May 18, 2022
STEPPING AWAY: SoccerSam to sell Lancers indoor team
By Michael Lewis
SoccerSam Fantauzzo is hanging up his microphone and stepping away from soccer.
Calling it "one of the hardest decisions of his life," Fantauzzo revealed Wednesday that he has decided to sell the Rochester Lancers indoor soccer team.
The Lancers brand, however, won’t go away. Kayla Kent-Moreira will run the Lady Lancers. There are plans of bringing the Lancers men back in the National Premier Soccer League next year with new owners and long-time Lancers player and coach Doug Miller will continue to operate the Lancers Academy team in the United Premier Soccer League.
A flamboyant soccer owner on the field and a down-to-earth businessman off of it, Fantauzzo owns Salvatore's Old Fashioned Pizzeria, which has 33 locations in the greater Rochester area. He revived the Lancers as an indoor team in 2011, continuing his persona as a cheerleader for his team, introducing and urging his players on and interviewing them at halftime and after the final whistle.
Several factors went into Fantauzzo’s decision.
"This is honestly one of the hardest decisions of my life!" Fantauzzo said. "I always thought someday I would retire from pizza and make Indoor Soccer my retirement hobby. COVID changed all that. My main business was affected with staff and supply issues that I thought was temporary but continues today. I’m forced to help my son and staff plus our franchisees and over 1,500 employees navigated through this nightmare! I’m overwhelmed at work, and I need to spend non-work hours with my beautiful wife Linda and our 15 amazing grandkids!"
Fantauzzo has indicated he will support the game, advertising Salvatore’s on soccer-related events and media.
The Lancers were forced to sit out the 2021 and 2021-22 Major Arena Soccer League season due to COVID-19 related reasons. The Dome Arena in Henrietta, N.Y. was used a vaccination center.
Fantauzzo owns franchise rights for the Lancers, who have competed in the MASL and M2, the top indoor soccer minor league. He said he has talked to friends in Elmira, N.Y. and Chicago "that would be a great travel partners for current teams."
Two South Florida groups are interested, he added.
"That area would be great for the Florida Tropics," Fantauzzo said of the team that calls Lakeland, Fla. home. "I recently told the league leaders I wouldn’t be returning as an owner and hopefully they will help me navigate through this process of selling and moving my MASL and M2 memberships."
Fantauzzo said he was going to "miss the adrenaline rush of filling a stadium or arena and having all the elements of the show come together with my amazing team!"
It wasn't easy leaving the sport Fantauzzo has loved for more than 40 years. A fan of the original Rochester Lancers, he started the Irondequoit Fall Soccer League in 1980.
"I met so many amazing people including you," he said. "Chris Economides encouraged me to bring indoor soccer to Rochester. I think back at getting [original Lancers co-owner] Charlie Schiano’s blessing to continue the Lancers name [was important]."
Fantauzzo lauded his "Rhinos friends like Doug Miller and Tommy Tanner helping me from the start. My friends Chris Wilmot, Steve Stokes, Dom Vieira, Luis Ribeiro and John Coraggioso invested in my dream! All the great staff, players and game day staff. All the Legends I grew up watching and getting to meet them at the Lancers Wall of Fame inductions. Being in league meetings with icons of the sport like Ed Hale. Meeting fans around the country that had the same passion for the sport was so great! "
He then lauded several high-profile front office workers, including Rich Randall, Ashley King and Kent-Moreira "and many others helped make this dream come true and we all entertained thousands of fans since 2011!"
The Lancers owner said he was going to miss the fans the most.
"Since 2011 I met so many great people that weren’t soccer fans but became Lancers fans! 'I hate soccer, but I love the Lancers' that was our marketing campaign one year," Fantauzzo said. "It came from what fans said to us at every game!"
Fantauzzo's most memorable highlight as an owner?
When 10,000 fans attended the Lancers' match to honor the Webster Fire Department after the horrific 2011 Christmas Eve shooting and fire, at the Blue Cross Arena on First Responder Appreciation Day on Jan. 27, 2017.
It was the Lancers’ most emotional match. Player wore commemorative black jerseys with the West Webster Fire Department logo that was auctioned off after the game. West Webster firefighter Jeff Hofstetter was the Lancers’ honorary captain as he was given a jersey with his name on it. About the game, Rochester rolled to a 15-0 halftime lead and recorded a 17-8 triumph over the Missouri Comets.
"Watching the crowd’s reaction when the survivor walked out of the tunnel still brings tears to my eyes," said Fantauzzo, who revealed what was transpiring behind the scenes. The Comets almost didn't make it to the game.
"Privately, I was on the phone all day with Brian Budzinski, the Comets owner, whose team was stuck at the airport in Baltimore. He somehow got a private plane to fly the team to Rochester. They showed up minutes before kickoff without our fans or staff knowing we had a serious issue. Imagine that; 10k plus fans and every political and media leader in Rochester at the BCA and no team to play against. It all worked out."
As a spectator, Fantauzzo's "greatest soccer game" was the 1994 World Cup final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
"My dad was terminally ill and somehow made it through the tournament supporting his beloved Italy team, including the finals in L.A.," he said. "The night before we went to Vegas and watched the CISL [Continental Indoor Soccer League] finals with one of his all-time favorite Lancers players Branko Segota playing. The next morning, I surprised him and invited his best friend Fred Mione to join us for this very special World Cup final. After the game we visited the O.J. Simpson crime scene and more. My dad had followed the trial daily while in treatment. Amazing special weekend!"
Fantauzzo said that he was leaving the Lancers in good hands.
Kent-Moreira recently was named president, COO and CEO of the Lady Lancers, who kick off the UWS season at Aquinas Institute in Rochester, N.Y. on Sunday, June 5 at 2 p.m.
"Kayla is a born winner and works really hard at the sport she loves!" Fantauzzo said. "She will make sure our Lady Lancers fans, players and coaches experience something special!
When asked how the team will fare, Fantauzzo responded, "I think the Lady Lancers will win the UWS championship. Coach Adam and Kayla have some huge player announcements this week."
The Lancers are the oldest soccer brand in the United States, having started out in the American Soccer League in 1967 before joining and saving the North American Soccer League in 1970.
So, it was important to keep the name kicking around.
"I did everything humanly possible to make the Lancers owners and original players proud. ... I hope," Fantauzzo said. "Doug Miller is doing an amazing job with his youth club and Academy team to represent the Lancers name and logo with pride. Unfortunately, local media people like Rich Funke, Bob Matthews and Jeff DiVeronica have retired. Local sports media coverage is much different today then it was in 2011 when we started. "
Miller starred for the indoor Lancers and coached the outdoor team after a rousing career with the Rochester Rhinos.
"Doug is the only pro player in our area that has been a star player indoor and outdoor that continues to teach the game to the next generation," Fantauzzo said. "With Doug’s two daughters moving out of state, he wants to spend more non-work days with them and doesn’t have time for the NPSL Lancers. His staff is doing a great job with his Academy team playing in the UPSL."
An owner of the NPSL Lancers has not been established yet.
"I see this going a few ways," Fantauzzo said. "I’m hoping other soccer groups in town realize the NPSL is the way to go in our city. Or maybe Kayla can convince her husband Marcelo to take over the NPSL team. I will make sure our NPSL team stays in Rochester.”