When he enters the Dome Arena field on Friday night, Jake Schindler will be wearing the uniform of the enemy for the first time in Rochester.
One of the most influential and beloved players in the Lancers' modern history, Schindler will return as a member of Utica City FC as Rochester returns to Major Arena Soccer League action for the first time in four years.
"It definitely will be a new experience for me," said Schindler, who still lives in Rochester with his wife. "I've been in Syracuse or Utica the past five years now [in the MASL]. The Lancers haven’t been around during that time. I still get a lot of the Lancers fans. They've been loyal to the players that had to move out to Syracuse and Utica to continue their careers. I still see a bunch of friendly faces over the winter. I'm hoping for a hostile environment. I think the Rochester fans get behind their team. They're a very loyal, loud fan base, which we saw last year in M2. I think they'll get behind their team and make it very difficult for us to come in and play."
A graduate of West Irondequoit High School, Schindler said that Lancers owner Salvatore "SoccerSam" Fantauzzo and head coach Doug Miller held any hard feelings. He has talked to both men several times since he signed with Utica.
"I know Sam was working very hard to get the Lancers into the MASL prior to me signing," he said. “Just the way chips tumbled. The days leading up to the owners meeting, the opportunity was just there for me to go to Utica. I know they were looking for other defenders. There was a small window for me to sign and I just had to take the opportunity as it was."
Lancers co-captain and midfielder Gary Boughton, who had played with Schindler on Rochester for years, called him one of his best friends.
"We'll call Jake a frenemy right now," he said. "He and I came into the league at the same time. As rookies, we just had to work for every minute when we got to step onto the field and turn that into something special in terms of our indoor careers. Obviously, with him signing for Utica this season and the way it worked out for the Lancers to move back up, I don't have any ill will towards him. When we're out there against each other, it's going to be like the good old days in training when he and I would go at it every day and battle. I would say that I am looking forward and not looking forward against Jake."
Schindler is coming off a remarkable 2018-19 season in which he played for not one, but two indoor soccer teams at the same time. He was the Lancers' MVP and defender of the year last season as he also earned M2 all-star team honors. Rochester finished third in the M2 playoffs. Late in the season, he was loaned to Utica City FC to help bolster the team for its playoff run.
"That was quite the year last year," he said. "Honestly, I didn't think I was going to be playing for one team, and then its amazing how quickly things change. The number of games I played last year. Definitely kept me in shape. I was able to finish the year pretty much injury free. I think I missed one game with a rolled ankle. It was an amazing experience playing for the M2 Lancers and Utica City FC in the MASL. There was a modicum of success for both clubs, but I think we underachieved on both fronts at the end of the day. I know the Lancers thought they were a championship caliber team, especially in M2. I know Utica, based on the regular season that we had, expected to be playing Milwaukee in the conference final and we were expected to be going to San Diego or Mexico to be competing in the final."
Utica City FC, which captured the Eastern Division regular season crown, was eliminated by the Baltimore Blast in the conference final.
This year should feel like a "vacation" to Schindler, who will play for only one team.
"One team to worry about, but the same amount of pressure or if not more," he said. "Based on last year, expectations only get higher. Even though I might be getting less miles on the road, the amount of effort and focus everyone is putting into this season has to be ratcheted up a notch. Everyone is more focused, hoping and working toward a better result at the end of the year."
Utica's obvious goal? An MASL championship.
"The team we have is a phenomenal team," Schindler said. "We probably still have a month before we're firing on all cylinders. With players coming in, players on suspension, we probably won't wind up until the end of December or January. I think once we get to that point, we're going to be a very scary opponent for a lot of teams."
While Schindler has forged a reputation as a top indoor player, he certainly wouldn’t returning to the great outdoors.
"I love playing outdoor soccer," he said. "Everyone starts their career, for the most part, as an outdoor soccer player. So, I appreciate the outdoor game. I have tons of friends that make the outdoor game enjoyable for me. I always plan on playing outdoor. It would have to be something else would have to come up to stop me from playing outdoor soccer."
And who knows? He could be wearing a blue and gold shirt of the Lancers again. The outdoor Lancers compete in the National Premier Soccer League.
"There's always that possibility," Schindler said. "When it gets to the outdoor season, I am not playing professionally. These are semi-pro teams where guys are trying to work their [way] into pro leagues. That's probably past me at this point of my age and career. If I had the opportunity to come back and play for the outdoor Rochester Lancers, I'd really enjoy doing it and either trying to help the college-age kids take their game to the next level, or help the Rochester Lancers achieve any outdoor success that they can. I think that's a fun opportunity for me."