ROCHESTER, N.Y. - After missing the Major Arena Soccer League 2 playoffs by a hair last season, Rochester Lancers Head Coach Jake Schindler is optimistic the team can go further this indoor campaign.

The Lancers came within a fraction of reaching the playoffs. They finished with an 8-4-0 record 23 points and tied the Iowa Raptors (7-3-2, 23) for the North Division lead. But the latter squad was awarded a playoff spot, according to league rules, while a disappointed Rochester team stayed home.

"Last year kind of left a bitter taste in my mouth and a lot of the rest of the team," Schindler said recently on the Soccer is a Kick in the Grass radio show. "We wish that we could have gone. We have the same goal as we did last year. Try to go at least .500 on the road and try to win all of our home games. It puts you in a pretty good spot. So, I think the attitude for our team hasn't changed at all."

In fact, Schindler said that it made the team to be hungrier to reach the postseason.

"It was a successful year," he added. "We had almost 26 different players suit up for us last year. So, we were able to get a lot of experience for some players. A lot of them are coming back this year, which is great news. We're going to be starting from a stronger base than we did last year, with so many new players. I'm just really excited about what we have coming into this season. We can't control what the league does. We can only control what we do on the field."

Rochester will be in position to control its destiny starting Saturday, when it visits Baltimore Arsenal in its season opener at Towson Arena in Towson, Md. at 4 p.m. ET. It will be the second game of a doubleheader at the arena as the Baltimore Blast will host the Harrisburg Heat in a Major Arena Soccer League encounter at 1 p.m.

After competing in the North Division against the likes of the Iowa Demon Hawks, Iowa Raptors and Muskegon Risers, the Lancers will clash with new rivals United Elite Krajisnik FC (2-2-0), Atletico Orlando (1-1-0) and Baltimore (1-1-0).

The Lancers are the last team in M2 to kick off their 2024 season.

"I tell all my players that every single position is a competition," Schindler said. "It doesn't matter if you've played for one year or 10 years. The best player is going to play because at the end of the day, this is a result-driven business. I want everybody to come in hungry and not be complacent. I think Rochester is a wonderful place for indoor soccer. We're uniquely situated between Syracuse and Buffalo. We can get a really big talent draw. I think we put on a great product."

Eighteen players who performed for the Lancers last season are back.

The returnees include goalkeeper Jakeb Mitchell and Alastair Farmer; defenders Alex Harling, Jeremy Loncao, Dan Reger, Darren Toby and Konrad Zydowicz; midfielders Joe Balls, Isaac Bourne, Frank Ciliberto, Matt D’Amico, August Finn, Tamas Nagy, and forwards Eduardo Figueroa, Taner Bay, Schindler, Joey Tavernese and Domenico Vitale.

Tavernese, did two-way duty for the Lancers last season, also performs for the Harrisburg Heat (MASL).

"One of the good things about that happened last year is that we have a lot of returnees this year," Mitchell told Soccer is a Kick in the Grass. "A lot of the guys have played together. We've got a couple of new guys that are fitting in really well. They’re like missing pieces of a puzzle. We've got a couple of new creative guys."

That includes former Niagara University midfielder Ali Alomari, whom Mitchell described as "one of our more technical and big players going forward in the offensive third."

"We should be looking out for him to score some goals for us this season and really take guys on," the goalkeeper added.

Last year's squad did not have a dominant goal-scorer. Instead, the Lancers had a share the wealth mentality. Tavernese led the team with nine goals, followed by D'Amico and Finn with eight apiece. Schindler tallied a team-high nine assists while Harling finished with a club-best 13 points on the strength of six goals and seven assists.

The defense was pretty solid.

Mitchell was named to the M2 Elite Six with a league-best 4.92 goals-against average. He also finished in third place in save percentage at 72.9 and tied for third with six victories.

"One of the things that we take pride on is we may not always be the most skilled team out there, but we're always going to be the most organized team," Mitchell said. "No matter what, we always stick to our game plan. Our coaching staff does a really good job of getting us prepared in a short amount of time."

Rochester will play its opening three matches on the road. The team will visit United Elite in Utica, N.Y. on consecutive Sundays, Jan. 21 and 28.

The Lancers will make their season home debut against Atletico Orlando at the Total Sports Experience in East Rochester, N.Y. on Friday, Feb. 2 and Saturday, Feb. 3. Both matches kick off at 7:45 p.m. That will start a slate of six consecutive home games.

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