Jake Schindler - Feature Story
It's funny how life sometimes works out.
At the beginning of last fall, Jake Schindler was ready to call it a career from arena soccer. He had started to earn his masters’ degree. His hometown, Rochester, N.Y., hadn't played indoor soccer since 2014 and the closest team he could commute to had moved further east along the New York State Thruway from Syracuse to Utica.
Today, Schindler not only finds himself playing for two clubs -- Utica City FC and the Rochester Lancers -- but starring for them and playing for arena soccer glory. A pretty darn good feat, considering Schindler also has a day job.
"Mostly my fiancée helps me out with my scheduling," he said of Laura Giberson, whom he will marry this June. "Doug and Ryan Hall are constantly texting, just asking me about my availability. They help me stay pretty honest." That would be his two head coaches, Doug Miller of the Lancers and Hall of Utica.
Now, he might not be the MVP of the Major Arena Soccer League or MASL2 -- aka M2 -- but one thing is certain, the 31-year-Schlinder has emerged as one of the most valuable players in the arena universe.
"He's going good. He's doing incredible," Utica City FC general manager Tommy Tanner said. "I'm not quite sure if the status is true, but we may have lost just one game when Jake's been there. He's the smartest defender in the league and he's rugged. If anyone could play the way he's doing right now, it's him."
Tanner was close. Utica City is 11-3 with the Irondequoit, N.Y. native in the lineup. The Lancers were 8-4 in the M2 regular season with Schindler playing and captaining the squad, and that's not counting a stunning 4-3 triumph over the team's nemesis, the host Chicago Mustangs in the Eastern Division final last week.
"He is the rock that really solidifies our team, whether he is playing as the target or playing in the back," Lancers head coach Doug Miller said. "He's so versatile. When you talk about an MVP, most of the time those accolades go to a guy who scores 35 or 40 goals, not to a player who actually brings the most to a team and that's what Jake does. He brings all of the unsung hero things you look for in a player. If I was to say the MVP of the Lancers, it would most definitely be Jake."
Schindler's mettle certainly will be tested this week, performing in three arena matches within a whirlwind 46-hour span some 3,000 miles apart.
He and his Lancers teammates will take on Cuervos of Juarez in an M2 semifinal match at the Upland Sports Arena in Ontario, Calif. on Friday at 4 p.m. The winner will play the victor of the other semifinal (6:30 p.m. ET) between the San Diego Sockers 2 and the Las Vegas Knights at the Citizens Business Bank Arena at 5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, the loser in the third-place match at 3:30 p.m. ET (those Saturday confrontations, incidentally, will be part of a tripleheader at the Bank Arena as the Ontario Fury and former U.S. international Jermaine Jones will welcome the Turlock Express at 9 p.m. ET).
Schindler won't be staying around for the third game. He will hop on a red-eye flight to be in Utica for the team's vital Eastern Division match against the Baltimore Blast at 2 p.m. ET Sunday, which could very well decide the division since both teams have 15-6 records with only three matches remaining in the regular season. Both teams already booked playoff berths. Tanner said that Schindler is expected to get in at 9 a.m. Sunday, barring any airline delays.
"He'll be at our game," he said. "That's what I've been told." That says so much about the 5-11, 205-lb. Schindler, trying to pull off the rare back-to-back coast-to-coast soccer games. "And the good thing about it, we do have six defenders on our roster, so there's the ability to play three times two, which gives him a little bit of a rest," Tanner said.
Apparently, that should not be a problem for Schindler, trying get 40 winks on an airplane. Many people have problems sleeping for long periods of time while in flight. "I can pretty much sleep anywhere," he said with a laugh. "Planes, trains, automobiles. If I don't have to drive, I can sleep. Schindler added: "I've got a lot of respect for Baltimore. Going into that 105 percent. I would be like to be back there to support my team if I could."
OK, now how can someone perform for two teams at once? Well, remember that Utica City FC and the Lancers are at different levels and league rules allow M2 players to perform for MASL clubs and vice versa. Allowing Schindler to perform for Tanner was a no-brainer for Miller and the Lancers.
"I think when organizations at this level are hindering players to get joy out of the game and to do things they like because they are afraid of what might happen, that's a detriment to the player and it only breeds animosity," he said. "For me, players that want to do both, to be committed to both, that are going to have the same mentality as he does, he's the type of player who can handle it. He reminds me of when I was selling insurance back in 2003. I was running my own [youth soccer] program, playing for the [Rochester] Rhinos and anything else that had to be done. He's that type of player. "I actually said to him the other day, what he has done for the Lancers over the past, six, seven years, he's like the Doug Miller of the Rhinos because everyone looks up to him and he comes every day with the goods."
Now, that's high praise from a Rochester soccer icon such as Doug Miller, who helped the Rhinos to the 1997 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship as the last non-Major League Soccer team to accomplish that feat, to A-League outdoor glory while becoming an indoor scoring terror and winning Major Indoor Soccer League MVP honors at the age of 43.
Schindler was ready to call it a career last fall when he decided to pursue his master's degree in optical designs at the University of Rochester, to add to his bachelor's degree in Physics he earned at Roberts Wesleyan College in suburban Rochester.
"There's a lot of uncertainties," he said. "Syracuse moving to Utica, Rochester kind of being in limbo for indoor soccer the past couple of years. It was just the right opportunity to further my education and continuing developing my professional career. The puzzle pieces fell where they did."
The Lancers joined M2 and Schindler was excited to be reunited with Miller and team patriarch Soccer Sam Fantauzzo, "who I owe pretty much my whole career up until this point. Utica, I have a special place in my heart for those Syracuse guys. They've really welcomed me in, being a crosstown rival for so long."
