Following FC Buffalo's spirited 3-0 home win on Friday over AFC Cleveland, Sunday's away tilt in Rochester was the classic trap game. The River Dogz prevailed, 2-1, to sweep the season series with the Wolves in their first season in the National Premier Soccer League.
"We needed a result to make a push for the playoffs," said David Acuna Camacho, FC Buffalo's center back and captain for the last two games, "but there's nothing we can do about it right now other than get the six points we have left and try to get in."
While the Wolves still control their own destiny, there's no margin for error with just two games remaining: a 7 p.m. tilt July 2 against the Erie Commodores at Gannon University, then a 7 p.m. home game July 8 vs. Indy Eleven NPSL. Here are the updated standings, courtesy of the league website.
SLUGGISH START: FC Buffalo dug themselves a quick hole Sunday, conceding two goals to River Dogz's Matt Tucker inside the first 30 minutes.
The Empire Revolution Academy graduate, who plays collegiately for George Mason, showed a striker's knack for positioning, getting on the end of Anthony Gaglianese's low service for a toe poke into the corner in the fifth minute, then reacting instinctively to first-time the rebound off the post of a Gianluca Cuomo left-footed shot. Tucker was not a part of the side that beat FC Buffalo, 1-0, to start the season.
"The first goal was a little miscommunication between me and [Steve] Casey," described Acuna Camacho, "and the second goal was a rebound where they got a little lucky. I feel like we didn't come out like we usually do, we didn't perform our best and they punished us."
It wasn't just the defense that started out lethargically; usual standouts Ian McGrath and Johnny McBeth struggled to connect with teammates in the midfield, uncharacteristically giving away possession and then failing to impede River Dogz star Gianluca Cuomo and sprightly Jayme Kapinos, the two starting center midfielders.
"We lost the game in the first 20 minutes," FC Buffalo head coach Brendan Murphy said, flatly. "We didn't come out with the fire, concentration and focus that we needed to.
"And after a performance like we had on Friday, it's disappointing that we can't keep that same standard. [Friday] was a great performance but it means nothing if we don't keep the same standard up every game. That was the big point prior to the game."
FC BUFFALO GETS ONE BACK: The connection usually works the other way around, but striker Romario Guscott loves drifting wide into dangerous positions, and midfielder Kieran Toland is more than willing to surge into the box on a late run.
After scoring his first of the year on Friday, Toland was back at it in the 40th minute against Rochester. After holding midfielder Jack Donaldson intercepted a pass, held the ball, then laid off to right back Brian Paredes along the sideline, Guscott veered his run toward the corner flag on that side.
After receiving the ball cleanly and changing speed to lose his defender at the end line, the LIU Brooklyn striker cut the ball back softly to meet Toland's run, and the St. Bonaventure captain cranked it first time into the near-post upper-90.
Xs AND Os: While the casual observer would have likely cast blame on FC Buffalo's back four for the first two goals, Murphy was disappointed in the Wolves' defending on the flanks, where the left side of Gaglianese, who originally signed with FC Buffalo this winter, and Brazilian Rafael Godoi, the Genesee Community College standout, flourished.
"I think we got beat out wide a couple times, and that gave them numbers and allowed them the opportunity for free services into the box," the Wolves' head coach remarked.
The defensive issues prompted a first-half substitution of Bayley Winkel, who was replaced by Phil Persson in the 38th minute.
Xs AND Os, Part II: Hats off to Rochester head coach Matt Tantalo, who showed a lot of savvy in both River Dogz wins over FC Buffalo. Starting Anthony Gaglianese, signed within the last week, was a risk that worked out, while rolling for the final 45 with newcomer Moulid Mohamed in the center midfield was wise because he covered so much ground.
Even more impressive was the response to adversity, as starting keeper Cameron Hogg went down with an injury to his leg in the first half, and backup Lenny Wilson did not concede a goal, even if he wasn't challenged often.
River Dogz center back Sam King succumbed to injury at halftime, too, but a shuffling of the home side's back line -- plus a top-notch effort from veteran Jake Schindler -- was enough to preserve the lead.
KEEPER SWITCH: FC Buffalo's Steve Casey deputized again between the pipes, as starter Nick Jeffs missed the match after a collision with Vinny Bell on Friday against AFC Cleveland. There was little he could do on either first-half goal.
ADDITIONAL NOTES: It's an unverified record for the NPSL, but three St. Bonaventure players were on the same pitch Sunday: Gaglianese, Toland and Rochester substitute Remi Dujardin.
WHAT'S NEXT: As previously mentioned, FC Buffalo travel to Erie on June 2 for a clash against John Melody's Commodores (1-3-3). The Wolves topped Erie at home, 2-1, despite playing down a man for 80 minutes following Kendell McFayden's red card.
FINAL WORD: "Despite any results or any sort of records, it doesn't matter," Murphy said. "You play a team on the day and you have to be up for it."
Email Ben Tsujimoto at email@example.com