March 9, 2023
Lancers seek first place this weekend
There's little doubt that the Rochester Lancers are on the ascent, a rapid one, at that.
After getting a late start to the Major Arena Soccer League 2 season, they are 5-1-0 and can take over the North Division lead with two home wins this weekend.
Head coach Jake Schindler certainly has liked what he has seen, but he realizes the team can do even better. He used a line from one of his favorite movies, Anchorman:
"I'm never satisfied."
"I always think there's things to improve on," he said, adding that 5-1 is nice, but it's still 5-1. It's not 6-0. I think we have a good team right now, but I want us to be a great team."
"That's what I talked to the guys about this week that there's still a lot of room to improve. We find ourselves in a good position, but I want to finish the season off in an even better position."
The Lancers can move into first place by defeating the Muskegon Risers twice at the Total Sports Experience in East Rochester, N.Y., on Friday and Saturday. Both matches kick off at 7:45 p.m. and can be watched at www.RochesterLancers.com.
Each of the three division winners and the second-place team with the best record will qualify for the playoffs. So, that is why this weekend is so vital for Rochester.
"I don't think we can overlook any game," Schindler said. "We take it game by game. I take the rosters game by game. I think the game plan is game by game. We definitely want to come out of this weekend with two wins. That's the plan for the next three weekends of the season and whenever the playoffs start. The guys all know what the expectation is. We're going to go out and perform like we've been here before."
Especially against Muskegon (2-8-0, 5 points), which occupies last place in the North Division. The second-place Lancers (5-1-0, 14) swept the two games in Michigan in January. The Iowa Demon Hawks (6-3-1, 18), whom the Lancers swept at home two weeks ago, are in first place.
Schindler wasn't taking anything for granted.
"That's why you play the game," he said. "If you just got wins for showing up, there would never be sports. You've got to get on the field and compete. You've got to prove yourself that you're the better team, the better player, the better coach, the better trainer every single day. That's the only way you get the result. So we don't overlook anybody."
After playing their first four matches on the road, the Lancers competed at home at TSE for the first time on Feb. 24-25.
"I really liked the arena," he said. "I love that the fans get to just sit up against the boards and watch exactly what's happening. It's a cool experience for them, a cool experience for the players. Everyone wants to play in front of their family and friends. It was definitely great to be back home and just enjoy that experience."
The ceiling at TSE is low, so several times clearances from both teams, especially from the goalkeepers, have hit the roof. That resulted in a free kick for the opposition in its attacking zone.
"I gave my goalies an earful, both of them," Schindler said. "I think they'll definitely be cognizant of it going into this game. But it's something that everyone needs to deal with. There's really no excuse, especially as the home team, why we should be hitting the ball into the ceiling or the net. It's one of those attention to detail things that I'd really like to see them improve on."
The Lancers are coming up a superb performance by goalkeeper Jakeb Mitchell, who made 33 saves in the 4-2 win over the Demon Hawks on Feb. 25.
Mitchell hadn't competed in an indoor soccer game until January and has played quite well. At one time, Schindler wasn't quite sure what the team had.
"It's been great," he said. "I was really excited. When we're going into the season at one point, I got pretty nervous about what our goalie situation was going to be and probably within the last two days before tryouts started, I got correspondence from Dan [Maddock], asking to be involved. I reached out to Jakeb just to see if he was interested to come and try out and fill out our practice squad. For those first month and a half of the season.
"I definitely didn't go into this season with any goalkeeper in mind. It was kind of an open competition, but he's really excelled. He's definitely proven himself to be an impact player in this league. He and Dan are doing a great job. Dan's our captain. They're, they're sharing some time on the field. We're just going to play the goalkeeper that we think gives us the best chance to win. Sometimes that might be Dan for two or three games, or it might be Jakeb for two or three games.
Rochester has been blessed with not one, but two goalkeepers who can play at a high level. Some teams struggle to find one goalie to fill the bill.
"It's definitely a luxury, definitely very happy about our goalkeeper situation," Schindler said, adding that the team signed Alastair Farmer as the third goalkeeper before the league signing deadline "to make sure that we're completely filled out."
"I'm confident in him, too, if he had to step up and play in a game," he continued. "They're all different in their own special way. They're all missing a screw and I like that. I'm very confident in our goalie situation."
Farmer, who played at Potsdam State, hails from West Irondequoit High School, the same school from which Schindler graduated.
On a team in which many players have stepped up and then some, two players have turned the coaches' head - forward Eduardo Figueroa and midfielder Matt D'Amico.
Schindler said that Figueroa "was a good local product," that assistant coach Marc Mandell, whom the coach called the head of player recruitment brought in Figueroa.
"I hadn't seen him play in a couple years," he said. "He's just improved every single game. He went from the first weekend, playing a couple shifts to running a regular shift. He's scoring goals. He's creating goals. I've been really excited with at his development."
The same went for D'Amico, a Pittsford-Mendon H.S. product and a Geneseo State player who teaches in the Rochester area.
"I think he played a lot of basketball growing up, maybe not as much soccer, but he's just a natural athlete," Schindler said. "He causes problems for the other teams. He's hard working, he's physical, and he's managed to score an important game-winner. He's created lots of chances. Just his hard work and attitude really bring something else to our team. He's got a bit of an injury right now, but we're hoping to start working them back into the lineup."