On Sunday afternoon I attended my first FC Buffalo match, the teams’s third game of the 10 game season and their second meeting against AFC Cleveland, a Rust Belt Derby rival. While much of the first half was a boring physical contest, the second half lit up and the four goal game did not disappoint.
FC Buffalo’s starting lineup was (4-4-2): Eric DeHond; Kendell McFayden, Josh Hall, Josiah Snelgrove, Jake Rinow; Gary Boughton, Matt Stedman, Josh Faga, Mike Reidy; Andy Tiedt, Alexander Rouse.
The team had 3 players who were busy graduating college during the last match in McFayden, Rouse and Hall, who didn’t make the trip to Cleveland for the club’s 4-2 loss last weekend. This week’s rematch featured all three players as starters and the team improved to a draw.
Big strong center forward, Vinny Bell on AFC Cleveland smoked McFayden in the first minute. McFayden’s role in this formation struck me as odd at first. Here is a guy who was a forward at Austin Aztex and Kitsap Pumas and who tried out for a forward position with the Rochester Rhinos this past spring lining up as a central defender. However, during the course of play it became apparent how head coach Dan Krzyzanowicz wanted McFayden to play; his speed allows him to be utilized as a traditional sweeper. He has the ability to run in behind and catch Cleveland forwards when they try quick through balls and when the Buffalo defense gets a foot in on a tackle or intercepts a pass, McFayden has the ball skills to carry the ball out of the back. This means that he plays both in front and behind of his center back partner.
The first four minutes were played entirely in Buffalo’s half. That is not hyperbole; the team did not have the ball for more than a few seconds at a time and could not string three passes together.
AFC Cleveland earned a free kick early in the sixth minute. DeHond looked lost on the set piece, but Cleveland headed well wide of the frame.
The first rush of the game for Buffalo was in the 8th minute. Mike Reidy cut inside from the left wing and got the ball to Stedman who beat his man and played Rouse in on a diagonal. Rouse made himself available on this play several more times in the game.
In the 9th minute there was a free kick for Cleveland in a dangerous area but the visitors curled the shot into the wall. It was a very poor attempt from a promising position. On the very next drive, Buffalo got a free kick in a similar position with the same result.
Reidy cut inside again at the 14 minute mark and played the diagonal ball to Rouse, whose low cross attempt was blocked behind for a corner.
McFayden had a heroic last ditch poke tackle on Cleveland’s Bell in an advanced position a minute later. This is textbook sweeper play.
In the 20th minute, McFayden conceded a corner by making a lunging tackle to block a low cross attempt in the box. DeHond dropped the in-swinging ball but fortunately Vinny Bell dawdled on the ball before getting off a weak shot attempt that Buffalo’s defense was able to clear off the line.
FC Buffalo had a long throw in the 23rd minute that looked promising but went straight into the gloves of the keeper. Buffalo’s best chance of the half was a ball played through midfield a bit later to Rouse but the Cleveland defense recovered and nothing came of it.
Mike Reidy got a rather stupid yellow card for a retaliatory tackle from behind after the referee ignored his appeals for a foul seconds earlier. Back when I was still a competitive player, everyone in the league knew me as a physical player with a short temper. While I’ll be the first to argue that there is a time and a place for a player to voice the frustration that his whole team feels, doing it in front of the referee in a manner that is sure to get yourself penalized is not the smart choice. This foul only played into the officiating crew’s idea that Buffalo was playing an overly aggressive style which was reflected in the mismatched foul stats in the first half.
The pieces are there for this FC Buffalo team, but an incident in the 36th minute illustrates that the mental aspect of their game needs some polishing. Alexander Rouse got the ball on the wide right and cut in past a defender, then he cut back out before cutting in again, then he tried to create a shooting lane by stepping to the outside again. By the time he made his fourth cut, a defender had time to get back and deflect the shot right to his keeper.
Perhaps the legs were showing a bit in the 39th minute as Rouse cut in from his preferred advanced right wing position to get past 4 defenders. Unfortunately when Rouse aimed his final ball into the box all he had to aim for was left midfield Mike Reidy. No one else had the speed or stamina to keep up with the attack and Rouse was forced to play the ball off a defender for a corner.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, there was a questionable offside non-call that led to Cleveland’s first goal. Cleveland played ball through the middle for Bell to run onto. Although DeHond did well come out and cut down the angle the Cleveland forward coolly slotted the ball just under the keeper’s left side to score. 1-0 Cleveland
Officiating was definitely been an issue based on the noise coming from the Buffalo bench for about 80 minutes of the game. Head coach Dan Krzyzanowicz was clearly not happy with most of the calls in the game. I can’t say I disagree with the skipper, as both linesmen looked green and regular USL-Pro center referee Steve Montanino was the fourth official instead of taking charge of the game. It’s telling when a referee is a big enough deal that I can recognize him, but he gets charged with the least important task of the four man team.
