March 17, 2023
If they win both their games in Cedar Rapids, Iowa this weekend the Rochester Lancers can clinch the Northern Division title and a spot in the Major Arena Soccer League playoffs.
Of course, that is easier said than done because they have a pair of difficult teams in their postseason quest because those three teams are literally on top of each other.
Rochester (7-1-0, 20 points) is in first place, the Iowa Demon Hawks (6-4-1, 18) in second place and the Iowa Raptors (5-2-2, 17) in third. The Lancers have three games in hand, on the Demon Hawks and one on the Raptors, in the 12-game regular season.
The Lancers visit the Raptors on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET and the Demon Hawks on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.
"It's going to be a tough weekend, there's no doubt about it," Lancers head coach Jake Schindler said on the Soccer is a Kick in the Grass radio show on Monday night. "Our conference top to bottom is just loaded. There are no easy games. I think I've said this before. You look at some of the other conferences, a game might be like 20-6. I don't think that happened in our conference. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day.
"We're going to have to be very forward focused. It's a short week for us."
The team had two training sessions to prep for the weekend.
"The goal is to come out with two wins," Schindler said. "Every time we go on a trip, we're just concentrating on it one game at a time. It's a results-driven business and that's what we want to get -two good results for us."
Schindler injured an ankle in the second quarter of the 8-5 home win over the Risers last Saturday.
"I've got a little bit of a rolled ankle," Schindler said. "It's nothing serious at the end of the day. The trainer told me I could probably go back in if I felt comfortable doing it. At that time, I was pretty confident with the guys that we had available. They really stepped it up. The guys that we have on the field are starting to take a leadership role outside of me having to do everything.
"So that's exciting for me that I can step back and continue to concentrate on learning how to coach and being a great motivator and strategic mind that I need to be for this team to be successful in the long run. I was really happy with how they responded to my injury."
Schindler, who leads the team with seven assists, to go with three goals, was uncertain whether he would play this weekend.
"I get to travel with the team. I'm the coach, regardless of if I play or not," he said. "I'm just taking it day by day. I started treatment as soon as I could today. Then we'll just be making sure that the mobilities and the ankle, whatever I can do to help the team on Saturday and Sunday."
Forward Eduardo Figueroa was one of those players who stepped it up. He converted a hat-trick on Saturday, scoring a goal in the second, third and fourth quarters. Figueroa entered the match with two goals and one assist in six games.
"He played great," Schindler said. "It's a balancing act for a coach to try and sort out the lineups and make sure that the guys are getting the game time and experience that they need you. You wanted to be able to say, 'Hey, just pick 16 guys and they play every single game' but it never works out like that.
"There's injuries, there's other commitments at this level. Guys were dressed differently throughout the season. He was just learning the indoor game, the first couple of games. Over these past four games, he's really found his comfort level and it really shows the way he's playing. He's finishing his chances.
"He says he's just thankful for his teammates giving them easy chances. But everybody knows that the striker gets paid big bucks because it's not easy to score from in front of the goal. No one's getting paid but Eddie makes the difficult look very easy, and I'm very happy to have him."
After this weekend's games, the Lancers return home for their final two matches at the Total Sports Experience in East Rochester, N.Y. next weekend. They will host the Raptors on Friday, March 24 at 7:45 p.m. and Demon Hawks on Saturday, March 25 at 7:45 p.m.