Few things will frustrate soccer coaches, players and supporters more than when a team creates scoring chances but cannot, for whatever reason, bury them.
Prime opportunities are inexplicably flubbed, point-blank shots manage to find a defender's outstretched leg, and deflections - which fool the goalkeeper - trickle just wide of the post. Sometimes it's a lack of sharpness or killer instinct in the final third, and sometimes it's just bad luck.
FC Buffalo head coach Frank Butcher is well-acquainted with these frustrations, particularly after the Wolves' 1-1 tie with the Rochester Lancers on Friday at All-High Stadium, which could have easily swung in the home side's favor. The Wolves took 20 shots to the Lancers' 5, with the visitors bunkered down for the final 20 minutes.
"The story of our season so far is missed chances," remarked Butcher after the game. "We weren't working hard enough in the first to create the chances we wanted. When we came out in the second half, we had a much better effort, but still not enough.
Rochester's Will Stone gave the visitors the lead in stoppage time of the first half, before FC Buffalo's Cameron Emerson equalized in the 69th.
"All season, we're creating the chances, we've got to start finishing them," the Wolves' first-year head coach continued. "Thankfully we got one today, but we probably should have had at least three or four."
FC Buffalo's record, 0-1-2, leaves the team with just two points after three games, with foes like Dayton and Erie widening the gap in the National Premier Soccer League Midwest Region Eastern Conference standings.
EMERSON EATS IN DEBUT: Of the four players available for selection for the first time, only one - Emerson, a midfielder from Anderson University - made Butcher's starting XI. The New Zealander repaid the coach's trust by leveling the match, putting away a seeing-eye Gary Boughton cross at the back post.
Although Emerson has trained with FC Buffalo for the better part of a month, securing his International Transfer Certificate was the barrier that prevented the Kiwi from suiting up against Dayton and Erie.
"To finally be able to play after all the hard work, it's rewarding after today," Emerson said succinctly after the match.
The newcomer made his presence felt almost immediately, winning a crunching aerial duel with Rochester's Glenn Holmes, who's far from a stick figure himself. The Lancer took the worst of it and was shaken up enough to halt play.
Emerson nearly dented the scoreboard twice in the early going: in the eighth minute, he pounced on a gaffe by Rochester keeper Will Banahene but skied his shot over the goal from 12 yards away, with just two retreating defenders blocking the cage.
In the 23rd, Emerson was sprung behind the Lancers' defense, but his dribble reduced his angle, and Banahene got one paw to his left-footed shot from the edge of the six-yard box.
"Instead of just being one-dimensional where we've been attacking through our wings, [Emerson] gave us a little more offensive punch out of the center midfield that we'd been missing," Butcher explained. "He was the difference and got the goal today, but again, he probably should have had a couple."
Emerson was childhood friends with FC Buffalo teammates Fox Slotemaker and Cameron Hogg; all three attended Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland, New Zealand, for various lengths of time. His goal Friday was FC Buffalo's first on the season after 249 scoreless minutes of action.
FIRST TASTE OF TSR: It's always worth hearing the first impressions that FC Buffalo players have of The Situation Room, the Wolves' supporters group that stands the whole match, pounds drums and shouts chants.
"It's good to have the army up there in the background, hearing the drums throughout the game. It's really good," Emerson said.
After chatting briefly with some youth players on the field after the match, he continued: "It's a good atmosphere for the young [fans] as well, looking up to us. I remember being that age and wanting to play on the field and, now that I'm here, I just want to do something for the crowd."
BENGAL HERO, Part II: In last year's home opener, FC Buffalo fell to Rochester on a goal by Buffalo State College winger Luke Pavone. On Friday, it was Pavone's college teammate, Banahene, who prevented the Wolves from collecting three points.
The Bengals' goalkeeper, who just graduated, was credited with nine saves, including terrific stops on David Enstrom, Julien Dragomir and Jordan Sinclair in the second half.
"We try, we try, we try [to score], and today their keeper had an unreal game," admitted Emerson. "Sometimes you win some and you draw some."
Banahene delivered an interesting take on his personal effort.
"I don't remember anything - none of the saves," the goalkeeper said. "I do remember their goal went between my legs, and that's something I'll remember for at least a few weeks now."
WALTER, MANFUT BOTH SENT OFF: The match's biggest dust-up came in the 59th minute, when FC Buffalo's Chris Walter slid Antonio Manfut from behind. The latter then shoved Walter and had a few choice words, quickly attracting a crowd of players.
After the squabble died down, the center referee consulted the fourth official, then showed red cards to both the Wolves' captain and Rochester's fiery winger.
The punishment for a straight red card in the NPSL is a typically a one-game suspension, although severe situations in the past have led to league review and longer suspensions.
A history of bad blood exists between Manfut, who played several years with AFC Cleveland, and FC Buffalo, as a ridiculous six red cards were handed out between the two sides over a three-year span (2013-15). Although Manfut's first red against Buffalo came on Friday, he was certainly an instigator during some of those heated clashes.
UNDERRATED CONTRIBUTION: Entering at halftime to replace Braden Scales, who had his quietest match of the season, veteran midfielder Gary Boughton helped turn the tide in FC Buffalo's favor.
"I thought Gary in the second half really made a difference," said Butcher. "It's been hard for us to get him in with all his coaching responsibilities (with Empire CNY, a women's amateur team), but he's just smart and skilled and added something in the second half, gave us a little extra push. He was involved in a bunch of the chances there."
"We're now three games in, all times that I think we could have had [more] points," Butcher admitted. "I'm afraid that's going to come back to haunt us at the end of the year. It gives us so little room for any errors the rest of the way - some fluke goal along the way might cost us the playoffs."
FINAL WORD: "We've got to go back to training throughout the week to see if we can turn those 20 chances we had today into more goals next week." - Emerson
FC Buffalo (4-2-3-1): Cameron Hogg; Chris Walter, Jordan Sinclair, Fox Slotemaker, Jon Cary; Jake Cooper, David Enstrom; Bayley Winkel, Cameron Emerson, Braden Scales; Akean Shackleford. Subs used: Gary Boughton, Julien Dragomir, Isaiah Barrett, Mackenzie Roach, Austin Stout.
Rochester Lancers: William Banahene; Nikkye De Point, Alex Harling, Glenn Holmes, Tim Crawford; Ben Allan, Jake Schindler; Lukas Fernandes, Rafael Godoi, Michael Cunningham; Will Stone. Subs used: August Finn, Austin Gerber, Sammy Wasson, Antonio Manfut, Matthew Tucker.
WHAT'S NEXT: The Wolves visit defending NPSL champions AFC Cleveland at 7 p.m. Friday before returning home for a 2 p.m. June 11 clash with Syracuse FC.