Friday night's rivalry match between FC Buffalo and Erie had everything - vicious tackles, scrums after the whistle, a handful of yellow cards, ample trash talk and a few close scoring chances - except for actual goals.
The scoreless draw gave FC Buffalo their first point of the National Premier Soccer League season, but coaches and players were left wanting more after the final whistle.
"We had so many chances at the beginning you want to say you'd come out with the win, but they definitely had the better of the play in the second half," remarked Wolves' head coach Frank Butcher. "I don't think you're ever happy with a tie, we want to get the win every time. So we're not happy, but it could have been worse."
"I think it was a game where it was important [for us] to win the small battles," added midfielder Braden Scales. "Obviously we didn't get the goal, but we had half chances, balls in the box, dangerous set pieces. I thought we did well winning the small facets of the game, so I think we took a positive from that, especially away from home."
WOLVES OUT FAST: FC Buffalo took the game to the host Commodores in the first stanza. In the 26th minute, a cracking 25-yard strike from winger Bayley Winkel nearly blew past Erie goalkeeper Jorge Alvarez, whose strong hands prevented a highlight-reel goal, which began with zigzagging cuts by the Robert Morris University attacker to elude two defenders in quick succession.
[Look back: Tweets from FC Buffalo vs. Erie]
The visitors' best chance incited controversy eight minutes from the intermission. Erie's Ezana Kahsay, an International Prep (Buffalo) graduate, earned a yellow card for dissent after a foul, and the ensuing driven free kick met the head of the Wolves' Jon Cary, who nodded the ball hard into the turf toward Alvarez.
The Commodores' keeper reached back toward the goal line to push the ball away - while FC Buffalo players looked to the assistant referee expectantly. The AR shook her head, indicating that the entire ball had not broken the plane.
"I think it's definitely across the line - I think the referee made an awful decision there," Scales said bluntly. "[The header] was definitely over the line; if that goes in, it changes the whole game. We could have packed it in a little more in the second half - we wouldn't have to push as much - and we could have caught them on the break."
HOLDING FIRM: The first moments of the second half proved that the tide had swung in Erie's favor - not shocking given the history of smart halftime adjustments from their owner and head coach John Melody.
With FC Buffalo's back four misshapen, a quick switch found forward Lewis Osborne with time and space inside the 18-yard box. The English forward waited patiently for goalkeeper Jeremy Figler to commit before bending a shot past him. The assistant referee had her flag raised, however, ending Osborne's celebration early - the call was offside on Kahsay, who argued that he wasn't directly involved in the play.
Cary, the former Canisius Griffin who was BN Soccer's other co-Man of the Match, thwarted an Erie chance in stoppage time. Commodores substitute Arthur Favero whipped in a cross from the right, and Figler did well to deflect the ball away from the goalmouth.
Osborne was well-positioned at the back post and knocked the ball toward the gaping net. After scurrying back into position, Cary took a quick step to his left to clear the ball away from his goal line.
As usual, Slotemaker won nearly every defensive header, and fellow center back Jordan Sinclair was well positioned to help when his partner took risks. Starting after entering as a sub in the opener, left back Zach Peterson (LIU-Brooklyn) provided a strong two-way presence, serving in crosses from an advanced position and winning a few crucial tackles in his defensive third.
"Second half they were putting pressure on us, but we held," recalled Butcher. "Two games with no goals allowed in the run of play - I'm pretty happy with that."
WALTER WILL WALTER: One moment first half best embodied the rivalry between the two sides. FC Buffalo captain Chris Walter and Erie's Shane Wiedt - two fiery personalities - rumbled into a tackle near the left corner flag, knocking it off its bearings. Wiedt tumbled first, with Walter standing over him briefly, lending some choice words.
While the Commodores' Austin Solomon rushed over to make peace, players from both squads hustled over to join the festivities. Wiedt and Walter mysteriously avoided bookings.
— Buffalo News Soccer (@BN_Soccer) May 27, 2017
"These two teams really dislike each other and have for quite a long time," explained FC Buffalo's Fox Slotemaker, the BN Soccer co-Man of the Match. "[Altercations are] expected and that's part of it as well - it adds to the atmosphere. Our fans - we had more fans than they did, away from home - it was fantastic."
A SPECIAL RIVALRY: FC Buffalo refused to back down from a rivalry founded on nastiness, and according to Slotemaker and Scales, the visitors handled the match-up with aplomb.
Asked what he liked about this FC Buffalo team, Scales responded quickly. "Just grittiness. That was a very physical, a little bit older team today, and guys were willing to put in the work, tackle for tackle throughout the game, and that's the biggest bright note from the game."
"Personally I love rivalries: I love getting stuck in, flying through tackles and getting physical with guys," Slotemaker added. "A lot of guys stepped up well. We won most of the 50-50s, and I'm pretty proud of the guys in that respect."
"Chris Walter is a great captain - he got all the boys fired up," he continued. "A few of the guys have never played in a rivalry like this before - he told them what it's all about and got everyone up for the game."
ELUSIVE SCORING: It's been 180 minutes and still no goals for FC Buffalo. Kendell McFayden's broken hand in the opener makes life more difficult, and new Jamaican striker Akean Shackleford - a physical specimen - struggled with his touch and link-up play in his NPSL debut.
"Hopefully [finishing] comes quicker or else we'll have to figure something else out," explained Butcher. "We're getting chances, creating opportunities, but that last little bit is what we're missing right now."
Scales offered his take on the team's lackluster offensive production.
"[We're missing] a little sharpness, a little creativity - sometimes we're a little too rushed to go forward," he said. "I think we could be a little more patient in the build up once we get into their half and not to just rush to goal each time. Draw teams out and dominate from there."
SCALES STANDING OUT: After two seasons on the fringe of FC Buffalo's roster, University at Buffalo alum Braden Scales has made the most of his opportunity under the new coaching staff. The former St. Joe's Marauder has battled on the right side, serving in several threatening crosses and showing a strong work rate tracking back defensively.
"I'm just trying to push the guys forward," explained Scales. "I like how we're playing with the front three; I think it's very positive [to get] the ball wide very quickly and then get balls in the box. The guys in the middle have done very well winning the knockdowns. We just need to finish once we get the ball in the box."
2-FOR-2 ER TRIPS: One week after McFayden broke his hand against Dayton, FC Buffalo midfielder Jake Cooper had his finger sliced open on accident during the second half against Erie. The cut was treated well on the sideline, allowing him to play through the pain, although an emergency room trip was necessary for stitches after the contest.
FINAL WORD: "It's our rivals, so we don't like a point - we want to win every time against these guys," said Slotemaker. "...If we put away our chances we win this game comfortably, but it's a point away from home, and you've got to take some positives out of it.
*Erie XI: Jorge Alvarez; Austin Solomon, Guillermo Lazcano, Shane Wiedt, Ashley Phillips; Ricardo da Silva; Paul Bracken, Luca Campos, Leonardo da Silva; Ezana Kahsay, Lewis Osborne. Subs used: Marshall Garcia, Arthur Favero.
*FC Buffalo XI: Jeremy Figler; Zach Peterson, Fox Slotemaker, Jordan Sinclair, Jon Cary; David Enstrom; Bayley Winkel, Jake Cooper, Chris Walter, Braden Scales; Akean Shackleford. Subs used: Isaiah Barrett, Mackenzie Roach.
NEXT MATCH: FC Buffalo (0-1-1) hosts the Rochester Lancers (1-1) at 7 p.m. June 2 at Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium (2885 Main St.). Tickets are $7 in advance, $8 at the gate.