In the dying seconds of the first half Buffalo has another long throw. Cleveland’s keeper came out but (I think) Tiedt headed the ball down for Reidy. The midfielder chested down to himself and planted his feet but he missed the half volley well wide from 12 yards out.
FC Buffalo’s halftime sub was Pat Zelko in for Andy Tiedt. Zelko came in at right back, which pushed the starting right back inside and allowed McFayden to go up top. Tiedt wasn’t playing poorly but failed to link up with his midfield as well as McFayden proved to.
The team started the second half off on the front foot. In the 50th minute Gary Boughton beat his man to the line but his cross was blocked for a corner, which went right to the keeper. Boughton is quite fast and repeatedly beat his defender to the byline to deliver dangerous crosses in the second half.
Cleveland’s forward Schmitt, a halftime substitute, carved open the FC Buffalo defense multiple times in the second half. On one occasion he literally walked in between two Buffalo defenders.
The assistant referee on the near side was very poor throughout the game. He was the one who missed the offside call on Cleveland’s goal and he missed several calls for both teams. Buffalo had two counter attacking rushes that very clearly should have been called off. On one attack the Buffalo players paused for a second expecting the whistle that never came because the linesman didn’t raise his flag.
Some shenanigans almost came to a head after a hard tackle on Cleveland’s Scmitt. I thought it was the right center back but the referee gave a long lecture to Zelko, playing right back. The Cleveland forward reacted to the tackle like a primadonna and some light shoving ensued that almost kind of came close to erupting in fisticuffs.
FC Buffalo substitution: Cory Cwilinski replaced Matt Stedman in the 58th minute.
Then FC Buffalo got on the board. Rouse found himself in a world of space at the top of the box and capitalized. Coming in from the left side, the defense backed off of Rouse and he accepted the invitation to shoot, beating the keeper low at the near post in the 60th minute. Alexander Rouse scored to put FC Buffalo on level terms with an assist from Mike Reidy.
Head coach Dan Krzyzanowicz voiced his frustration at what he viewed as horrible officiating by yelling this gem in the 66th minute, “FC Buffalo, we gotta flop on every contact.”
An injured Jake Rinow, who was playing center back, was replaced by right back Mwbana Johnson in the 69th minute. This forced a shake up in the back as Zelko moved to left side and the left back came inside. Josh Hall was then replaced by John Grabowski in the 74th minute.
There was another example of a mental lapse for FC Buffalo in the 77th minute. Boughton tried to be too cute with a back heel pass to a teammate making an overlapping run. Instead of just sticking his nose to the grindstone, Boughton tried to be flashy in a way that harmed his team when they needed a goal.
82 minute, Johnston scored for Cleveland after the team pressed hard in the Buffalo half. I didn’t actually see the goal because I was writing something else, but AFC Cleveland had been controlling the ball in and around the Buffalo box for a while before Johnston poked the ball past DeHond. 2-1 Cleveland.
Minutes after entering the game, Cleveland player Anthony Christopher Bahadur got a dubious yellow card. The tackle he made was clearly a foul but I think the referee was actively trying to level out his ledger by carding the player on his first offense. While the first card was questionable, his second was textbook (a tackle from behind in the box) and the referee had little choice but to send the player off.
Evidence of yet another mental mistake, Mbwana Johnson couldn’t let the challenge go even after the referee issued the red card and Bahadur started making his way off the field. Instead of getting on with the game, Mbwana let his temper get the best of him and his mouth got him a yellow card. If you are a Joey Barton style player (which Mbwana is not) it is maybe a strategy to get in a player’s ear in order to get him a cheap second yellow in order to give your team the man advantage. In this case, Johnson’s team was already a man up and he needed to drop the issue. Zelko and DeHond did their best to extricate Johnson from the situation but neither could contain the heated right back.
FC Buffalo looked unlikely to make anything happen before the dismissal, but pushed forward after it. The team was able to make their man advantage pay by sending players forward in waves.
In the last minute of regulation FC Buffalo had a corner. An attacker put his header on frame, which was saved by Cleveland’s keeper. The rebound fell to McFayden who powered his shot high and off the football posts above the goal.
Reidy had a late surging run from the right side and cut inside but pulled his shot just wide of the near post.
Nekabari Tor came into the game in the 83rd minute for Rouse and had a big clearance in extra time. Schmitt beat his man in the box and pulled the ball back to set up a late arriving run from a teammate but Tor swooped in out of nowhere to clear the ball out of danger.
Mike Reidy came up with a big goal for FC Buffalo to tie the game up late. There was a scramble in the box after a long cross from Grabowski on the left side. A blocked header attempt falls to Reidy who drops his shoulder to shimmy inside past two defenders and get a clean look at goal. Cleveland’s keeper had no chance on the deadly shot from close range. 2-2
A late equalizing goal and an assist earned Mike Reidy a well deserved Man of the Match.
This draw keeps FC Buffalo on pace in the Rust Belt Cup but means that they need to get results away from home to keep the trophy a possibility.