Born: 1967 – ASL expansion franchise.
Folded: November 24, 1980
Stadium: Holleder Stadium (22,000)
Team Colors: Blue & Gold
- 1967-1973: Charles Schiano, Pat Dinolfo, et al.
- 1973-1976: John Petrossi, Charles Schiano, Pat Dinolfo, et al.
- 1977: Charles Schiano, Pat Dinolfo, et al.
- 1978-1980: Charles Schiano, Pat Dinolfo, , Nuri Sabuncu, John Luciani & Bernie Rodin
NASL Champions: 1970
The Lancers were Rochester’s first professional soccer club. The team formed in 1967 as an expansion entry in the semi-pro American Soccer League. Aquinas Stadium, a 20,000-seat high school football field on Ridgeway Avenue, served as the Lancers’ home pitch. Lancers co-founder and Chairman Charles Schiano was an Aquinas grad but the team drew its name from Schiano’s college alma mater – the University of Windsor Lancers in Ontario, Canada.
In 1970 the Lancers and the Washington Darts jumped from the regional ASL to the more ambitious North American Soccer League (NASL). The move likely saved the NASL from folding. The USA’s top soccer league had just four franchises willing to continue in 1970. Poaching Rochester and Washington from the ASL reversed the NASL’s downward spiral. By the time of Pele’s seismic contract with the NASL’s New York Cosmos in 1975, the league boasted twenty franchises.
Rochester’s earliest star was the 5′ 4″ Brazilian striker Carlos Metidieri. The “Little Mouse” poured in 33 goals and 15 assists in 1970 and 1971, earning back-to-back NASL MVP honors. With Metidieri up top, the Lancers advanced to the 1970 NASL championship series. The format was a two-game total goals competition against the Washington Darts. After racking up a 3-0 victory in Game One at Aquinas Stadium, the Lancers held off a furious Darts effort in Game Two, losing 3-1, but taking the 1970 crown by virtue of a 4-3 margin on total goals.
Changes were afoot during the 1973 season. Financial problems forced Schiano and partner Pat Dinolfo to sell controlling interest in the Lancers to real estate developer John Petrossi for $60,000. Meanwhile, the City re-named Aquinas Stadium that July, in honor of Aquinas Institute graduate Maj. Don Holleder. Holleder, a college football All-America at West Point, was killed in action in Vietnam in 1967. On the field, the Lancers finished last and missed the playoffs for the first time in the NASL. Carlos Metidieri departed for the NASL’s new expansion team in Boston following the 1973 campaign. The Lancers entered a period of mid-decade mediocrity.
Owner John Petrossi died of cancer in late 1976. Charles Schiano and Pat Dinolfo re-acquired controlling interest in the team. The Lancers had their final thrilling season in 1977. Despite an 11-15 regular season mark under Head Coach Don Popovic, Rochester made it into the postseason thanks to the NASL’s forgiving playoff format. Then the Lancers caught fire. They dispatched St. Louis via shootout in the first round.
Next came a wild two-game quarterfinal with arch-rival Toronto Metros-Croatia. The repressed nationalist rivalries of Cold War-era Yugoslavia amped up the playoff atmosphere. Popovic was Serbian and his Lancers teams of the late 1970’s were stocked with his fellow countrymen. Meanwhile, to the NASL leadership’s great chagrin, the Toronto club was run with a blatant ethnic/nationalist identity by Croatian ex-pats in Canada.
In game one, Lancers midfielder Francisco Escos picked up two yellow cards – an automatic ejection. But referee Henry Landauer lost track of the card accumulation and allowed Escos to play on and Rochester to remain at full strength. The Lancers won on penalty kicks. NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam acknowledged the error but denied Toronto’s protest of the match result. (The Escos incident is still cited decades later in Soccer For Dummies.) In game two in Toronto, the Lancers prevailed 1-0 despite finishing the match two men down. The Lancers earned a semi-final showdown with the powerhouse New York Cosmos club.
The first leg of the 1977 semis in Rochester drew a sellout of 20,005 to Holleder Stadium. The Lancers fell 2-1, but were still had a shot on aggregate goals heading into the second leg at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. 74,000 Cosmos fans awaited the Lancers in the Meadowlands. Popovic’s squad returned to its 11-15 regular season for and lost 4-1.
Internecine warfare between the Lancers owners helped sink the team’s final seasons. As the team’s financial situation worsened further at the end of the 1970’s, the Rochester-based owners sought new capital. A pair of Long Island-based investors, John Luciani and Bernie Rodin, pumped over a million dollars into the Lancers in 1979. The two factions faced off in court during the 1980 season. The NASL booted the Lancers franchise out of the league that November.
The Rochester Flash replaced the Lancers on the local soccer scene in 1981. The Flash played in the 2nd Division American Soccer League, where the Lancers began life in 1967. They played three seasons at Holleder before folding in 1984.
Holleder Stadium was demolished in 1985.
Over the years the Lancers drew their biggest crowds for derbies against the star-studded New York Cosmos. But the teams fiercest rivalry, according to former Lancers beat writer Michael Lewis, was with the various iterations of the NASL’s Toronto franchise. Lewis has a wonderful look back at the Rochester-Toronto soccer rivalry on Big Apple Soccer here.
Rochester Lancers Memorabilia
Part owner and team President John Petrossi died of cancer on November 24, 1976 at age 68.
Lancers founder and owner Pat Dinolfo passed away on April 13th, 2006.
Lancers all-time leading scorer Mike Stojanovic died after a battle with stomach cancer on November 18, 2010 at the age of 63.
Rochester Lancers Video
The Lancers take on the New York Giants before 41,305 at Giants Stadium. May 28th, 1978.
This New York State Tax Commission petition from 1987 sheds some lights on the ownership squabbles of the Lancers final seasons.