Matt Sawaged: “We had that confidence. We had that motivation. It definitely paid off and showed on the field. ” (Photo courtesy of the Rochester Lancers)

By Michael Lewis Editor

OK, let’s get the dentist jokes out of the way.

Trying to defend Matt Sawaged is like pulling teeth.

Sawaged’s shot certainly has some bite to it.

And when Sawaged drills a shot toward the net, goalkeepers need to brace for it.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Sawaged is a dentist who just happens to play indoor soccer for the Rochester Lancers.

Sawaged is only days off his first hat-trick in a Lancers’ 9-6 win over the Iowa Demon Hawks last Friday as the team began its sweep the two Major Arena Soccer League 2 home games last weekend.

The two victories propelled Rochester to a 5-1-0 mark and 14 points midway through their 12-game regular season and into second place in the North Division, four points behind the Demon Hawks (6-3-1, 18). The Lancers have four games in hand on Iowa.

“We all knew that these were mandatory games for us to win,” Sawaged said on the Soccer is a Kick in the Grass radio show on Monday night. “Being almost a month behind the other teams when we started our season, we knew we needed to kick off strong. We had that confidence. We had that motivation. It definitely paid off and showed on the field. I’m really proud of the team for the results that we got this weekend.”

Sawaged entered Friday night’s encounter with one goal to his credit before he struck for three consecutive goals that turned a 2-1 edge into a 5-2 advantage early in the third quarter.

“It happened so fast,” he told co-hosts Andrew Battisti and Joe Sirianni. “I feel that every goal that we score is really a team effort. The way Jake [Schindler, head coach] has trained us and taught us how to play the game. This is my first time playing indoor soccer. We ended up playing as a team. It’s not really an individual sport. It’s such a tight game that you have to play quickly. So I feel like every goal was a build up with another teammate, and I ended up being in the right place at the right time.”

The son of a Cuban mother and Jordanian father, Sawaged started playing soccer at the age of six in Holmdel, N.J. He was talented enough that he played a New Jersey high school championship, for three New Jersey State Cup champions, two Region I titlists and winning one national crown.

Starting at the age of 10, it certainly didn’t hurt that Sawaged was trained by and played former U.S. men’s national team midfielder and National Soccer Hall of Fame member Tab Ramos at NJSA 04 Gunners, which helped him earn an athletic scholarship at Rutgers University.

He played his first two years in college, helping the Scarlet Knights to a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Division I tournament, before deciding to focus on another passion – dentistry. While attending dental school at the University of Maryland, Sawaged continued to play soccer, first with FC Frederick and then with Christos FC (both National Premier Soccer league). He recorded seven goals and three assists with the latter side before moving to Rochester to finish off his degree in orthodontics at the University of Rochester Eastman Institute for Oral Health.

Sawaged, 29, is completing his final year of residency.

“My life revolved around playing soccer and rapping,” he said on the Love It Not It blog in 2019. “I didn’t care much about school at the time because not even I thought I would grow up and go to dental school. It was never something that interested me, but here I am.”

What has made Sawaged’s story even more unique is his wife Maria also is a dentist, having secured her degree at Stony Brook University. The couple got married last summer.

“I’ll be the guy moving the teeth around, my wife, a pediatric dentist,” he said on the radio show. “We’re looking to get on our feet and build our hand skills. Eventually, the dream would be to open up our own practice, but that’s a couple years down the line. I’m definitely focused on finishing school and seeing where life takes me. But we’re really happy here in Rochester.”

Before joining the Lancers, Sawaged competed for the Roc City Boom in the United Premier Soccer League.

In contrast to the 15-goalfest on Friday night, Saturday night’s affair was a tight, defensive battle as the Lancers edged the Demon Hawks, 4-2. Sawaged did not score in that match, but he acquitted himself well when on defense, especially in the fourth quarter. That’s when Rochester shutout the visitors.

The 5-11, 164-lb. Sawaged played a more withdrawn role.

“I kind of found myself playing there,” he said. “It worked out that way; just the rhythm of the game and how it was going. It really was pretty tight game. I felt that we needed to play a little bit smarter. We did have the edge for a majority of the game. I felt that it was probably more important to defend our net at certain points. I found myself falling back and helping the defenders out. But if I had a chance to score, I would have definitely taken it. just unfortunately didn’t get it on Saturday.”

The Lancers held Iowa forward Bruno Henrique, who has collected 16 goals and 11 assists, to only one goal; certainly not an easy feat. They accomplished that by double-teaming the lethal finisher.

“He’s a great player,” Sawaged said. “Their whole team is extremely tactical, great footwork. They play amazing as a team they almost make it look like a dance; how some of the Brazilians play. Samba soccer on Friday and Saturday.

“Jake said it best after our Saturday game. We came out hungry from the start. That really reflected on the score and the results. So if we continue that exact attitude throughout the rest of the season, I see us going really far.”

Before this season, Sawaged hadn’t played much indoor soccer, but he has transitioned to the game fairly well. After all, he had a hat-trick in his fourth game.

Not too shabby.

Both games are played with the same ball, but Sawaged has noticed the subtle differences.

“There’s small differences, but they make a big difference in the indoor game,” he said. “It’s definitely been a transition, but I think Jake’s done a great job. The whole team, the coaching staff has done a great job. Transitioning a lot of us outdoor players to the indoor style.”

After a week off, the Lancers return to the carpet during the weekend of March 10-11 at the Total Sports Experience in East Rochester, N.Y. Rochester will host the Muskegon Risers that Friday and Saturday with 7:45 p.m. kickoffs each night.

The Lancers swept the Riders at Muskegon in their M2 season opener in early January, but they aren’t taking anything for granted. They are bracing themselves for a tough battle.

“It’s going to be another battle equally as hard or even more difficult than this past weekend,” Sawaged said. “Of course, we got the results that we wanted back in January. They’re going to come here hungry and want to win. We need to go out there with the same attitude we had this past weekend and get the results.”