Kieran Toland could have finessed the ball into the gaping left side of the net, but the FC Buffalo midfielder unleashed six matches of pent-up frustration on the ball, hammering a missile into the back of AFC Cleveland's goal for his first marker as a Wolf.
"It's about time as well, huh?," the St. Bonaventure junior said with a laugh. "I've been trying so hard just to get a chance to get a goal, and full credit to Romario [Guscott], he'd done absolutely excellent down the side and great ball back, and I just tried to hit it as hard as I can and as low as I can into the back of the net."
Buoyed by Toland's first-half strike, FC Buffalo cruised past first-place AFC Cleveland, 3-0, on Friday in front of roughly 600 fans at Robert E. Rich All High Stadium. The win propels the Wolves to 4-2-1 on the season; 13 points levels them with Indy Eleven NPSL for the second and final playoff spot in the Great Lakes Conference East Division. Both clubs have three matches to play, including one head-to-head in Buffalo on July 8.
Following Friday's win, FC Buffalo head coach Brendan Murphy was effusive in praising his entire team's performance.
"It was the best game from first whistle to last whistle that's been played under my tenure as FC Buffalo coach. I really believe that. The work rate was there, the defending, the organization, the communication. We finally got some attacking power and some guys forward, and it was great to see Toland finish early.
"The kid has worked so hard all year and to finally get a goal is great for him. He's been scoring goals in practice all year, so we knew he had it in him."
Kendell McFayden, who's played mostly defense for FC Buffalo, found the back of the net as a striker in the 73rd minute after Isaiah Barrett picked out Philip Persson's run to the left of the goal, and the recipient slipped the ball back cross for McFayden to bury.
In stoppage time, Regan Steele put the nail in the coffin in stoppage time with a pretty curling strike after Persson beat a defender to a loose ball and poked the ball square to an unmarked Steele.
[Read: Midseason report on FC Buffalo]
*UNEXPECTED DOMINANCE: You could argue that FC Buffalo hasn't dominated any matches so far this year, so for the first to come against AFC Cleveland, comfortably atop the table and already boasting a win over the Wolves, is a major achievement.
Led by center backs Keith Traut and captain David Acuna Camacho, the FC Buffalo defense was its usual stingy self, while the visitors seemed a step slow and lacked any urgency or creativity going forward. The activity of Guscott and Bayley Winkel in the first half wore down a shorthanded Royals side, which only brought four substitutes (which includes a keeper), and opened up spaces for Persson, a second-half sub, to probe for further chances to cement the win.
"I like coming in from the flank [to] the middle and finding those pockets when they can't really see me, and it helps that they're tired and don't have the strength to cover me," Persson explained.
The entertainment value of the match wasn't lost on the Albany midfielder, either, as the Wolves have played a few snoozers at All High this summer.
"It was huge for us," he admitted. "We've been lacking with our performance, we've been getting the results but the performance hasn't really been there, so it was good to get both tonight."
When asked how FC Buffalo won in such comprehensive fashion, Murphy applauded his players.
"They were up for the game and came out with fire and passion. Guys embraced their roles and were comfortable with what they would bring to the table, and they just filled their roles. When that happens, guys build the chemistry and value each other, and everything can snowball from that."
Xs AND Os: Friday's win for FC Buffalo was more about desire and energy than it was tactics, although AFC Cleveland did little to adjust to the Wolves' surprising vigor.
Royals head coach Carter Poe spent most of the match shouting his frustration at the center official -- there was no fourth official present, for some reason -- and the former AFC Cleveland captain-turned-coach didn't have many options to bring off the pine. Poe pushed some numbers forward late, which only encouraged FC Buffalo's counter-attacking substitutes.
A full-strength Cleveland would likely have been more menacing -- they missed NPSL Player of the Week Skye Harter, defender David Jordan, attackers Ryder Bell, Ryan Ware and Riley Grant -- but FC Buffalo will gladly take the three points.
WHAT'S NEXT: A quick turnaround for a 3 p.m. match Sunday at the Rochester River Dogz is next for FC Buffalo, which fell to the Thruway rival, 1-0, to open the season. The match will be held at Eunice Kennedy Shriver Stadium on the campus of SUNY Brockport.
"We've got to go in and smash them," Toland said bluntly. "I think the way we're playing, we can't lose, we can't tie, we have to go there and get that win, and if we get that, we take it to Erie, beat Erie, then we'll go far in the competition hopefully."
Murphy's take on the Rochester rematch echoed Toland's sentiments but remained wary after the first meeting.
"We just can't relax," he said. "I know they're going to be coming with a lot of passion because it's their home field and they've been getting some great crowds, and they're a good team, we've already seen what they can do.
"They can keep the ball, they're organized, they're well coached. I'm definitely not going to underestimate them at all. This was big for us, but it's got to be behind us now. It gives us confidence that this is the standard that we can play at, and now we just need to find a way to be consistent and play at this standard every game."
Email Ben Tsujimoto, who will be at Brockport on Sunday, at email@example.com