By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
It’s time for a little riddle:
Which came first? Lukas Fernandes working at Salvatore’s Old Fashioned Pizzeria? Or Fernandes playing soccer for the Salvatore’s-backed Rochester Lancers, the same Lancers whose ownership group includes Salvatore’s founder Sam Fantauzzo?
Actually, the answer is much different than you might guess. Fernandes started putting sauce on pizza dough at Salvatore’s long before he joined the Lancers, and Soccer Sam had nothing to do with his employment, either.
Fernandes is making pizzas and watching over the oven at Salvatore’s locations in Brockport and Spencerport because his father, Lou, is a part owner. When Dad says you need to work, you work.
But even if he worked for another pizza shop in the Rochester area, you can be sure Fernandes would still be wearing a Lancers uniform. The 19-year-old forward from Churchville has become a valuable piece of a potent offensive attack, and on the weekend he assumed control of a starting role for the streaking Lancers.
After assisting on a goal in Friday’s 2-0 victory over Syracuse, Fernandes was even more assertive in Sunday’s 3-0 victory over AFC Cleveland. He set up Will Stone’s team-leading fourth goal in the sixth minute. Then in the 40th minute he scored his first career NPSL goal as the Lancers and goalkeeper Will Banahene posted their third consecutive shutout on the turf of Charlie Schiano Sr. Field at Aquinas Institute.
After dropping their first two games back in May, the Lancers have won three straight, are unbeaten in five (4-0-1) and have a 4-2-1 overall record.
“We want to win, we want to play hard and our final goal is to win the title,” Fernandes said. “There’s good energy on this team. Everyone’s alive and there’s such good teamwork.”
Fernandes joined the Lancers when his freshman year at Temple University was over, after the team had already started practicing. While he needed to earn his starting opportunity, Lancers coach Doug Miller has known him for years. He was once a player at Miller’s soccer camp.
“He was ahead of the curve when he was 14, 15, 16, 17,” Miller said. “He wants to play at the highest level and he’s working on his craft. It shows, too, when he can go in and have an impact on guys that are more advanced than he is.”
To play at the NCAA Division I level is a testament to his ability. That opportunity, however, didn’t always seems as though it would present itself to Fernandes. A three-time All-Greater Rochester selection at Churchville-Chili, Fernandes wasn’t offered a chance to play at the collegiate level until he attended a camp at Temple in December of his senior year (2015-16).
The Owls coaching staff liked what they saw and in January he was making plans to spend the next four years in Philadelphia. His game is about creating goals.
“I’m very offensive-minded, I guess,” he said. “Well, not I guess; I know. I love to have the ball in my feet. But 90 percent of the game I don’t have it. That’s where college has really helped me with my fitness and movement off the ball in defending.”
Off the field, Fernandes is majoring in kinesiology. “I tell people that and they’re like, ‘What’s that?’ ” Fernandes said. “That’s why I put exercise and sports science (on his RLancers.com bio page).”
For the record, kinesiology is the study of the mechanics of body movements. There’s some serious kinetic energy with the Lancers right now. In the past three games they were able to build leads and protect. Banahene has posted three consecutive shutouts (Joey Kapinos played the final eight minutes of the 3-0 victory over Fort Pitt on June 4).
“We have probably five or six guys that can score goals,” Miller said. “Will (Stone) is consistent in doing it and some of the other guys are popping in their one or two now.”
They’ll attempt to extend the winning steak on Friday when they play at the Dayton Dynamo. The Lancers then return home to play FC Buffalo at 7:30 p.m. on June 23.