.
“Every team in the MASL, NPSL, UWS and other top soccer leagues in America have amazing local players from other cities or countries, the majority of our guys will be Monroe County residents and we must ‘Keep It Local Baby,’ ” SoccerSam said.