Salvatore “SoccerSam” Fantauzzo is the owner of the Rochester Lancers.
By Salvatore “SoccerSam” Fantauzzo
Special to FrontRowSoccer.com
Soccer fans, I’ve been doing this crazy soccer thing since 1980. Most of my friends have normal hobbies. Mine is promoting the game of soccer. I fell in love with the game in 1970 going to my first NASL Lancers game. I lived with the pain of the original Lancers and Rochester Flash folding and I regretted not helping to save them.
I played soccer all my life and in 1980 I was asked to take over the IFSL adult soccer league. My wife Linda and I ran the league for 20 years and that’s when the addiction started. I saw the joy the sport gave to so many and the lifelong friendships the game brought. Players that missed their chance at stardom shinned in the IFSL. Former Lancers and Flash legends played some bonus years in that great league.
In 1993 I started testing soccer on this new thing called cable TV. At first it was the IFSL All-Star games and soon we covered a tournament in Italy that changed my life. I was watching a soccer show while in Italy and the host was wearing crazy clothes and his wacky character attracted my attention. I knew that’s what American soccer needed.
Soon the SoccerSam character was developed with the hope to get non-traditional soccer fans to watch my weekly TV show. I soon brought the same character to radio in 1995. I used my TV and radio shows to help promote local soccer, Buffalo Blizzard and the new Rochester Rhinos. I immediately saw the affect this new exposure had on the fans and players. Producing weekly TV and radio shows was now part of my soccer hobby.
I was fortunate to be part of the Rhinos from 1996-2009, Soccer Town USA with championships and record crowds. I traveled the country covering the Rhinos and studying what worked and didn’t work in several cities. My role changed several times throughout the years with the Rhinos and I had the privilege to work with some of the greatest owners, players, fans and staff members this sport has ever seen.
In the late summer of 2009, I took a break from the Rhinos and soccer. I lost 200 pounds and more but didn’t lose my passion for indoor soccer and in 2011 the indoor Lancers joined the Major Indoor Soccer League. Several of my long time Rhinos friends joined me and we enjoyed great crowds at the Blue Cross Arena for four amazing seasons. We led the league in attendance and workmen’s comp claims. So, we took a break after the 2015 season.
I was going nuts without being part of a team and in 2017 the outdoor Lancers returned to play with two teams, the Lady Lancers United Women’s Soccer team, and men’s National Premier Soccer League team. Again, I brought my Rhinos and indoor Lancers friends along for the ride. We had great crowds for both teams. Our Lady Lancers is the only women’s soccer team in town and after the Rhinos folded our NPSL Lancers were the only men’s team left in Rochester N.Y.
Indoor soccer is my true passion. I fell in love with this game in the 70’s watching the original Lancers play in the first ever indoor soccer tournament. In the 80’s and 90’s I traveled around the country supporting the Buffalo Stallions and Blizzard. My 2011-2015 indoor Lancers was a very special time for me. Each home game was a party, and our away games was an adventure. I met the greatest players, fans, staff members and lifelong friends during this amazing era.
In 2018, I had the opportunity to return to the great game of indoor soccer and the Lancers joined the M2 league. Some of the newbies call my sport arena soccer but it will always be indoor soccer! Our indoor Lancers returned with six sold-out games at the new Dome Arena and a wild playoff run through Chicago and Los Angeles. Again, the same cast of crazies joined me for this kickin’ great ride.
In the 2019 offseason our M2 indoor Lancers experienced several league changes. We soon had the opportunity to return to the major leagues and join the Major Arena Soccer League. The league had grown to 17 teams in three countries. I decided to bring the team back but only on my terms and beliefs, 100 percent local players that would learn the game and stay grounded to my team and city. I want local youth players to have local role models and fall in love with this sport like I did in 1970.
We had an amazing pre-COVID-19 indoor season in 2020. Again, we had sellout crowds at the Dome Arena and our fans witnessed our local Lancers playing against some of the greatest teams and players in the sport. Our final home game of 2020 was extra special with the Gary Boughton retirement game and huge victory against the Kansas City Comets. Our indoor season was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic and our outdoor season was cancelled for the NPSL men’s team and our UWS women’s team.
In December 2020 two Lancers legends and Wall of Famers (Doug Miller and Jeremy Ortiz) represented us in the first MASL All-Star game in Kansas City. I was honored to be the honorary captain for the East side and doing the kickoff to indoor legend Leo Gibson was extra special.
This year – 2020 – is my 40th year trying to promote a sport I love as a hobby. It kills me when family and friends don’t support my teams as I usually put them on a special list. The whole youth soccer market has changed, and few coaches see the importance of bringing teams to games. The Rochester media is now stuck in Buffalo and we get no coverage. That makes me want to do this even more. No media, no family and friends, minimal support from youth soccer and we still sell out the Dome each game thanks to my Dream Team!
During this 40-year run I’ve had some amazing times helping the Buffalo Blizzard, Rochester Rhinos, our women’s national team playing the Ravens, MLS teams visiting Rochester, Western New York Flash, my indoor Lancers, Team Brazil and most recently the Orlando Seawolves. I appreciate all the amazing people that helped me over the years with my crazy hobby and I hope kids throughout the country and Rochester continue to.
Feel The Kick For Life! SS