Powerful shots sailed over the crossbar. Scrums in front of the net were ultimately poked away. Breakaways were knocked into the legs of the opposing goalkeeper. Glorious chances were scuffed well over the goal.
FC Buffalo's wastefulness in the attacking third proved costly in the Wolves' 1-0 loss to the Dayton Dynamo, spoiling an encouraging defensive effort on Saturday at All-High Stadium in front of an estimated crowd of 600 fans. The match was Part II of a doubleheader with the Wolves' partner club, the Western New York Flash. Read about that result here.
"We had chances, we had better chances than them, but we got unlucky on a PK call and that's the difference," summed FC Buffalo head coach Frank Butcher after the match. "If we don't finish our chances, that's going to cost us all season."
Turning point: The game's lone goal came in controversial fashion early in the second half. A Dynamo attacker snapped a shot toward Cameron Hogg's goal, and FC Buffalo holding midfielder David Enstrom, who had slid on the ground to block the shot, saw the ball strike his arm. The center referee didn't hesitate, blowing his whistle and pointing to the penalty spot in the 53rd minute.
Chris Dupont, one of Dayton's brighter attackers on the evening, stepped up to the PK mark, coolly placing his shot into the upper left hand corner while sending Hogg the wrong way.
"When I saw the play happen, [Enstrom] went down to block the shot, I thought his arm was tucked in close to his body - it did hit his arm," FC Buffalo captain Chris Walter said following the match. "The ref explained that there was a gap between his arm and his leg, hence that he lifted it up intentionally to block the shot. But that's not how I saw it." Walter would receive a booking after his discussion with the referee.
Pressure rising: With Dayton content to protect its one-goal lead, FC Buffalo sustained offensive pressure over the last 25 minutes of the match.
Former University at Buffalo starters Braden Scales and Fox Slotemaker led the charge, with the former whipping in dangerous crosses from the right side and the latter joining the fray on set pieces from his center back spot, forcing two tremendous stops from Dynamo keeper Paulo Pinto.
[Look back at BN Soccer's live-tweeting of the match]
Here's Slotemaker's chance, seconds before the final whistle:
Several other chances were squandered, too. Kendell McFayden had a breakaway, stemming from Scales' long ball over the top, which he poked into Pinto's legs from close range. He skied three other shots over the bar, although two of them were admittedly half chances.
According to the FC Buffalo Twitter account, McFayden was said to have suffered a broken hand late in the match. This is currently unconfirmed.
Bayley Winkel, who did not have one of his stronger matches for the Wolves, made a smart trailing run in the second half to latch onto a Scales layoff, but cracked his shot over the crossbar.
"We had plenty of chances to put the ball on target, and we didn't even hit the target or come close," a frustrated Walter said succinctly.
"We've been trying to build chemistry through a lot of possession, not so much on finishing," Butcher added. "If hindsight is 20-20, maybe we should have spent a little more time on finishing."
Lack of international clearance: It can be a nightmare to secure International Transfer Certificates (ITC), which are documents that ensure eligibility for players who've previously appeared for clubs outside the U.S. FC Buffalo must reach out to the soccer governing body of each country, and the foreign federation must respond within 30 days or a player is issued a provisional ITC.
Given the time crunch leading up to the season - preseason is roughly two weeks long - it's not uncommon for NPSL clubs to have a few players ineligible for the first match or two.
The lack of clearance hindered the Wolves significantly on Saturday, with five players - all potential starters - unavailable due to paperwork. Attackers Julien Dragomir and Akean Shackleford, as well as midfielders Mackenzie Roach, Hector Solorio and Bauti Pedezert, watched the match in street clothes.
Josh Beshaw, Brian Paredes, Kieran Toland and Frank Cotroneo all missed out due to injury, while assistant coach Casey Derkacz and midfielder Gary Boughton were away from the club for other coaching duties.
As a result, FC Buffalo were left with two subs - Zach Peterson, a defender, and Derek Maier, originally a fringe member of the club. Assistant coach John Grabowski, a former FC Buffalo player himself, suited up while coaching and played the final 13 minutes.
"It was weird putting [Grabowski] in, but it was all a very new situation anyways," Butcher said with a bit of a chuckle.
Stifling defense: Slotemaker, BN Soccer's man of the match for FC Buffalo, was tremendous, cutting out attacks throughout the match, timing his challenges to perfection and relieving pressure on the back four by keeping possession and moving the ball.
"They were solid all game - Fox and Jordan [Sinclair] especially back there, holding down the middle," Butcher reflected. "Every time [Dayton] almost broke through, it seemed like Fox was there to make the stop. He really stood out for me. All four were solid tonight."
"I think Cam had to make two decent saves on crosses, but they weren't getting in behind us or keeping the ball in our zone. They tried to play the long ball and we dealt with it quite well. 1-0 game, that's on the offense. If you give up one goal a game, that's not the worst."
The defense will be further bolstered by the return of Paredes, a rock in the back four for FC Buffalo last summer. The LIU-Brooklyn standout is versatile enough to play inside or outside, and like Slotemaker did Saturday, he's keen to play to feet out of the back.
"We're solid in the back for sure, and I think I knew that coming in," Butcher said. "We were stoked about who we had back there. It's now about fitting the guys in who weren't able to play today, and I think we'll do well going forward."
FC Buffalo XI (4-1-4-1): Cameron Hogg; Jon Cary (John Grabowski, 77'), Fox Slotemaker, Jordan Sinclair, Chris Walter; David Enstrom; Bayley Winkel, Jake Cooper (Derek Maier, 77'), Isaiah Barrett (Zach Peterson, 57'), Braden Scales; Kendell McFayden
Next match: FC Buffalo travels to Gannon University in Erie, Pa., for a match against the rival Commodores at 7 p.m. May 26.