One of the beautiful parts of soccer is how the efforts and selflessness of some players can create glory for others. There are enough cliches to go around about the value of team sports, but witnessing it first hand feels more gratifying for players, coaches and fans.
The Western New York Flash's home debut in United Women's Soccer went about as poorly as possible through 45 minutes. The visiting New York Surf controlled the majority of play, struck for the game's first goal from a set piece, won nearly every physical battle and then doubled their lead in the 57th minute.
But, by heeding direction, stepping up their effort - especially the work rates of their two strikers - and playing more simply, the Flash mustered a 2-2 draw against the Surf on Saturday at All-High Stadium.
Western New York's record through three games is 0-1-2, a loss and two draws. Following the match, local NPSL team FC Buffalo played the nightcap as part of a doubleheader. Read about that result here.
Turning point: For many, the turning point was Carissima Cutrona's goal in the 59th minute, an almost immediate response to the Surf's second. In the run of play, Flash forward Maddie Pezzino checked back to receive the ball, and surveyed her options.
"I saw the space up the left side of the field, I knew Maddie was going to get [the ball], and she opened up her body and played me," Cutrona described. "I started dribbling and I saw a little space and the goalkeeper move to her right, so I saw the right side of the goal open for me and I just took the shot."
Although the goal was one Surf keeper Danielle Ogrodowski would likely want back, Cutrona's marker was evidence of a match that had turned in Western New York's favor just after the break.
"There was some static play going on in the first half [up front] that didn't help," explained Flash head coach Gary Bruce. "I tell a lot of players, 'You build the energy for offense by the way you play defense.'
"Almost immediately, one of the first plays out of the gate in the second half, we've made something out of nothing by getting in on a tackle from our front line. Then it's like, 'Let's go.' Our movement from our forwards to find passing lanes, to find the channels, was better. One of the messages at halftime was finding those passing lanes."
Cutrona credited comfort and continuity for the Flash's inspired play down the stretch.
"Being on a new team with new players coming together, it's always a little tricky to get on the same page with each other," said the University at Buffalo's leading scorer last fall. "But I think in the second half we wanted to work together as a team and get that momentum going forward. We know we have the players, we know what we can do - once we put it all together, it's going to be very special."
[Look back at the live-tweeting of the Flash's draw with the Surf]
The equalizer: Maddie Pezzino's high school statistics and high level of academy play are evidence for why she's headed to play at Florida State in the fall. The former Grand Island Vikings forward may not be in peak form at the moment, but her quality shined through in the 87th minute, a time when the Flash were desperate for a clutch play.
Gretta Dry, a Canisius College forward who plays on the wing for Bruce, found space on the right side and swung in a cross to Pezzino, who'd carved out a spot just left of the penalty mark. A soft touch, quick turn and left-footed blast gave Ogrodowski no chance at preventing a tie game.
Coach's insight: Two personnel concerns left Bruce in a bit of a lurch on the field, especially in terms of leadership, as Brittany Heist missed the match to injury and Jenna Raepple needed to be taken off just 15 minutes due to a knock of her own. Without the calming presence and experience of that pair, the Flash's youth showed - for good and for bad.
"One of the things we're learning about this group of girls is that they're so young that they don't understand the moment that they're in," Bruce explained. "That being two down, they don't understand how difficult of a hole that is to pull themselves out of.
"Unfortunately, they didn't understand how good of a spot they were in at the beginning of the game," he continued. "I think after we played this team last weekend, we should have gotten a lot more from the beginning, and we let ourselves down by coming out as slow as we did."
Sizing up the foe: It didn't take long to see why Surf forward Meagen Doyle is among the best players in United Women's Soccer. She's tough, feisty and skilled, playing a sizable role in both of New York's goals.
Doyle got on the end of a Flo Gamby set piece just before halftime, one-touching her shot into the near post side-netting. After the break, Doyle got behind Flash center back Anna Davies and unselfishly played square to teammate Fortuna Velaj for an easy tap-in.
As the Surf's lead began to deteriorate, Doyle's frustration was evident - she was warned several times by the referee for fouls she did not find agreeable. Her grit and passion were meaningful to the Flash's Bruce - and while her complaining wasn't instructive - the rest of her game highlighted qualities that were at times absent from his own team.
"In terms of our performance, I felt we should have earned the victory today, but it was some attitude stuff we needed to fix up," Bruce noted. "As much as I was frustrated by [Doyle] on the other team, we need to learn from her - not from a 'run here, play the ball this way' - but the attitude that we bring onto the field with us."
WNY Flash starting XI: Megan Tock; Sarah Karlik, Anna Davies, Tess Ford, Kaelyn Gamel; Danielle Braun; Carissima Cutrona, Jenna Raepple, Gretta Dry; Sydney Cerza, Maddie Pezzino.
Subs used: Paige Buscaglia, Hope Balling, Marcy Barberic, Taylor ReQua, Rebecca Sanzsole.
Next match: The Flash's next match, also at home, but this time at Niagara University, is slated for 7 p.m. June 3 vs. Long Island. Ticket info can be found here.