For just over 30 minutes the winless Rochester Lancers looked like a disciplined, competitive team. The Harrisburg Heat were clinging to a 2-1 lead and couldn’t get much going against Brian Wilkin and the Lancer defense. Once the Heat got going, though, there was nothing Rochester could do to stop them. Harrisburg improved to 3-1 with an 8-4 win before 2,638 at New Holland Arena Saturday night.
Red hot Dominic Francis added two more goals late in the game and Ty Hall scored a blooper and a banger, at first giving the Heat the lead for good, and then stamping out Rochester’s hopes for a comeback.
The Lancers, who returned to the MASL after a four-year hiatus are essentially an expansion team. Like a trendy eatery, their roster uses only the finest local ingredients. Despite an 0-4 start, owner “Soccer Sam” Fantauzzo and Head Coach Doug Miller are betting that their young team of local players can, in time, compete with the MASL’s best.
“The first half we showed that we can compete for 30 minutes,” said Miller. “We’ve done an incredible job in a short period of time with the talent we have being all from Rochester and we continue to grow.”
In the last minute of the first quarter, the Lancers got caught in a bad line change and Julian Escobar cashed in with a tap in to give the Heat the lead, but 23 seconds later Elton De Oliveira was dispossessed in his own end leading to an easy Michael Cunningham goal.
Midway through the second quarter Daniel Villela chipped a corner kick pass to Francis whose perfect volley was robbed by Wilkin. Francis could only shake his head in disbelief.
The Heat grabbed the lead for good, however, at 12:51 of the second quarter when Danny DiPrima triggered a restart from the corner and Hall’s awkwardly struck shot bounced through a maze of stunned Lancers.
“Rochester’s getting better and they’re going to get better,” Heat coach Pat Healey says. “I thought we were a little casual in the beginning, but I don’t think we were bad. I thought we had a really good second quarter, but we only won the quarter 1-0.”
The Heat finally broke the game open in the third quarter. William Eskay scored, followed 67 seconds later by Marcel Berry’s first MASL goal, to make it 4-1. Jeremy Ortiz would cut the lead to 4-2, but less than two minutes later Hall spun and hit a rocket to restore the Heat’s comfortable lead.
Francis scored the game’s next two goals and De Oliveira ended the Heat scoring with a restart goal off a cheeky Tom Mellor pass. Rochester scored the game’s final two goals to soften the margin.
Miller was happy with his team’s performance, while acknowledging costly mistakes that testify to their group’s inexperience. “We’re in uncharted waters,” Miller said, “We scored four goals for the first time so we’re really happy in regards to it. All the goals that we gave up were mental mistakes, so the more discipline we have the better we’re going to become and that’s the growth that we’re looking for.”
Healey is also happy with where his team is. The Heat are 3-1 after starting 1-7 last year. All three wins have come at the expense of the Lancers, but Harrisburg’s only loss was a 4-3 heartbreaker in Utica. “We played our butts off in Utica, just didn’t get a win, but 3-1 can’t complain,” Healey says pragmatically.
The Heat’s hot start belies some of the challenges they have faced, including losing leading scorer Ricardo Carvalho to the Florida Tropics in free agency and the absence of MASL Rookie of the Year finalist Tavoy Morgan.
“Losing Ricky (Carvalho) is going to hurt,” Healey says. “He’s a good player, a good teammate. I think he learned a lot last year and he’s going to have a very successful year in Florida. It was just a family decision and he left on great terms.”
The Heat hope to get Morgan back at some point, but neither Healey, nor owner Carl Delmont could offer a timetable. “He’s not here right now,” Healey said with a your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine shrug. “Things in our lives sometimes take priority and we understand those things.”
The Heat are too busy scoring goals and winning games right now to notice. Harrisburg has scored 28 goals in four games, led by Francis’s feverish 10 markers.
“I said it before the season I think that he’ll be our leading scorer, just the way the system’s run and what we’re trying to do,” Healey says of Francis. “His attitude was great in the preseason. About 3/4 of the way through the season last year it just all clicked for him a little bit. He put the work in and it’s showing.”
“We’ve got good players on this team,” Healey continued. “We brought in good players. Daniel Villela’s a great player, Danny DiPrima’s a great leader. Our young guys are shining and we have to be that young team that continues to grow and continues to get our young players up to speed quicker than anyone else if we’re going to survive-slash-make a run at this.”
Healey’s young team has a head start on Miller’s. Luckily for the Heat, six of their first 10 games are against Rochester, but Harrisburg will now head out on a four-game road trip, which includes two games at the Lancers and two in Utica.
Better to play Rochester now than later according to Miller. “From where we were our first game to now in our fourth game, we’re going to have such a huge growth that we’re going to be somebody’s nightmare at the end of the season.”
With the win, the Heat sit in third place, ahead of the Baltimore Blast (2-2) and defending Ron Newman Cup champion Milwaukee Wave (2-1).