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FC Buffalo ready to kick off its sixth season

This is almost like Christmas week for Brendan Murphy, the head coach of the FC Buffalo soccer club. After months of planning, he finally gets to try out the “presents” in the form of the members of the 2015 edition of the team.

“It’s exciting to have these young college players come together to play for one city, one club,” said Murphy, back for his third year with the Blitzers.

FC Buffalo had its first practice on Tuesday night, and it will be playing its first game on Saturday. The team takes on the Cincinnati Saints at 7 p.m. at Howe Field in Hamburg. Tickets will be on sale at the door.

“We get to see them mesh,” said Murphy, who also is the head coach of the D’Youville men’s team. “They don’t know each other, but they’ll be representing Buffalo. Whether or not this is the most perfect arrangement doesn’t matter. These are good players. We’re going to create some atmosphere and have a hard-working club.”

The franchise is part of the National Premier Soccer League, which is the best league in the United States that doesn’t pay its players. There are almost 70 teams in the NPSL spread across the country. Buffalo is in the Midwest Region, and will play teams from cities such as Erie, Cincinnati, Detroit and Cleveland.

This is Year Six for FC Buffalo, and the franchise has been trying to find talent and build a fan base. Last year the team had a 5-8-1 record that included a six-game losing streak. Only seven of the 36 players on the current squad were with Buffalo last season.

“We’ve recruited very hard this year,” General Manager Nick Mendola said. “We’ve learned every year. We want to win a championship as fast as possible.”

Murphy added, “We rely on college players. They finish school at different times of the year. Some of our guys are finished now, and some will be finished in a couple of weeks. Right now we have about two-thirds of our roster available and ready to play, while we have another third on the way.”

It’s difficult to know who might be the standouts of the Blitzers’ roster at this point. However, Murphy does have some candidates.

“Scott Doney from UB had a great spring season. He’s been working hard and will provide a nice spark for us,” the coach said. “Brian Knapp is a wily veteran, coming back for his third year. He’s been playing for the Rochester Lancers. Kendell McFayden has played for us in the past, and he’s returning this year. He’s played with the Rochester Rhinos. He’s very athletic, and he’s bringing a new level of commitment.

“Another strength for us is our depth. We’ve got two starters at every position.”

Andrew Coughlin, coming off a fine year at Canisius College (a school record eight shutouts), is expected to see plenty of time in goal.

“I think we’ll be strong defensively,” Murphy said. “That’s our goal, to keep as many zeros on the board as we can.”

The situation makes it difficult to know how good the team will be this season. Then again, none of the other teams know how good they are either.

“That’s what everyone is dealing with, so it’s a question of who does it best,” Murphy said.

“It’s a challenge every year, and we’re getting better at it. The roster has been set since February. That’s helped the coaching staff figure out where they’ll be playing.”

FC Buffalo is back in its old home of All High Stadium. The Blitzers spent last year playing at Canisius College. The deal for the city facility wasn’t reached in time for the home opener, which had to be moved to Hamburg, but the rest of the home schedule will be played at All High.

“We averaged some good crowds there, up to 1,200,” Murphy said. “We’re very excited to go back there. It’s kind of our home - at least our fans feel that way.

“There’s been growth in the interest in the club. There’s more coverage by local news outlets. And the game is growing here. We see soccer on TV regularly, whether it’s the MLS, European leagues or international friendlies. Visibility is definitely up.”