"You spend your whole life trying to get into these situations."
It's funny how life works out.
A little more than a month ago, player-head coach Jake Schindler and his Rochester Lancers just lost out reaching the Major Arena Soccer League 2 playoffs by a hair and a chance to win the title.
Today, the veteran defender finds himself only two games away from winning his first indoor championship of any kind with the Baltimore Blast. The team plays the Chihuahua Savage in a two-game final series in Mexico on Thursday, April 28 and Friday, April 29 (both games kick off at 10 p.m. ET).
Schindler, who was able to play for the Blast, thanks to an affiliation agreement with the two clubs, is cherishing the opportunity to win that elusive indoor title. He has played for several teams, including the Syracuse Silver Knights and Florida Tropics in an indoor career that began with Rochester in 2010.
"It would be special," Schindler said of winning the MASL crown. "You spend your whole life trying to get into these situations. These moments are really special. It would be an accumulation of everybody I've played with, everyone that I've coached, getting me ready for this moment and be my family, sacrificing time and vacation. I feel like it would be a justification for everything that's happened over the past 12 years."
Both games will be held at the Corner Sport Arena in Chihuahua, Mexico. Because there was no arena availability in Baltimore, the Blast has been forced to play that series and the Eastern Conference final on the road. Baltimore won both its matches at the Milwaukee Wave, the Eastern Division regular season winners.
"It doesn't matter," Schindler said about playing all those games away from home. "At the end of the day, you got to win your games. I can be playing on a dirt patch. And if somebody said it was for the championship, I'm going to be putting the same amount of effort out there. Wherever we play, the team is going to show up and they're going to perform whatever we have to win the championship."
Not traveling between games certainly hasn't hurt the Blast.
"It would be nice to be able to play in front of your fans," Schindler said. "Honestly, not having to travel in between the days actually, I think, probably helped us. We're one of the older teams. So just be able to stay still where you are, you're accustomed to the area by that point. You've got your routine and that plays to our advantage vs. trying to get on a flight and then turning it around."
"It's super exciting," he said. "I felt very welcomed by the team. Obviously, I played with some of the players before, so that helps to transition. I'm trying not to do too much. They signed me as a defender. I'm trying to do my best to be a great defender and a great teammate, play the role that's necessary to win the championship.
The 5-11, 205-lb. Schindler credited Blast head coach David Bascome with helping to make his transition as smooth and seamless as possible.
"Coach Bascome is very detail oriented," he said. "He was able to send me what he's looking to accomplish, how the team plays. I've played against these guys for a long, long time. So I have an idea on what they're trying to do to be successful. I'm just trying to replicate that, as I have spent a lot of time reading through all of Dave's notes. He’s a veteran of the indoor game as a player and a coach. It's been really exciting learning from him."
Speaking of learning, Schindler recently completed his first season as a head coach, directing the Lancers within a whisker of reaching the M2 playoffs as a player-coach. He made an impact on and off the field. Schindler led the team with nine assists in 12 matches (he added three goals) and was named one of three finalists for the league's coach of the year.
Schindler played down his role and possible honors.
"I don't think I've done anything," he said. "It's the players. I've had a lot of coaches of the years. They get recognized because of what the players are doing on the field. I think the guys that I had were committed. They were a family, they liked each other, and they fought hard. They wanted to win. They want to be successful. So, all the praise goes to them.
"I'd rather have six guys on the MASL2 all-star team before I get any recognition. I think we'd all trade our awards for a championship. It's all down to the players, the front office staff, just allowing us to be successful and everything that they've committed to us."
If any of you indoor soccer aficionados thought the lede to this story sounded familiar, well, it should have.
During the 2018-19 season, I used the same opening sentence for a column on this website when Schindler performed double duty for the Lancers and Utica City FC.
During the 2018-19 campaign, Schindler performed for the Rochester Lancers, winning MASL2 first-team all-star honors and helping the team to a third-place finish. Schindler played for Utica City FC during its stretch run for the playoffs, earning MASL honorable mention accolades. He played the most indoor games of any player that season. Including the playoffs, he competed 24 times for the Lancers and 19 for Utica.
After the Lancers dropped a 10-9 overtime decision to Cuervos of Juarez in the M2 semifinals in Ontario, Calif., Schindler was unable to play in the third-place match because he was needed by Utica.
"I could have stayed and played in the third-place match, but Sam thought it was important for me to go be a part of the Utica City," Schindler said of Lancers owner SoccerSam Fantauzzo. "They were still competing for playoff spots and seeding so I had the opportunity to fly home and play in a game the next day to help Utica to try and continue their season."
Despite playing for two leagues in different leagues and all that traveling, Schindler embraced that year.
"I loved that season," he said. "I want to play soccer every day if I can. If I was selfish, I would play soccer seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. That's just the kind of person I am. That season was just fun for me. I enjoyed it. The older you get, your priorities change. Now I want to be with my family more. That's why I made the move. To this year, to be closer to home last games with practice commitments it was great. I'm just trying to still find that balance."
Winning his first MASL championship would more than balance things out for Schindler.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, recently was published. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.lk. His sequel, STILL AND ALIVE AND KICKING: The story of the 21st century Rochester Lancers, will be published soon. It will have many features about indoor soccer and MASL players.