By Michael Lewis
If Rochester is awarded a team in the National Independent Soccer Association, primary owner David Weaver has several priorities for his club.
* The team will play at Marina Auto Stadium in downtown Rochester, N.Y., the former home of the Rochester Rhinos.
* The franchise will use mostly local players.
* The club is gearing to start playing in 2022, although it has an option to kick off during the 2021 fall season.
* And the team will be named by the fans.
“For the past couple of decades, I always wanted to own a professional soccer team and here it was,” Weaver said on the “Soccer is a Kick in the Grass” radio show Monday night. “It was happening in front of me. It was unbelievable.”
Weaver, CEO and founder of Aphex BioCleanse Systems Inc., which is headquartered in that city and with manufacturing facilities in Port Richey, Fla., has applied to join the third division league.
One of the earliest “wins” for Rochester Pro Soccer Club LLC was securing the stadium.
“We got the city to commit to use the stadium downtown, which I thought was critical to the whole success of our application,” he told co-hosts Andrew Battisti and Joe Sirianni
The Rhinos had called Marina Auto Stadium home until the USL Championship team went into hiatus after the 2017 season.
Weaver credited Dr. Todd Harrison, St. John Fisher Sports Management Dept. chair and associate professor, and Mark Washo, “whose got a ton of experience in the area of professional soccer going back a couple of decades,” in helping him securing the stadium and moving forward.
If the group’s application is accepted by the league, the club would be eligible to start next fall, but Weaver wanted to have all his ducks lined up in a row.
“From a organizational stand point, getting all the pieces in place, we felt it would be more advantageous for us to start in the spring of 2022,” he said. “That could change, but that’s where we think we’re going to start right now.”
NISA is split into two seasons – one for the spring, another for the fall. There is a several weeks break during the summer.
The NISA club might be playing in the same stadium as the Rhinos, but Weaver said that he planned to field a team that was diametrically opposed to the USL club. He wanted to use players from the Rochester area.
“Well, I think that one of the failings that I saw … in the way the Rhinos were operating, they brought in some nice talent, but they weren’t local,” he said. “I think people want to see players, quite frankly. That means we need to have a good development program here locally to bring up the youth soccer programs, youth players, make them capable to jump into a third division. And my goal is to see the team stacked with local talent, to be honest with you.”
Another goal is to give the local soccer community an opportunity to name the club. Weaver still has to make a formal presentation to the NISA board of directors. If the application is accepted, one of the first things the club would have a name the team contest.
“We want local participation creating the name for the club,” he said.
How Weaver got involved with a professional soccer team seemingly came by accident. He said he had “a chance meeting” with Washo, a soccer executive with several professional soccer clubs. Washo, the Chief Business Officer of the Rhinos and Marina Auto Stadium from 2016-19, was named the club’s managing director and Chief Commercial Officer. He also has worked with D.C. United in its inaugural 1996 Major League Soccer season, and has held senior front office positions with the NY/NJ MetroStars (now the Red Bulls) and Chicago Fire (both MLS) and the Washington Freedom and Washington Spirit in women’s pro soccer.
“We were talking about his expertise in marketing sales,” Weaver said. “I said to Mark, ‘What’s going on with soccer in Rochester?’ He brought me up to speed very quicky. I said well, in a few minutes, I said why don’t we go forward. He said there’s big requirements and this and that. I said I think I would meet them all so why don’t we try. That got us started.”
Weaver was attracted to NISA, which allows teams to have the freedom to operate on how they see fit.
“There’s a lot more demands on a second division team,” he said, referring to the Rhinos. “In the NSIA league, there’s just a lot of freedom to do things that you may want to do in getting started. Its the revival of professional men’s soccer in Rochester. It totally makes sense to me. I said that to Mark and Todd several times. The entry for me would be at the third division NISA level.”
His resume might say businessman, but Weaver is also a soccer man, having officiated games for some 30 years at all levels of the game. He is a New York State Emeritus soccer referee and former youth soccer administrator.
Like many soccer executives, he started out as a fan, watching the Rochester Lancers play at old Holleder Stadium in the seventies. In fact, Weaver remembered watching the great Pele and the Cosmos perform there. The present-day Cosmos compete in NISA.
“I think the stadium was rocking so much I had a fear the concrete was going to collapse,” he said. “It was an old stadium. That was thrilling. That’s what i want to see come back here to Rochester. I want to see that kind of excitement.”
If the application is accepted, NISA will give Rochester year soccer. Depending on how what transpires with the COVID-19 pandemic, a NISA spring season could run from February/March through May/June. After a break, the season could resume and run from July/August and through October/November.
The outdoor Lancers team competes in the amateur National Premier Soccer League from May through July, as do the Lady Lancers in United Women’s Soccer.
The indoor Lancers also play in the Major Arena Soccer League, which usually runs from November/December through the beginning of May, although the 2020-21 season could kick off in late December or January due to the pandemic.