The rebirth of the Rochester Lancers earlier this year was met with great enthusiasm and excitement and for good reason. The Lancers name has stood for excellence and tradition in the indoor and outdoor game for decades. Lancers legend Charlie Mitchell, captain of the city’s NASL team from 1970-1975, said it best.
“My favorite memory had to be winning the championship. No one expected us, the small town boys, to do it. We didn’t get a lot of credit. We didn’t get a lot of respect until we won the championship.”
Winning the NASL Championship put Rochester, New York on the map and made Mitchell a breakout star. The Paisley, Scotland native then moved on to play with Pelé at the New York Cosmos before joining Team Hawaii, Tulsa Roughnecks, and the Toronto Blizzard later in his career.
Mitchell talked about how Rochester’s diverse squad, with players from all over the world, got along great, developing incredible chemistry and comradery along the way. He also talked about the busy lives of the players, how everyone had a job and played soccer “for nothing” in terms of pay. Rather they played for the love of the game, not a love of money. He remembered massive crowds in Rochester and how the fans were always great, offering good support to the team at all times.
The Lancers’ legacy, and that of Mitchell, are closely tied. Both were leading the way for future generations.
“We were the pioneers of soccer in Rochester and the league,” Mitchell added. “We always made an effort to promote the sport. We knew that young kids, no matter how big or small, could enjoy it. We saw the future in American kids.”
He went on to note the success of American players abroad and the U.S. national team system as a whole. He was certainly excited about his role in developing the sport into what it is today. The Lancers’ NPSL and UWS teams now carry on that torch for new fans, new supporters, and new players and coaches. Maybe the next Charlie Mitchell is already in our midst, already on a pitch in Rochester.
What follows is a collection of photos and interviews with past and present members of the Lancers organization:
Nick Mojsovski, Current Owner/Business Director, Rochester Lancers
“My favorite Rochester Lancers memories were as a child my father would tell me about seeing Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, and Johan Cruyff in person play versus the Lancers. I was not old enough to remember these games, but hearing these stories inspired me to want to be a part of the Rochester Lancers story, and now I am.”
Andrew Battisti, Co-Host of North America’s longest running soccer radio show, “Soccer is a Kick in the Grass”
“1977. Before the memorable Lancers/Cosmos NASL Eastern Conference final, the Lancers faced the defending NASL Champion and bitterest rivals Toronto Metros-Croatia in the East semi-finals. I was in the stands in game one on August 13 and witnessed a titanic struggle where Rochester’s Francisco “Pancho” Escos was given two yellow cards, but was allowed to stay on the pitch and Lancers’ leading scorer Mike Stojanovic missed two penalty kicks that would have given Rochester a win in regulation. In the end, the Lancers came through in the shootout on a winning goal from Ibrahim Silva to take a one-match lead.
The teams then played at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, where a year earlier Toronto eliminated Rochester 2-1 on a goal in literally the last second of the match by Gene Strenicer, who went on to play for the Lancers. I listened on the radio with Wayne Fuller on the play-by-play and heard the most improbable of matches unfold. First, the Lancers’ Miralem Faslic was given a straight red card midway through the first half, something that rarely ever happened in the 1970’s, and then a second yellow came out for Jose Costa and Rochester was playing 9 v 11 the rest of the way. Despite giving up over 30 shots, the Lancers made their one and only foray into the Toronto end of the field with 13 minutes left. Mike Stojanovic received the ball and was quickly surrounded by Toronto players. “Stollie” found an open Ibrahim Silva in the box and he scored one of the biggest goals in Lancers’ history, so big that Wayne Fuller lost his voice calling the goal!
The Lancers held on to win 1-0 and eliminate Toronto and went on to face the Cosmos at home in front of 20,005 fans, still a record for a team sporting event in Rochester, and then four days later took on the Cosmos in front of 77,000 fans at Giants Stadium. Rochester lost the matches 2-1 and 4-1 to the eventual champion Cosmos, but the Lancers fans will never forget that memorable 1977 season and Lancermania!”
Marc Mandell, Current Owner/General Manager, Rochester Lancers
“I was born in 1980 and therefore wasn’t around when the original Rochester Lancers played at Holleder Stadium. It wasn’t until 1995 when I was 15 years old playing for the Greece Buccaneers under coach Carlos Metidieri, a former Lancers legend, my father started to reminisce and tell me how great Carlos was of a player and tell me all about his great experiences enjoying Lancer games with his father as a child. I became intrigued and tried to find footage of past games.
It wasn’t until YouTube became popular and I believe the first game I had seen was against the New York Cosmos at Holleder Stadium. I quickly became a fan of the team. I thank Carlos for all he has taught me as a player and about the beautiful game of soccer. I may have not been there in the past to enjoy it in person, but I plan on making the future of the Lancers very exciting for Rochester and their soccer fans.”
