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McGrath stands tall as FC Buffalo earns three key points

FC Buffalo's coaches and players see it regularly in practice, and the club's fans have witnessed it dozens of times in the middle of the pitch. It was only a matter of time before a header won by 6'4 midfielder Ian McGrath found the back of the net.

Off a pretty in-swinging corner from Jack Donaldson in the 55th minute, McGrath engaged contact with FC Indiana's Halid Aboudjack, knocked him off balance and rose to pummel a header past Brendan Allen for the game's only goal, securing a win for the home side on Sunday at Robert E. Rich All High Stadium in front of roughly 700 fans.

"That's one thing I've always tried to work on -- attacking headers, trying to score on headers," said McGrath, who plays collegiately for Evansville. "Obviously Donny (Jack Donaldson) put in a good ball, floated it right into the back post with some pace on it, and I got up on my guy early and was able to make good connection and put it in the corner."

"[McGrath] wins everything in the air - in the midfield and in our box he's been involved in clearing them out, but then he gets the goal off a brilliant header," FC Buffalo head coach Brendan Murphy added. "We've been waiting for that one to come all year."

Another outstanding defensive display preserved the clean sheet for FC Buffalo (2-2), which climbs to third in the Great Lakes East Conference standings, with two games in hand over AFC Cleveland (5-1) and Indy Eleven NPSL (4-2).

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The Wolves' Brian Paredes, David Acuna Camacho, Chris Walter and Keith Traut were tidy as the back four, and goalkeeper Nick Jeffs, back in the lineup after recovering from a hip-flexor injury, earned the shutout.

"They're just good individual players that have some good chemistry together," said Murphy about his back four. "They've got size, they've got speed and some guys who can play out."

Louisville goalkeeper Nick Jeffs returned to the starting XI for FC Buffalo Sunday. (Matt Weinberg/Special to The News)

Louisville goalkeeper Nick Jeffs returned to the starting XI for FC Buffalo Sunday. (Matt Weinberg/Special to The News)

[Re-live the major events in the match at BN Soccer's Twitter account]

ACUNA CAMACHO STANDS OUT: While McGrath's goal rightfully earned him man of the match honors, Acuna Camacho made a compelling case with a sterling performance at center back. Previously in a right wing role, and then an outside back role, Acuna Camacho settled in to center back for the last match and a half, and FC Buffalo hasn't conceded in the process.

The Monmouth University alum won Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Defender of the Year last fall, and it's not hard to tell why. He's stellar in his positioning, tracks runners well, doesn't back down from challenges and can ping a long ball better than most National Premier Soccer League defenders.

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POSITIVITY UNITES BACK FOUR: It's easy for a defense to get frustrated when its offense struggles to create and finish off chances. Recognizing that FC Buffalo's attackers are in a rut, the Wolves' defenders and holding midfielders made a concerted effort not to compound the problem.

"We just stay positive and back up one another and really go hard for each other," McGrath explains. "If you have that mentality to get stuck in and go hard into every challenge and everybody has that in the back-four block, then that's going to be key for us."

The Wolves haven't conceded a goal in 226 minutes and own the second-best goals allowed ratio (an average of one per match) in the Great Lakes East Conference.

OFFENSE STILL SPUTTERING: FC Buffalo's attack is creeping closer to a breakout game, but Sunday's win still featured several squandered chances that would have made the final 35 minutes more comfortable for the home side.

Starting target striker Romario Guscott was unlucky to see his first-half rip from 16 yards clang off the crossbar, while a 40-yard run down the left wing by Johnny McBeth produced a cross that missed connecting with sliding substitute Sam Byles by only a few inches.

"There were probably some more goals in that game, but at the end of the day, we'll take the three points," Murphy reflected after the match. "[FC Indiana] were better than their record and goals against show."

DIFFICULT DAY FOR HEAD REFEREE: Although the referee didn't decide the game, both sides frequently barked in frustration at the center official. Two instances stick out for FC Buffalo fans; the first was a 50th-minute melee sparked by a two-footed tackle by FC Indiana's Joshua Logan on Jack Donaldson.

Wolves captain Chris Walter took offense, rushing over and shoving Logan to the turf after the cynical challenge. Both Logan and Walter saw yellow cards, but the skipper did well to stand up for his teammate.

Just a few minutes after McGrath's goal, FC Buffalo's Kieran Toland felt the brunt of a high kick to the face that went unpunished, much to the dismay of an animated Wolves bench.

Ian McGrath scans the pitch for a pass during FC Buffalo's home opener against Rochester. (Matt Weinberg/Special To The News)

Ian McGrath scans the pitch for a pass during FC Buffalo's home opener against Rochester. (Matt Weinberg/Special To The News)

WHAT'S NEXT: FC Buffalo takes its longest road trip of the season for a 7 p.m. tilt on June 17 vs. FC Indiana and a 2 p.m. game June 19 against Indy Eleven NPSL. The Wolves are home next at 7 p.m. June 24 against conference leaders AFC Cleveland.

TUNE IN: Ian McGrath will join the "Football Club of Buffalo Show" at 5 p.m. June 13 to discuss FC Buffalo's win over FC Indiana.

Email Ben Tsujimoto, who's impressed FC Indiana's 40-year-old coach Chris Castro played the game's final 10 minutes, at btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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