Joey Tavernese: “It’s a bit of an awkward weekend as I’m going be playing for Rochester but also playing against a team that I have an ownership stake in. So it’s an interesting one.” (Photo courtesy of the Rochester Lancers)
By Michael Lewis
When he takes the Alliant Energy Powerhouse field in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Saturday night, Joey Tavernese will wind up in the middle of one of the most unusual situations you can find in sports.
As a player-assistant coach with the Rochester Lancers, the 32-year-old forward will try to help his teammates defeat the Iowa Raptors in a Major Arena Soccer League 2 contest.
Nothing extraordinary about that.
But here’s the unique catch:
Tavernese is a part-owner of the Raptors as well.
That’s right. The Garden City, N.Y. native will try to score against and defeat the team in which he he is part owner and has invested.
But Tavernese knows where his heart will be.
“It’s a bit of an awkward weekend as I’m going be playing for Rochester but also playing against a team that I have an ownership stake in,” Tavernese said. “So it’s an interesting one.”
Indeed, it is.
Tavernese said he wanted to invest in only the youth end and real estate end of the Raptors, but that he needed to put his money into the entire organization.
Which he did.
“I will play with the Lancers because I’m signed on,” he said. “The Raptors were an investment. Once I invested in the company, that was a piece of it. So there was kind of, ‘Hey, I only want to know the real estate side and the youth program side. It didn’t really work like that. This is the business. If you buy in, you’re buying into everything that is under the umbrella.’ ”
Raptors general manager Gordy Gurson, who is Tavernese’s teammate on Utica City FC (MASL), which makes it even more intriguing.
Gurson has watched Taverense in games, in training and off the field. Taverense has recorded nine goals and three assists for Utica this season.
“Joey, he’s one heck of a player,” he said. “But on top of that, just his knowledge of the game is unreal. The guy watches film more than anybody I know. And I thought I watched a lot of film, and this guy is on top of the game watching four games three games at a time. I mean, he’s on another level with this league and for him to be able to give the opportunity to give back to younger players and players that are trying to grow in the league, I think is huge for him.
“I’m happy for him that he’s able to do that because I know Joey loves to give back even in Utica, he’s he’s here helping out the younger guys day in and day out and have respect for him for that. I’m excited to see the battle between Raptors and Rochester.”
Compared to his first weekend with the Lancers, this one seems like a vacation for Tavernese.
On Jan. 6, the 32-year-old forward played with Rochester that Friday night, recording a hat-trick in the team’s season-opening 6-3 win at the Muskegon Risers. He flew back to Utica, scoring twice in a 9-8 victory over the Empire Strykers on Saturday, as he was named third star of the match. Some 20 hours later on Sunday afternoon, he scored a goal as Utica dropped an 8-5 home decision to the Strykers. Tavernese has recorded nine goals and three assists for Utica this season.
“It’s a little bit less than my first weekend with the Lancers,” he said. “That was five travel days and three games. This weekend is a little bit less than that.”
After training with Utica on Friday morning, Feb. 3 Tavernese flew into Cedar Rapids, Iowa later in the day. Assuming he can get to the game on time, he will catch the Raptors’ women’s game later that day. Then he will suit up for the Lancers for their 7:30 p.m. ET game against the Raptors. Tavernese won’t stay for Sunday’s 3 p.m. contest against the Iowa Demon Hawks. Immediately after the Raptors match, he will drive 244 miles to Milwaukee for Utica’s Sunday 3 p.m. ET encounter against the Milwaukee Wave.
To say Tavernese is a busy person would be the understatement of the M2 season.
He lives in Syracuse, which is 46 miles west of Utica and 74 miles east of Rochester.
Man, the 5-9, 155-lb.Tavernese has made most of us look like a bunch of goldbricks.
Let Tavernese describe a typical day in his life:
“I get up and drive to Utica. I practice in Utica, which our practices are pretty lengthy. So I’m not getting back to Syracuse one-ish. I have other side hustles, jobs, investments that I’m involved in between my brother and things downstate where I’m from. So that’s kind of what takes up the middle portion of my day. I’m basically making phone calls, on the computer. I also run my own soccer program down there when I’m back in town.
“Then after I hang up with you, I’m actually driving to Rochester. I go to Rochester two to three times a week. I’m there every training session with the guys. Jake [Schindler, Lancers head coach] and I are always coming up with and scheming different things, whether it be basics of indoor trying to teaching. We have all local guys some who have played before, the majority haven’t.”
Playing for two teams in as many leagues, Taverense has obvious different responsibilities. With Rochester, he has to help Schindler on the bench and the team on the field. With Utica, he is focused on only one thing.
“I never liked the player-coach aspect of things, to be honest,” he said. “That’s why it’s much easier being assistant coach. It took me the first quarter just to get kind of an understand where we were playing. It’s not as structured obviously [as the MASL], because teams aren’t training seven days a week. It’s not fulltime pro. I had to navigate my way through how it was going to be played on our end while also trying to help Jake make changes on the fly and adapt and do different things with timeouts, the end of the quarter, halftime and so on.
“At the same time, I was trying to limit my minutes because I’m either playing two or three games in a weekend, so I really don’t want to be out there as much. I’m happy to let the other guys get more of a run, which they deserve. So, there’s a lot going through my head all in once. A lot of this year has been a learning curve on so many different levels.”
Especially since the Lancers and Utica City FC deploy different systems and Tavernese is used in different roles. With Utica he is a target man. When he dons the blue and gold shirt of the Lancers, he usually is the second forward.
“I’ve also got to realize I’m not playing the same system and style we’re playing at Utica, and I’ve got to switch my brain over to the system we’re playing in Rochester,” he said. “I’m trying to help the guys individually ad collectively and changing things on the fly during you know any breakage in the game we have. It’s somewhat difficult, but it is what it is.
“I’m a little bit more involved in the game in Rochester when I am on the field. In Utica, I’m a bit more battling for the ball and away the build-up. I’m more of on an island myself up there, waiting for how the play is going to develop through other teammates.”
If Taverense did play against the Raptors, Gurson was asked what he would do.
“Oh, I mean, I’m calling a couple of defenders in Iowa and I’m saying, ‘Just don’t lose your eye off this guy. You can’t wait a second, you blink. He’s at the back post score in a tap in,’ ” he said. “And those goals add up. The guy gets them from just being in the right spot. Those are clutch.”
Who knows? Perhaps Gurson and Taverense could wind up playing each other when the Raptors visit the Lancers for back-to-back games at the Total Sports Experience in East Rochester, N.Y. on March 24 and 25.
“If I’m at 100 percent and everything was working out with my schedule, of course that’s that’s my club,” Gurson said. “I’d do anything for them.”
As it turns out, Utica City plays at the Florida Tropics on March 26 at 3:05 p.m., so a Friday night matchup certainly wouldn’t be out of the question.
That certainly would make an interesting undercard.
“That’d be fun to do,” Gurson said.