Doug Miller, Current Owner/Head Coach, Rochester Lancers
“It all started in 2011 when the Lancers came to town and I was the first player signed and I could enjoy the ceremony with my wife, Kari, and my daughters, Kayla and Kalista. They became Jr. Lancer Dancers and could be a part of my soccer and the Rochester Lancers.
In 2012-13 season at the age of 43 I had one of my most successful seasons playing indoor soccer. Being named MVP of the league and breaking records in the MISL was incredible. The best part of that season is my family could be a part of it supporting and cheering me on the entire way.
Finally as the head coach in our final indoor season, taking a young inexperienced team to the semi-finals was incredible. Winning the playoff series against the Syracuse Silver Knights in dramatic fashion was overwhelming. The emotions and joy to share with my Lancers family was a memory that will never be lost. Overall, the Rochester Lancers memories for my family have been worth more than money could buy. It has given us so many positive friendships and relationships that could never be replaced. I thank God that my family could enjoy this terrific journey. To be continued…… 2017-18.”
Salvatore “SoccerSam” Fantauzzo, Current Owner/Head of Marketing, Rochester Lancers
“Days after my first-ever soccer tryout with the Rochester Juniors, my uncle Al Oliveri took me to my first Lancers NASL game when I was ten years old.
I never missed a game for years and I took my girlfriend Linda on our first date to a Lancers game in 1977. We arrived after halftime and the gates were closed. She jumped the fence with me and it was that moment that I realized “she’s the one.” I married her two years later and 37 years later she’s still a huge fan of the game and me! I never missed a game until the day they folded in 1980. I felt guilty for years that I didn’t do enough to help save the team. In the early 90’s I purchased the Lancers name and logo for my soccer collection.
In 1995, I heard about a new team coming to town, the new owners weren’t fans of the Lancers name and the Rhinos were born. I spent the next ten-plus years helping the Rhinos become the most successful team of that era in the game. In 2009 I left the Rhinos for health reasons and in 2011 the indoor MISL Lancers were born. I met with original Lancers owner “Lonesome” Charlie Schiano and he gave me his blessing and reminded me that kids were always free at original Lancers games and we continued that tradition.
I spent four seasons leading the indoor game in attendance and sponsorship, but my greatest memory was honoring the original Lancers Legends and we inducted several pioneers of the game and introduced them to the new Lancers fans.
We struggled with NYS comp insurance and the team decided to no longer play pro and the Lancers2 won several local indoor championships over the years. In 2017, the Lancers return to play outdoors to celebrate the 50th season of the team forming in 1967. We have added the Lady Lancers to fill the void of the WNY Flash leaving for Carolina. My home and office are covered with Lancers memorabilia, the team that changed my life and help create the passion for the greatest game on earth!”
Michael Lewis, FrontRowSoccer.com Editor
Michael Lewis covered the original Rochester Lancers from 1975-80. It was the first pro soccer team Lewis had ever written about.
“I have many great Lancers’ memories, which include Operation Squeeze-in when 20,005 saw the Cosmos and Rochester battle in the NASL semifinals in 1977, when the two rivals tussled before 74K at Giants Stadium several days later, watching an always animated Mike Stojanovic score one of his many goals and Branko Segota’s amazing run as a rookie in 1979.
What truly stands out for me was the second game of the 1977 NASL quarterfinals against the Toronto Metros-Croatia. The Lancers had won the first game at home via a controversial shootout. I called it a "soccer game to end all soccer games" in my report in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. They then had to play in Toronto, where they hadn’t won in years. And the Lancers had several Serbian players, while Toronto, as you can see by its name, was dominated by Croatians. So the Lancers were entering enemy territory in more ways than one at Varsity Stadium. Toronto's Croatian fans took this rivalry very seriously, perhaps more seriously than the players as they vehemently booed the Lancers.
It certainly didn’t help the Lancers when they had not one, but two players receiving red cards in the opening half. At halftime, head coach Don (Dragan) Popovic, who himself was slapped with a yellow card while on the bench, devised a strategy to that would make the disciples of catenaccio blush. He essentially deployed three central defenders in front of goalkeeper Jack Brand. Two midfielders were brought back as outside fullbacks. And two more midfielders became holding/defensive midfielders, leaving Stojanovic as the lone striker, more or less. Popovic was playing for a draw and an opportunity to reach the shootout.
Popovic got much more than he bargained for. Midfielder Ibraim Silva, during a rare foray in the Toronto third, scored in the 79th minute and the Lancers held on for a memorable 1-0 victory that propelled them into the semifinals vs. the Cosmos. Quite a night, it also was the night Elvis Presley died, as we learned on the way to the stadium. The Lancers showed a lot of heart, desire, composure and much discipline in the second half to pull off such a rare road triumph.”