Soccer had given Alex Harling a great run, first at Rush-Henrietta High School and then on a scholarship at NCAA Division II Roberts Wesleyan College.

But when his collegiate career ended in 2014 and he finished his education, Harling headed out in the real world.

“I had given up on the dream to play professionally,” he said.

He gave selling cars a try before landing a job at Semrock, the Rochester-based manufacturer specializing in optical filters for the life sciences. That’s where a co-worker, Roberts Wesleyan soccer alum Jake Schindler, gave the car salesman’s pitch about the Rochester Lancers before the 2017 season.

“I didn’t really know about them and I wasn’t really playing anymore,” said Harling, who arrived at the Roberts campus in Chili the year after Schindler departed.

It wasn’t long before Harling was on the National Premier Soccer League roster of the Lancers. Talk about a perfect fit, too.

Harling went from not playing during his soccer retirement to never leaving the pitch. He led the Lancers in minutes played in 2017, and continues to be a stalwart on the back end this year.

He spent Sunday afternoon denying scoring opportunities for Buffalo FC, although the Lancers lost 4-2 at Charlie Schiano Sr. Field at Marina Auto Stadium.

Playing with the Lancers has enabled Harling to feed his competitive spirit. While he’d been away from the game for two years, reviving the on-the-field fire was easy.

“I don’t think the competitive fire ever left,” he said. “I will be competitive until the day I leave, whether it’s ping pong, pickleball, anything. I always want to win.”

That’s why these first three weeks of the Lancers season has been difficult. They’ve started 0-2-1, including a tie and loss on their home field in downtown Rochester.

On Sunday two defensive mistakes — a giveaway and then poor coverage — led to the first and second Buffalo goals.

The third goal could probably be considered a mistake by the referee. He awarded a penalty kick after contact between Lancers goalkeeper Will Banahene and Buffalo’s Keane McIvor, and McIvor converted.

The problem was, the ball was already out of bounds when the two collided. Who knew a penalty kick could still be awarded on a ball out of play?

“Apparently it can,” an incredulous Harling said. “As soon as I said something to the referee you could see he wasn’t sure, but he’d already made the call. It was bang-bang, but it was unfortunate because it changed the way we had to play. We had to play more direct.”

A year ago, the Lancers finished 6-4-2 and missed the NPSL playoffs by one point. They outscored the opposition 18-10, the best goal differential in the Midwest Region’s East Conference.

This year in three games they’ve been outscored 8-4.

“Doug (Miller, the coach) is always preaching the details,” Harling said. “There’s moments when it’s brilliant and we play like we should. And then other times, we’re tuned out and it costs us.

“It’s unfortunate we’re off to a bad start to the season, it’s very frustrating. The time is now to start playing like we should.”

Game recap

An old friend came back to haunt the Rochester Lancers on Sunday afternoon — and so did a questionable call by the referee.

Former Lancers midfielder Sammy Wasson scored one goal and set up the go-ahead second goal and then Keane McIvor converted on a penalty kick as Buffalo FC defeated the Lancers 4-2 at Charlie Schiano Sr. Field at Marina Auto Stadium.

The penalty-kick goal in the 64th minute came after Lancers goalkeeper Will Banahene was ruled to have fouled McIvor in the penalty area — even though the ball was already out of bounds when contact was made.

The Lancers argued but that did no good, and when McIvor hit the net with his dart of a shot, Buffalo had a 3-1 lead. It came 11 minutes after Wasson’s long cross-field volley set up Bayley Winkel for the tie-breaking goal.

The Lancers continued to attack and pulled within 3-2 on Isaac Kissi’s goal in the 88th minute. They then created a great chance in stoppage time but Buffalo goalkeeper Steven Casey was able to smother the ball just before Peter DiLorenzo could get to it.

Akean Shackleford then scored a moment before stoppage time ended and Buffalo (2-2-1) had the 4-2 victory.

Wasson scored the only goal in the first half after a Lancers giveaway in the 19th minute but terrific passing from Rafael Godoi to Ben Allan to Lukas Fernandes tied the score about 20 seconds into the second half.

The Lancers (0-2-1) play their next two matches on the road: at Syracuse on Wednesday and at Fort Pitt in Pittsburgh on June 12 before returning to downtown Rochester to play Cleveland SC on June 15.