By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
A full 10 years have passed since J.P. Reyes first played soccer in Rochester, but that doesn’t mean his love of the game has waned.
“I’m as passionate as Soccer Sam,” Reyes said, referring to Sam Fantauzzo, the pizza entrepreneur and driving force behind the Rochester Lancers and Lady Lancers.
You want proof? Reyes will commute from his home in Orlando, Fla., to Rochester just to play for the Lancers this weekend.
Now that’s passion.
“I’m a big fan of the Lancers,” Reyes said. “I’ve been talking back and forth with Marc (Mandell, the team’s general manager) for a couple years. I told him I’d support him any way possible, as a fan or as a player.
“And he said, ‘Well come on up and play.’ ”
So Reyes will do just that on Friday when the Lancers host Cleveland SC at 7 p.m. Marina Auto Stadium, and again in Sunday’s 5 p.m. home game against Syracuse FC.
The trip will be a homecoming of sorts. The Rochester Rhinos were Reyes’ first professional outdoor team. A defender, he played in 15 games during the 2008 USL season.
He then embarked on a professional indoor career, which brought him back to Rochester to play for the indoor Lancers in 2011 and again in the 2014-15 season.
And now he’s returning once again, only now it’s to play for the amateur Lancers of the National Premier Soccer League. He’s eager to see old friends.
“I have tons of friends there still,” Reyes said. “I’m excited to see a lot of familiar faces.
“When I was there with the Rhinos, it was one of the top teams in the country as an organization. Players were begging to come to Rochester because they knew how they’d be treated.”
Reyes, a native of Ecuador, grew up in Florida and still makes his home there. He’s an applications engineer for Faro Technologies. He plays the indoor game for the Florida Tropics, who are co-owned by former Rhinos co-owner Chris Economides, and the outdoor game for the amateur Tampa Kickers.
“We play against some high-level teams; we played Red Bull and the New England Revolution in exhibition games when they were down here for spring training,” he said.
That’s kept him fit for the demands of the game.
“I’m in shape as far as my integrity of playing,” he said.
His big concern: He’s never played or trained with the Lancers, so he’ll rely on his experience to learn the tendencies of teammates quickly.
“If players are left-footed, I need to make sure I get the ball to them on the left,” he said. “If players love the 1-2 give-and-go, I needed to make sure I do that.”
He’s joining a team that got on a bit of roll on the road. The Lancers won 2-1 at Syracuse on June 6, then upended previously unbeaten Fort Pitt Regiment 2-0 on Tuesday.
“Whenever I speak to people about the places I played, I always talk about Rochester,” Reyes said. “The weather, the people, the Wegmans … I love it.”
The weekend ahead at Marina Auto Stadium
The Lancers (with a 2-2-1 record) play at 7 p.m. Friday against Cleveland SC
The Lady Lancers (with a 3-1-2 record) play at 2 p.m. Sunday against New Jersey Copa FC.
The Lancers play at 5 p.m. Sunday against Syracuse FC.
Tickets are $10 (kids 5 and under are free). Parking is free, and fathers get in free on Sunday.