Revenge tasted sweet for Luke Pavone.
After spending summer 2015 as a bit player with FC Buffalo, Pavone scored the lone goal for the Rochester River Dogz in a 1-0 win over his former team on Saturday in front of 1,107 fans at Robert E. Rich All High Stadium.
A curling free kick from Rochester's Stefanos Stamoulacatos in the 62nd minute sailed through traffic in the 18-yard box before bouncing off screened FC Buffalo goalkeeper Nick Jeffs. Pavone, who just finished his junior year at Buffalo State College, pounced on the loose ball first and poked it home.
"Words can't describe the goal that just happened and the win we just had," Pavone said following the match. "I have all the respect in the world for FC Buffalo, but I felt I wasn't given the opportunity I wanted to have last summer, so it felt really nice to get that goal against them and give our team the win."
The River Dogz's left winger, who struck a couple cracks at goal in the first half, received sage advice from a more experienced teammate at halftime.
"I have to give all the credit to Jake Schindler," Pavone explained. "At halftime, he said to me, 'On every set piece sit by the back post and it's going to fall to you,' and what do you know, 10 minutes in it fell right to my foot and I just had to give it a little tap in."
FC Buffalo didn't force River Dogz goalkeeper Cameron Hogg, another former Wolf, to make any outstanding saves to preserve the clean sheet. Aside from the goal, Jeffs was strong between the pipes for the Wolves, earning the club's man of the match distinction.
"No excuses -- they're a good team," said FC Buffalo head coach Brendan Murphy. "[Rochester] played well and have good players all over the pitch. They're well coached, they were organized and had a plan. I think our guys did their best for what we had to work with. We just have to get better."
Rochester's first-ever National Premier Soccer League match produced three points on the road, while FC Buffalo will try for its first win again May 21 on the road at AFC Cleveland.
Here's a segmented breakdown of the match:
*THE CROWD: The first sign that Buffalo's soccer fans were out in full force was an audio issue that prompted the Situation Room, FC Buffalo's supporters group, to sing the national anthem a cappella. Throughout the first half, dozens of curious fans filed into the venue, and the chants, drum beat and buzz grew louder.
"It's amazing. I walked out of the tunnel and got some chills, so it's awesome to stop and think during the match and just hear how loud they are -- you obviously get a little extra motivation from that," described Ian McGrath, one of FC Buffalo's starting center backs, who plays college ball in Evansville, Ind.
"[The crowd] gives you a little something extra you want to strive for, and you want to win for them, so they definitely provide a huge boost for this whole team. I'm excited to see the crowd grow as the season goes on."
Although the announced attendance was roughly 100 shy of last year's opener at Hamburg High School's Howe Field, the atmosphere was certainly more boisterous on Saturday.
*Xs AND Os FOR FC BUFFALO: Although the Wolves managed a couple strong buildups out of the midfield, much of the first half was spent hoofing long balls forward to no one in particular or squandering short passes, which prevented FC Buffalo from finding any rhythm or shape offensively.
While the crowd shouted its frustration with lone Wolves striker Romario Guscott, the LIU-Brooklyn forward rarely had any help or supporting options near him. Murphy explained what went wrong.
"[Guscott's] not supposed to be on an island," the fourth-year coach said. "The No. 10 needs to be higher and closer to him, and then as we play it up to him, we're supposed to be getting wingers in behind [the opponent's] defense."
"I think there's a little bit of timing of his movements and guys reading his movements, and playing the right ball at the right time, and the timing of the midfielders to gamble to get behind him, as well as the timing of the No. 10 to get underneath. It all has to happen quicker."
There's no question that several FC Buffalo players had to play in uncomfortable spots; you could argue that all four defensive starters -- McGrath, Brian Paredes, Johnny McBeth and Rob Brandell -- would be more effective higher up the pitch, but given whom the Wolves had available personnel-wise, there were few alternatives.
[Learn more about FC Buffalo's roster in this comprehensive preview]
McGrath, in particular, urged his side to find better spacing in the midfield and take more chances going forward.
"Closing down the gaps is another big thing, but we need to be a little more creative through the midfield and up top; we didn't get a lot of chances," he said. "We need to get more shots off, test the keeper -- we barely tested him, and I don't think he's that strong, so that was a little disappointing."
*Xs AND Os FOR ROCHESTER: Often times, the goalkeeper has the best sense of what's happening on the field. Even though he wasn't called upon for difficult stops, Hogg and his defenders -- especially center backs Jake Schindler and Ricky Davey -- were on the same page.
"FC Buffalo are obviously a great counter-attacking team -- they like to come at us with pace and with balls in behind," Hogg explained of his former club. "Our back four did a nice job of reading those, getting back and getting nice and compact. We dealt phenomenally well in the air and also on the ground -- reading the play was phenomenal.
"We didn't see many balls in behind, which was something we were really expecting. That plays to our strengths anyway, us wanting to go forward. I think we counter-attacked well. A goal from a set piece -- we knew that was going to be key today, and we had some fantastic deliveries from Stefanos all day off corners and free kicks, so going forward that's definitely going to be a huge weapon for us."
While FC Buffalo sputtered in possession throughout the first half, the River Dogz showed poise. Their trio in the center of the park -- Gianluca Cuomo, Stamoulacatos and Rafael Godoi -- were content to play back or square instead of forcing balls forward.
Their patience led the Wolves into some rash challenges, which created several dangerous free kick situations -- which wound up being the difference.
*HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: McGrath remained optimistic in his post-game comments, acknowledging defeat but promising greater cohesion in the future.
"For a lot of the guys, this was a new experience, so to come out here in front of this huge crowd, we wanted to get the result, but it's understandable given the amount of new guys that we have and not a lot of experience," McGrath said succinctly. "It is tough to swallow, but we'll be back in the next game."
With likely starters in David Acuna Camacho, Keith Traut, Philip Persson, Nicky Watson and Kendell McFayden expected to join the side soon, FC Buffalo should be better equipped moving forward.
*WATCH THE MATCH: The game can be viewed in its entirety below, on YouTube, courtesy of WNY Media. Enjoy The Situation Room, FC Buffalo's supporters group, leading the national anthem when audio difficulties arose. Pavone's goal is at 1:33:40.
Email Ben Tsujimoto, whose legs itch inexplicably, at firstname.lastname@example.org