March 10, 2023
Vadim Cojocov is accustomed to traveling and moving in his life.
He was born in Moldova, moved to Ireland and went to school and played soccer in the United States.
So, flying from St. Louis to Rochester, N.Y. to compete in indoor soccer games seems to be a rather simple task.
After playing his first four matches on the road, Cojocov will make his home debut for the Rochester Lancers when they host the Muskegon Risers at the Total Sports Experience in East Rochester, N.Y. this weekend. The games are set for Friday and Saturday with 7:45 p.m. kickoffs.
"I'm excited," he said. "I've heard nothing but great things. I actually played in Rochester two years ago when they used to play at the Dome Arena [in the MASL]."
The 29-year-old forward is off to a flying start with the Lancers, with Joey Tavernese for a team-best five goals, though he has played in only four matches. He was forced to miss the Iowa Demon Hawks series on Feb. 24-25 due to coaching commitments in an important youth tournament.
"He brings a lot of experience," head coach Jake Schindler said. "He's comfortable on set pieces and on the power play. I feel like I can use him in a lot of different areas. I really just want him to bring that calm, veteran presence to each game. He's definitely an impact player for us. I'm excited to have him back this weekend and the weekends going forward.
"Between him and some of our other veteran players. I think we've got a very strong squad when we're all playing together. That definitely helps the newer, less experienced players feel more comfortable, too."
It took a few years for Cojocov to get comfortable with the indoor game, but once he caught fire, he was difficult to stop. In his first five seasons with the St. Louis Ambush, the 6-1, 170-lb. forward scored but 18 goals and recorded six assists in 51 appearances. During the 2021-22 MASL season, he ripped the nets for 18 goals and four assists in 20 matches.
"When I first started playing, I wasn't into it, to be honest," he said.
Cojocov probably wasn't the first player to utter that statement because the differences between indoor and outdoor soccer are great.
"I was trying very hard my first and second years," he said. "I was having a very hard time adapting to the game and getting used to the speed of it. It's a completely different game. There are so many things that are different, and you see players go from outdoor to indoor, and they always have a hard time struggling to fit into the system or into the game."
Now, Cojocov has a different story to tell.
"I love being test over the speed of it," Cojocov said. "You're able to score multiple goals in the game. You learn that the shorter your shifts, the better your game is. Before, you were going to stay on the field for as long as you possibly could."
Cojocov, who was born in Moldova, moved with his family to Ireland when he was 11. He played for some local and academy teams. He tried to latch onto a professional team and decided to try his luck in the United States at the age of 17. He attended a showcase in Memphis for a week and was offered a scholarship to East Central College, a two-year school, in Union, Mo.
"I just wanted to come to America," he said, adding that he did not know the difference between the various divisions in college athletics.
"It probably was best that I went to junior college because it was a good steppingstone for me just to learn about American culture. On the school part of it, it was a lot easier than regular university or school."
He tallied 42 goals, earning All-America honors his sophomore campaign, which opened the door for him at Columbia College in Columbia, Mo. With the Cougars, Cojocov scored 20 goals over two seasons, reaching the NAIA Elite in his senior year.
During the summer months, he performed for the St. Louis Lions (Premier Development League, now USL League Two), captaining the team for four years, under head coach Tony Glavin. Glavin was an all-star with the St. Louis Steamers for seven seasons in the Major Indoor Soccer League. When Glavin became part-owner and head coach of the St. Louis Ambush in 2015, he signed Cojocov.
"Tony Glavin is an amazing person," Cojocov said. "He's the reason tha I've played the indoor game. He gave me many opportunities. He was a steppingstone for me. ... He's definitely developed a lot of players and gave opportunities to a lot of players to get to the next level."
For Cojocov, the next level was the MASL.
"I love St. Louis. It's a great community," he said. "I think the people realize it's a small, big town, big city where everybody kind of knows each other and everybody feeds off each other and works off each other. It's one of those cities that soccer is in their blood pretty much. It's pretty awesome to see the city get an MLS team."
After enjoying a breakout season with the Ambush in 2021-22, Cojocov was ready to raise his scoring totals, but the MASL were not given enough international visas for its players from the U.S. government, and the forward could not play in the MASL.
"We're in the process of battling that," he said. "We appealed and we're still fighting the case. It's been a long eight, nine months that we're fighting this. We don't understand why for six or seven years, we've been able to get the visa, no problem. But now all of a sudden, it's an issue."
But when one door shut for Cojocov, another one opened.
He already knew Schindler, who offered him a chance to play in M2.
"I've said that I would gladly do that," Cojocov said. "I just love the game. I just go out there and play games with them whenever I'm available. I've enjoyed it. I think the organization, from top to bottom, are real people. SoccerSam [Fantauzzo, team owner] is a great guy who knows a lot about soccer/ The guys are probably the biggest attraction to me. They're all a bunch of good guys. They all have full time jobs, but when they step on the field, they give absolutely everything."
When he hasn't been playing, Cojocov coaches with Lou Futz Athletic in St. Louis, guiding Boys Under-11 and U-17 and Girls U-16 teams. As it turns out, Dragan (Don) Popovic, who directed the original Lancers for four seasons in the North American Soccer League in the 1970s and guided the New York Arrows to the first four MISL championships, was director at that youth club.
"Don is a great guy," he said. "There is a pavilion under his name. He's always been a big part of Lou Futz."