Frankie Ciliberto: “We know our strengths and we really think that the team we’ve got a team that can do very well this season and bring home a championship to Rochester and for the Lancers.” (Photo courtesy of the Lancers)

The Rochester Lancers players know what their top priority is in their return to indoor soccer.

It isn’t just to post wins.

It isn’t just to make the playoffs.

It is to win the whole enchilada in Major Arena Soccer League 2.

The players were reminded of that by owner SoccerSam Fantauzzo and head coach Jake Schindler before their season-opening road trip to the Muskegon Risers this past weekend.

“We have a strong team,” forward Frankie Ciliberto said on the Soccer is a Kick in the Grass radio show on Monday night. “The practice right before on Thursday, SoccerSam came by and talked to us and  Jake’s been instilling it into our heads the whole time the last few months of training that anything less than a championship is really a disappointment. That’s really the goal here. We know our strengths and we really think that the team we’ve got a team that can do very well this season and bring home a championship to Rochester and for the Lancers.”

The last time the Lancers competed in M2, they finished third nationally during the 2018-19 season.

They moved up to the Major Arena Soccer League in 2019-20 and won but once, in a season that was interrupted by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Combined with the fact it was difficult to get dates at its home venue, the Dome Arena, the team sat out the last few years.

Rochester decided to return to the great indoors this year and wound up kicking off their season with two games in Muskegon. The team won both encounters, a 6-3 victory on Friday and a 10-7 triumph on Saturday.

Just to be able to play indoor soccer again was important for Ciliberto, a member of the past two Lancers indoor squads.

“We’re back on the field and all the lights are going you got the music and they’re doing their announcements,” Ciliberto told co-hosts Andrew Battisti and Joe Sirianni. “I remember looking to one of my teammates as well. We’re back. It’s really exciting feeling. We got a lot of the original guys from back in 2019 and we’ve added a few more strong players. It was just a surreal moment, and I was very glad to be back on the field.”

It was almost three games between games for Ciliberto, who kept in shape by playing in the local amateur leagues.

“It’s a real time commitment and most of the guys on the team are fulltime in their career paths,” he said.  “Over the last few years, it’s just been playing in local leagues, men’s leagues. Myself and some of the other guys played for the outdoor Lancers, and some people have played for other indoor teams during this time period. But it’s a challenge and something you just got to be self-motivated to do, even if it’s not just playing in leagues or working out in the gym or just getting out in your neighborhood and going out for a run. But it’s all worth it to get back out on the arena and play some games.”

Indoor and outdoor soccer use a ball, but they are games diametrically opposed.

“Outdoor and indoor is on paper the same game but when it comes down to it, the players in an outdoor environment aren’t always your best indoor players because it’s so system based,” Ciliberto said. “It’s really a team sport because all it takes is one guy to not follow the system and team can counter really quick and goals can be scored against you.

“In the indoor game, the flow of the game is all dependent on how well you guys can control your system defensively in the zone or a man, or offensively running the correct runs for your position. Outside is a very creative game. There’s a lot more free movement. But mistakes and indoor games are a lot more costly than what you see in an outdoor game.”

Over last weekend, Rochester made fewer mistakes than the Risers and took advantage of the host team’s errors.

The Lancers shared the wealth in both matches as 10 players scored. Joey Tavernese recorded a hat-trick on Friday night before he had to rejoin Utica City FC for its MASL match against the Dallas Sidekicks on Saturday. Alex Harling, Vadim Cojovov and Schindler took over on Saturday, as each player recorded a brace.

It took a while for the Lancers to get going in its opener. After a scoreless first quarter, the teams played to a 1-1 halftime tie. Then the visitors exploded for five second-half goals. They added 10 some 24 hours later for 15 in a game and a half.

“I think it took us a little while to get into it on Friday,” Ciliberto said. “It was our first game out. You really saw the difference from the first night to the second. Our team we started finishing our opportunities. On Friday night, we had those opportunities, but we weren’t as clinical when it came to finishing.

“Seeing so many different guys on the score sheet especially the second night is very optimistic sign.”

The Lancers, however, will have to wait almost a month before it can score another goal. Rochester’s next two matches are set for Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the team will meet the Iowa Raptors on Feb. 4 and Iowa Demon Hawks on Feb. 5. The Lancers’ first home game is set for the end of next month, when they host the Demon Hawks in back-to-back games on Feb. 24 and 25.

“We’ve got training for the next month,” Ciliberto said. “I know Jake’s got some things he wants to work on. I know defensively we’re pretty strong. Offensively, we have some work to do to really nail down our offense and the flow of the game and creating more opportunities. I’m sure Jake’s got a long list of things that he wants to work on. And over the next three, four weeks, hopefully we can achieve that.”

And continue the team’s quest of winning a championship.

To listen to the radio show, visit:

https://www.soccerisakickinthegrass.com/