Sometimes it takes an embarrassing scoreline to rally and motivate a soccer team. That's all Western New York Flash head coach Gary Bruce can hope for following his team's 7-0 drubbing against the Long Island Rough Riders on Saturday evening at Niagara University.
"I'm going to do something to forget about this game - I don't know what it's going to be - but I'm going to do something to forget about this game," said Bruce bluntly.
It was all wrong from the start for Western New York, which found themselves down 2-0 within the first 15 minutes and 4-0 by halftime. The Rough Riders, who drew the Flash, 1-1, just two weeks ago, won nearly every 50-50 battle, passed freely around the midfield and sprung attackers in on Flash goalkeeper Megan Tock with regularity.
Morgan Santoro, Niccola Venezia, Madison Vasquez, Kim Marra and Sofia Sanchez ruled the middle of the field for the visitors, showing creativity, confidence and togetherness in a dominant display.
Despite a few tactical changes for the Flash at halftime, there was minimal improvement, even against the Rough Riders' wave of substitutes.
"When I was speaking to the team before the game, I talked about wanting to express ourselves, and I know from watching these girls play at practice that they express themselves so differently as individuals, and I want them to be strong in that and to express that," Bruce explained. "I think a lot of us are still learning how to express ourselves.
"The 50-50 balls is what I'm talking about when I say 'express yourself,'" he continued. "The kids that love to play the game, you don't have to tell them to challenge a 50-50 ball. They want the ball."
Continuity was an obvious issue for the Flash, who saw Kara Daly, Shannon Carr and Meghan Simmons enter the starting XI for the first time. Anna Davies and Tess Ford, the starting center back pairing from the team's comeback draw against the New York Surf, were away on Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) club duty.
"We know we need more consistency at practice in terms of attendance and the energy the group brings to it," remarked Bruce. "I think I'm at the point where I just want to have fun with the group now, I just want to make sure they enjoy their summers. Whatever it is we're taking a bite of, I want to be reasonable about how big of a bite we're taking."
"I would like to think if you've made it this far in soccer there would be simple things that you knew how to do around the field in order to express yourself or get yourself going within a game. Maybe it's back to the basic things for us."
FLASH PLAYER OF THE MATCH: While she will likely rue the free-kick goal conceded in the second half, Tock was instrumental in keeping the margin at only seven - the damage could have been worse. The Rough Riders didn't back off as the match continued, evidenced by the brilliant triple-save that the former Canisius College keeper made just before the final whistle.
WHY THE FIRST MEETING WAS DIFFERENT: It was perplexing how the 1-1 result in Long Island could swing to such a rout in Western New York, especially when personnel on both sides were similar. The playing conditions and the Rough Riders' approach to that earlier match both played a role.
"The rain on the day there was a big leveling factor," Bruce recalled. "[Long Island had] chosen to play the long ball in the first half to try to expose us, and I think they gave up their biggest strength against us in their first half there. It allowed us to get a little bit of confidence inside the game, and it changed the second half."
LAST WORD: With only two points through four United Women's Soccer matches, Western New York's playoff hopes are faint and the season looks like an uphill climb. The challenge for the local club will be how the group responds.
"A couple people in the group laughed at me on the first day when I said this summer needs to be about adaptation and growth," said Bruce. "They were just like, 'What do we need to grow for? We're already here, this is the situation that I want.' Or it was 'what do I need to adapt to? This is just going to be a short-lived summer experience.'
The people who can grow and adapt the quickest are the ones who look like they've played together forever."
Western New York Flash XI (4-1-3-2): Meg Tock; Kaelyn Gamel, Meghan Simmons, Jenna Raepple, Shannon Carr; Danielle Braun; Gretta Dry, Carissima Cutrona, Kara Daly; Madisyn Pezzino, Sydney Cerza. Subs used: Paige Buscaglia, Brittany Heist, Kenna Kosinski.