Share this article

print logo

FC Buffalo 2016 season preview: The mission

Sacramento, Detroit, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Austin.

It's likely that these six cities are next in line for Major League Soccer teams, and the name that should leap out to FC Buffalo fans -- Detroit -- is already in the throes of conflict between the ardent, grassroots supporters of Detroit City FC and the two wealthy businessmen looking to bring top-tier soccer to the Motor City. It's not very pretty.

Buffalo is still a ways from being seriously considered for a Major League Soccer team -- a United Soccer League squad appears more likely, and even that is in the distance -- and that's not altogether a bad thing. The city lacks the requisite fan-base, venue and investors for a professional team to be a reality right now.

Warning signs loom in Rochester, where the two nearest pro soccer teams are fighting tooth-and-nail to stay afloat as attendance numbers droop to staggering lows. Maybe the admirable efforts of the Rhinos' new owners and the Flash's decision to focus solely on the Rochester market will bring stability, but serious growth seems elusive.

FC Buffalo celebrates a goal in its crucial 2015 win over Lansing United. (Erica Morano/Special to The News)

FC Buffalo celebrates a goal in its crucial 2015 win over Lansing United. (Erica Malinowski/Special to The News)

[See a photo gallery of FC Buffalo's fans from the Wolves' win over Lansing in 2015]

As FC Buffalo rolls into 2016 -- its seventh season under the current ownership regime -- the mission is to keep building. As it has always been, the organization is professional but players are not paid, resulting in the semi-pro label but preserving amateur status for the college athletes on its roster.

After a 2013 trip to the postseason, the Wolves have missed the playoffs for two straight years, albeit with a controversial close to 2015. Paid attendance hovers around 1,000 at home games, a number that's climbed slowly over the last two years after explosive growth through 2013.

FC Buffalo's lineup is announced against rival Erie on June 7, 2015. (Erica Morano/Special to The News)

FC Buffalo's lineup is announced against rival Erie on June 7, 2015. (Erica Malinowski/Special to The News)

While that number pales in comparison to National Premier Soccer League standouts Detroit City FC (~3,500) and Chattanooga (~4,700), the Wolves easily outdraw any team in the Midwest Region Great Lakes East Conference, and owner-general manager Nick Mendola, co-host of "The Football Club of Buffalo Show," has set the club's aims higher still.

"We want to win the division with a record that will make it impossible not to award us a U.S. Open Cup berth for 2017," he explained. "And we'd like to hit 2,000 with a crowd, preferably more than once."

[See FC Buffalo's schedule for the 2016 NPSL season]

For local soccer supporters, then, the question shouldn't be, "Why doesn't Buffalo have a pro team yet?", but rather, "How can I support what's growing here?"

FC Buffalo takes the pitch before their match against Lansing. (Erica Morano/Special to The News)

FC Buffalo takes the pitch before their match against Lansing. (Erica Malinowski/Special to The News)

And that part is easy. It costs less than $10 to attend an FC Buffalo game at Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium. You don't have to beat a drum, sing songs or wave a flag, if that's not your thing. (But you can, if you want, as supporters group The Situation Room is welcoming). There's quality food available before and during the match, too, as trendy food trucks like Lloyd, Frank and the Black Market will all set up shop.

The quality on the field, too, is worth watching. Given the new commitment to house nearly 20 out-of-town players, there are a lot of unknowns on the FC Buffalo roster. At the same time, though, there are plenty of names you'll recognize: Chris Walter, Kendell McFayden, Andrew Ferguson and Regan Steele, to name a few.

[Read about FC Buffalo's most recent signings]

The season begins at 7 p.m. May 14 against a natural rival, the first-year Rochester River DogZ, at All-High Stadium.

What's next:
*FC Buffalo's positional breakdown (Thursday night)
*Match preview vs. Rochester River DogZ (Friday)

A young fan watches an FC Buffalo match next to a club manner that sports the slogan "For Our City." (Erica Malinowski/Special to The News)

A young fan watches an FC Buffalo match next to a club manner that sports the slogan "For Our City." (Erica Malinowski/Special to The News)

Email Ben Tsujimoto, who enjoys the word "ardent," at btsujimoto@buffnews.com

There are no comments - be the first to comment