Nick Mendola, the president of the FC Buffalo soccer team, took a breath in the middle of preseason preparations, and thought about the fact that the organization is about to start its seventh season.
“It doesn’t feel like six individual seasons, but it feels like a giant block of time,” he said. “When we started it, there were a couple of hundred fans and most of the players were local. ... Now, the reception and appetite for soccer is higher than I can remember. I remember when soccer was called the sport of the future, but now it really feels like it.”
It’s easy to be impatient over the growth process for a business, but the fact that the amateur team is still around is a good sign. FC Buffalo starts Year Seven at 7 p.m. on Saturday night, as it hosts the Rochester River DogZ FC at Robert E. Rich All High Stadium.
Good-sized parts of the roster frequently turn over each year at this level of play. This time around, there won’t be many familiar faces on the roster.
“It’s always bad to talk about a youth movement in sports, because it sounds like you are rebuilding,” Mendola said. “But it’s a natural cycle at this level. We only have about seven guys from last year coming back. But our roster is bigger than before, and we think it’s better.”
Two returning players are expected to be important performers in the coming season. Andrew Ferguson, who played at Niagara, was an all-star in 2015 in the All-Midwest Conference of the National Premier Soccer League. Then there’s Kendell McFayden, a Williamsville native who made the all-league team last season.
Leading the newcomers is David Acuna Camacho, a Costa Rican who is a former captain at Monmouth University. Defender Keith Traut was an America East All-Conference selection for Albany last season. Forward Romario Guscott played his first season last fall at LIU-Brooklyn, scoring seven goals in 15 starts. The roster includes players from California to England.
Last year, FC Buffalo finished with a 6-2-4 record. It’s back in the Great Lakes East Conference of the Midwest Region of the NPSL with five other teams, including the new squad from Rochester.
As usual, it’s difficult what sort of season is ahead for FC Buffalo. Optimism runs high before the start of any season. But players don’t have much practice time together, and the other teams in the league are trying to improve as well.
“People ask, ‘How good are you?’ ” Mendola said about his team. “The talent is there. If it meshes, we might have a special season. ... We can’t follow what the other teams, like our rivals in Erie and Cleveland, are doing in the offseason. At least now we can see their roster and get an idea. Are we having good fortune, or is everyone doing it? It’s hard to forecast.”