The players, coaches, a team nickname and home fields have changed, one thing remains constant when FC Buffalo takes on Erie in a National Premier Soccer League match: the Twitter hashtag #HateErie.
Since it started among members of FC Buffalo's supporters group, The Situation Room, in spring 2011, the hashtag has adopted a life of its own. It's shared by local fans, former FC Buffalo and other supporters groups across the NPSL Midwest Region, and its frequency intensifies before each rivalry match. Even current and former Erie players will wield #HateErie as an ironic bit of mockery toward the rival club.
The first meeting between the two teams in 2016 is upon us, as the Wolves prepare to take on the Erie Commodores at 7 p.m. May 27 at Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium. Tickets are $8 at the gate.
From interviews with two longtime FC Buffalo players, it's clear that #HateErie is more than just supporter-driven sentiment.
"I don't like any of the guys on their team, point blank," said Kendell McFayden, the Wolves' center back who was a 2015 All-NPSL choice. "They've never been very cordial after the game, when shaking hands and what not. If they lose, they're kind of sore losers about it, and if they win, they're up in your face about how they just beat you. I think #HateErie is definitely something. I do hate Erie, yes."
FC Buffalo teammate Chris Walter, who's the lone member of the team who took part in the 5-2 playoff loss to Erie in 2013, feels similarly.
"I think it's pretty obvious that I hate Erie," he said before training Tuesday. "Between the stuff on the field and off of it, there's been many examples -- when they win at home, they go up to our fans and get in their faces. When we go to Erie, we're definitely fired up, but when we score we never are in their fans' faces."
While the all-time series has long favored Erie -- the then-Admirals' 4-1 stomping of FC Buffalo in 2011 still weighs heavily on Walter -- the Wolves have beaten Erie twice in five tries since the 2013 playoff defeat, with the wins coming by the same scoreline, 4-2, on Erie's home turf.
One of those results, the 2014 clash at Penn State-Behrend, is remembered fondly by McFayden, even though he didn't suit up.
"I traveled down to Erie, but because of some paperwork that didn't go through in time, I found out in warmups I couldn't play, but we ended up pumping them 3-0 [to open the game] at their home, and it was the first time we beat them in Erie."
FC Buffalo's first-ever win over Erie, which came when Nick Garcia's header was enough offense for a 1-0 triumph on June 14, 2013, is a memory that sticks with Walter.
"[My favorite Erie memory] would have to be our home win against them -- having the fans react and run on the field to celebrate with us is something I'll always remember."
Past results in the rivalry both linger painfully yet also fuel the anticipation for the next meeting.
"Every time we play them it's a competitive game, it always goes back and forth, and in the grand scheme of things, they've taken more games than us," Walter admits. "I don't like losing in general, and to lose the series, to me, I just can't have that for myself or for the city of Buffalo.
"If people watch me, they know I give it all in every tackle, and I play the same for Erie," Walter added. "I might just put a little more extra oomph in my tackles against them."
Don't be shocked to see a handful of yellow cards on Friday, especially if the center referee wants to set a cautionary tone early on. With crunching tackles and plenty of physical play on the docket, the team that keeps its composure best without sacrificing too much bite should prevail.
Adding to the pressure of the rivalry is that the contest against Erie is essentially a must-win for the Wolves. Even with a smaller division than last year, an 0-3 hole would be close to an insurmountable hole from which to recover.
Erie Commodores at FC Buffalo
7 p.m. May 27 in Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium
$8 for a single-game ticket
*Philip Persson, FC Buffalo: The Albany midfielder made an impact in his Wolves debut, creating several chances in the loss to AFC Cleveland. He'll be called upon to help break down an Erie back line that is traditionally tough and organized. His set pieces are a strength.
*Ricardo da Silva, Erie: The tall holding midfielder can join the attack and thrive on the end of set pieces, yet he's smart enough to be responsible defensively. Expect the 6'1 Portuguese returnee to play an integral role in head coach John Melody's game plan.
*Former Canisius College goalkeeper Ryan Arvin and current Medaille College forward Nick Dumond are both on Erie's roster. Expect the former to play a bigger role than the latter.
*FC Buffalo's David Acuna Camacho picked up a knock against AFC Cleveland and was subbed off early. He trained this week with the Wolves but remains questionable for Friday night's game. (Also, his first name is pronounced "dahv-EED," if you were curious.)
*Melody, Erie's long-time owner, returns to the bench after two years away. The Commodores' previous two coaches were Micky Blythe, who now leads the Medaille men's program, and Dan "Diggsy" Howell.
*Some names on the Commodores' roster that might be familiar to FC Buffalo diehards who've witnessed a few of these rivalry matches: forward Billy Colton, midfielder-forward Luca Campos, defender Mark Roche, midfielder Austin Solomon, defender Joshua Ott and forward Teddy Martin.
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