Barely six weeks ago, the Rochester Lancers were revived as an outdoor soccer team to compete in the National Premier Soccer League.
Soccer Sam — aka Sal Fantauzzo — who has been a big part of the soccer culture of this northwestern New York city for years, announced the Lancers would perform for the first time in more than 36 years.
The Lancers will take on the Dayton Dynamo in their inaugural National Premier Soccer League match at Aquinas Institute Sunday at 4 p.m.
Now, picture this:
Lancers coach Doug Miller envisions not only a successful season, but even one that includes a victory lap after the final game.
Pretty high expectations for an expansion team.
“I always try to set an expectation,” Miller said in a Thursday interview. “I try to paint a picture throughout a season. If I don’t set that expectation or vision, then there’s not a shared goal. In the first training session, I told them when we’re out of out of possession we’ll be energetic, high pressing, in your face, winning the ball back very quickly.
“When we’re in possession, we’re going to be creative, we’re going to be attacking. We’re going to score some goals and we’re going to be entertaining. And I said we’re concede less than three goals and we’re going to score more than 20 and then we’re going to win an NPSL championship. And if you can’t see that, then it won’t happen.”
Miller used that motivation as a player, which translated into a successful indoor and outdoor soccer career in which he earned four championship rings as a lethal striker.
“In every game I was going to play I played the game in my head before I even played it,” he said. “So, I knew the outcome. Whether it lived up to that outcome or not, that was another story. But at least I put myself in that situation, so I could feel the goose bumps. I can feel the chills. I can make that run. I can feel that I am out of breath. When you start doing that in detail, of being able to do that mentality is what makes players go to another level.”
At that very first meeting, Miller reminded his team about something else.
“It’s 113 days to the NPSL championship,” he said. “So that was in my first meeting with those guys when I met them. Here’s my expectations. So everybody knew right from the get-go, Hey when you have training, you’re here. Make sure that you come and prove yourself because it’s an interview.”
The Lancers are a mixture of players who performed for Miller with the indoor Lancers of the Major Arena Soccer League, local players and younger one in or just out of college who trying to make an impression. He has 34 players in camp, so he has been making tough decisions as to who will be in the 18 and who will be in the Starting XI come Sunday.
“You’ve got different skill sets from a lot of different players,” he said. “We’ve got players who I am familiar with that I coached indoors that are playing. Then I’ve got some younger players who are excited and eager to prove themselves. The challenge for us as coaches is to make sure we put all the pieces in the right place. It all starts with the mentality of the players. Are they willing to work hard? Are willing to go and impress? If they are willing to do that, you can bring them into a shape that can be effective.”
As a player, the 48-year-old Miller took up coaching youth soccer teams. He has coached at every age group, both sexes, amateur and professional, indoor and outdoor.
Who knows? There might be a jewel or two among those 34 players.
“I enjoy coaching youth, monitoring, educating, inspiring but then the competitive juices of me wanting to coach at a higher level and these guys are right there,” he said. “If they would fine tune the details, they may have a chance of playing in MLS or USL and that’s what separates the stars and the guys that are playing at lower levels.
“For me, it’s a family atmosphere with my wife, who is the choreographer and my two daughters who dance for the Lancer Dancers. I believe in the Lancers because I played for three years and I coached the indoor Lancers. We made a culture and a huge success and the brand and what it stands for.”
Miller has become ensconced as part of the Rochester soccer community. He won an A-League championship with the Rochester Rhinos and a Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup title with the same team, the last non-Major League Soccer club to do so (1999). He also coached the old Rochester Ravens women’s side. He owns the Doug Miller Family Sports Park in suburban Spencerport, N.Y.
During their four-year tenure, the indoor Lancers made going to their games a family experience with entertainment off the field as well.
The outdoor Lancers would love to duplicate that.
“With anything, business and friendships, teammates and life in general, it’s all about relationships,” Miller said. “In our society you have to figure how to get a community obligated to come out and see a game to be entertained. They have to build that relationship. The players have to know the fans, the fans have to know the players. You have to get them to be able to buy into the product in which you are supplying.
“I think the Lancers product is a very good product. It’s got a lot of fun, a lot of culture, it’s got music, it’s entertainment. We realize it’s a show. People in this world only have so many dollars that they’re going to be willing to spend. We want to make it entertaining, have a lot of goals being scored and make it like a little party.”