Well, actually cross-Thruway rivals as the Syracuse Knights. Then Utica forward Joey Tavernese started calling Schindler in late November asking him about his plans because it looked like the MASL club might struggle with some players.
"So, they were wondering if I could come in and help them that first weekend," Schindler said. "I was happy to help them out just to get through the start of the year. It kept growing and growing. And now I'm at the end of the season and I'm looking at playing more indoor soccer than I ever had in a single season."
He laughed at the irony. Entering this weekend's game, Schindler had played in 26 regular-season indoor games (the MASL season is 24, M2 is 12), between his two teams, 27 if you count the playoffs. No one has played more arena games this season than the West Irondequoit High School graduate has. He will add some more, at least three games this weekend and most likely two other regular-season encounters for Utica.
If his MASL club runs the table, Schindler will finish somewhere in the mid-30s. "Kind of like in the old days, when we played 40 and 44 a season," Tanner said. Schindler more than shows up, whether he is making life miserable for an opposing attacker with his muscle-laden body or setting up a teammate for a score or connecting for a goal himself. For the record, Schindler has recorded three goals and five assists in those 14 appearances for Utica, and 14 goals and 11 assists in 12 matches for Rochester.
Moreover, as the season moved into crunch time, his production increased for both sides. He has two goals and two assists in his last two Utica games, eight goals and seven assists in his most recent five matches for the Lancers. Miller noted that Schindler scored the Lancers' second goal in Chicago and set-up the game-winner in overtime.
"He's playing at a really high level with some injuries that he has," he added. "We weren't sure he was going to be able to play. He defines what a true professional is."
Speaking of professional, Schindler does have a day job 12 months a year. He works at Idex Health and Science in Rochester. "My work is incredibly flexible and just helpful in pursuing my soccer endeavors and career," he said. "When I first applied to the company, I was hoping to be able to be an outdoor player and the company was willing to work around whatever soccer schedule outdoor soccer presented, whether it was working weekends, working nights. "They were willing and flexible to see that through my hiring manager was a big soccer fan and he just wanted to help people succeed in whatever way he could. So, he set the precedent for me. Every other group I've worked with Idex Health and Science have honored that commitment and agreement. So as long as I'm doing all my work as best as I can, they are willing to let me work around a schedule that suits the professional soccer schedule." For now, school can wait. "I made it through one course and then soccer took over," Schindler said. "Between working a fulltime job and playing soccer I didn't think school would be a fair thing. I didn't think it would get enough of my attention. It's back on the backburner until the right time presents itself."
With so many responsibilities. Schindler has become more proficient at time management. When he can't make practices with either team, the defender finds himself at a Rochester gym five or six times a week. "Sometimes on days where we have games just to make sure I am staying fit even after a long weekend," he said. "I am able to train once or twice a week with Rochester and do try to make it out once a week to Syracuse [where Utica trains] as well. Just to make sure I am understanding what their game plans are and what their system of plays are." Schindler was born and raised in Rochester, watching and idolizing Miller and his teammates. Yeah, yeah, I grew up watching Doug Miller score a goal every time he touched the ball it seemed like," he said, rattling off other Rhinos standouts such as Michael Kirmse, Tommy Tanner and Craig Demmin. "I was watching commercials with Soccer Sam, his wrestling radio show back in the nineties. I grew up and experienced it all. If we went to my parents’ house, I probably have a drawer in the basement probably with everyone's autographs, the mid-nineties, from when I was a ball boy or playing soccer games at halftime."
Bill Andracki, Schindler's first coach with the indoor Lancers in 2011, was the Rhinos goalkeeper when he was a ball boy. "He would yell at me because I wouldn't get the ball to him fast enough," he said. After Schindler signed a 15-day contract with the indoor Lancers, Andracki saw potential in the rookie even after he allowed his man to score six goals in a loss to the Milwaukee Wave. "I walked off the field feeling pretty despondent and I know coach wasn't happy either," he said. "I honestly thought that was going to be my first and only experience being a professional athlete. Bill Andracki didn't let that affect his enthusiasm of what he thought I could do. Ever since that day I was in the lineup and honestly, there was a lot of time in my rookie year that that was a bad enough display that I probably shouldn't be playing the next game. But they stuck with me and I'm forever grateful for that."
Now, Schindler is taking that experience and paying it forward. "I know I probably hurt the franchise more than I helped them that first year, but I think in the years that have come afterwards, it has been a great experience for me and something that I can look back on when I'm feeling down or talking to the other guys who are playing their first games and they walk off the field looking like they let everybody down. Just letting them know that everybody goes through that experience. You just have to grow from it. Nobody is going to fire you or kick you off the team if you had one bad game. We all believe in each other."
This weekend, Jake Schindler is believing in not one, but two teams, one with which he could win a national championship and another that could take a major step toward another. "This means everything to this organization," he said. "Sam has sacrificed more than any person I can think of, his time, his money, putting his business on the line, constantly, to make sure we have sponsors, that we are able to travel, and eat good meals. For him, it would be a culmination of probably 10 or 12 years of working towards this goal. "Guys were near in tears after the Chicago game. They were just so excited for the opportunity to be playing for a championship. Hopefully, this continues to ignite a flame in this city that we have talented soccer players and we have strong ownership that want to be successful. Hopefully, that drives fans into the stands and hopefully that drives great soccer players to the Rochester Lancers so that they can continue to be successful. We've got a great coach whose got 20 years of playing experience and probably just as much coaching, an owner who's got eight years of ownership and probably 20 years of front office experience at different levels. There's no reason that this success should not carry on."