By Michael Lewis
The Rochester Lancers have a plan to return to action next year.
It is far from ideal as at least a dozen indoor soccer games will have to played on the road. But the team will compete in the Major Arena Soccer League in 2021.
The Lancers’ home venue, the Dome Arena in suburban Henrietta, N.Y. probably could not be used, at least in February and March, given the state’s current restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan, which needs to be approved by the Major Arena Soccer League board of directors, is to play six matches in February. The first two games would be played on Super Bowl weekend. The NFL championship game is set for Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Sunday, Feb. 7.
“Hopefully Florida first,” Lancers owner Salvatore “SoccerSam” Fantauzzo told co-hosts Andrew Battisti and Joe Sirianni on the Soccer is a Kick in the Grass radio show Monday night. “We’re trying to we’re trying to arrange [it for] Super Bowl weekend for the obvious reasons to be there, not only for Rochester, Buffalo fans but fans all over the country that used to be Lancer fans.”
Rochester would play the Florida Tropics, one of the leading MASL teams during the 2019-20 season.
“We’ll be right up the street from Lakeland, Fla.,” Fantauzzo said. “Hopefully, you know, supporting the bills or supporting whatever NFL team they like. They could come and support us, Saturday night, and then Monday night in Lakeland, Fla.”
The Lancers also hope to play back-to-back matches at the Kansas City Comets and at the St. Louis Ambush later in the month.
They will continue on the road for three weekends in March at Eastern Division opponents – twice at Utica City FC, twice at the Baltimore Blast and twice at the Harrisburg Heat. That would give the Lancers 12 games, the minimum needed for a team to qualify for the MASL playoffs, according to this season’s unique rules.
“I’m hoping by then King Cuomo comes to his senses, opens things up, and then we can hopefully either play 12 more games at the Dome Arena or our playoff games at the Dome Arena,” Fantauzzo said, referring to New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“That is my game plan. I’m hoping that it all comes true.”
Fantauzzo said the Lancers cannot figure out how to make the Dome Arena safe, particularly the difference between the venue’s aisles.
“Our aisles are as wide as the aisles of Walmart or Target or Wegmans,” he said. “So, to do it safely would be a challenge, the concessions would be challenge, the rest rooms would be a challenge in getting your away players to the arena. We walk through the crowd basically. That would be a challenge.”
The MASL is considering completing the regular season near the end of April.
“That’s why I want to get my games out of the way, February, March at least the 12, then hopefully by April, things open up in New York State,” Fantauzzo said. “We could have fans come to our games, and we could play 12 more games or six more games or three more games whatever games we need to hopefully make the playoffs.”
Fantauzzo added that head coach Doug Miller was really confident in his team, which returned to the MASL last year after competing in the M2 league during the 2018-19 campaign.
“These guys are ready to watch a lot of film,” Fantauzzo said. “I think you saw the improvement near the end of last year. The guys are going to be ready this year. I think it’s going to be fun year.”
Fantauzzo is the owner of Salvatore’s Old Fashioned Pizzeria, which has 29 locations in the greater Rochester area.
“Soccer is my passion, pizza is my business,” he said. “I’m trying to incorporate both.
“We don’t know if we’re going to have any home games, and without any home games that means no home sponsors. That means no season tickets no group tickets. So, we’re doing this for the good of keeping the game alive right now. We are going to make these trips. We’re going to fly to the cities. We’re playing back-to-back games, Friday-Sunday or Friday-Monday or Saturday-Monday, to save some costs with travel. But we’re doing it for the good of the game.
“I don’t forget what Joe Sirianni [former Lancers trainer and equipment manager] and all the original Lancers owners did to keep soccer live in Rochester that made me a nutcase made, Andrew a nutcase, make so many people fall in love with the game. You guys sacrifice so much. That’s the least we could do right now to give back.”