FC Buffalo's start to 2017 has been far from ideal. Through four matches - including Friday's 4-1 loss to AFC Cleveland - the Wolves (0-2-2) have yet to secure a win, and have scored just two goals in 360 minutes, none by forwards.
A home clash against Syracuse FC (1-4), at 2 p.m. Sunday at Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium (2885 Main St.), could be just what FC Buffalo need to swing their fortunes.
Then, at 7:30 p.m. June 14, the Wolves travel to Onondaga Community College for the second leg of the home-and-home series.
Should FC Buffalo prevail in both, a 2-2-2 record (8 points, 1.33/game) would put the Wolves back in playoff contention. The top two clubs in the Midwest Region East Conference advance to the regional playoffs. Below is the present standings, through June 9, courtesy of AFC Cleveland's website.
While SFC's first win as a club came at the expense of East Conference points leader Dayton, the expansion side has been outscored 10-2 overall and lost twice to the Rochester Lancers, who barely clung to a draw against FCB.
[PHOTOS: Smiling fans at FC Buffalo's home opener, vs. the Dayton Dynamo]
LAST MATCH: Traveling with a shorthanded squad to the defending NPSL champions was always going to be a chore, but the Wolves' 4-1 loss, where they were played off the pitch in the second half, didn't inspire.
*1-0, Cleveland: Found somewhere between bad luck and panicked defending, FC Buffalo conceded a penalty kick in the 15th minute, as center back Jordan Sinclair was ruled to have handled Chris Cvecko's try from in close. The Royals' No. 10, Admir Suljevic, coolly slotted the ensuing penalty kick, sending FC Buffalo goalkeeper Cam Hogg the wrong way.
*1-1, level: FC Buffalo equalized in the 26th minute in impressive fashion, as midfielder Cameron Emerson scored in his second consecutive contest, this time off a stupendous volley.
*2-1, Cleveland: Although Sinclair cleared a ball off his goal line after Hogg was beaten earlier in the half, he was victimized for the Royals' go-ahead goal in the 68th minute.
Cleveland midfielder Skye Harter floated a ball into the 18-yard box, where it was misjudged in the air by Sinclair. The pass fell to Vinny Bell's chest, and the Royals' striker thudded his left-footed volley off the turf and past Hogg.
*3-1, Cleveland: The floodgates opened just six minutes later, when veteran Cleveland midfielder Tom Beck took advantage of another Wolves' defensive breakdown for the insurance goal.
Harter swung in a corner kick from the right side, and Hogg came out of his goal - only to see Beck beat him to the ball and head into the gaping goal. FC Buffalo's Austin Stout, marking Beck on the set piece, pleaded for a push on the goalscorer, to no avail.
*4-1, Cleveland: Cleveland's fourth came from a second penalty kick, this one converted by Beck, after Fox Slotemaker scythed down both Vinny Bell and Ben Truax in quick succession.
FC Buffalo created a golden chance in the second minute of stoppage, but Cleveland keeper Alex Ivanov robbed Akean Shackleford's scissor kick attempt off David Enstrom's service.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM SYRACUSE: SFC are coached by Matt Tantalo, who swept FC Buffalo as head coach of the Rochester River Dogz last year, and trot out former FCB striker Ben Ramin. Syracuse's roster comprises nine players from the Major Indoor Soccer League's Silver Knights, including second-leading scorer Slavisa Ubiparipovic and captain Bo Jelovac.
Syracuse will be undermanned defensively for their trip to Buffalo on Sunday, as Domenico Vitale will serve his one-game suspension for a red card in the loss to Rochester. Players to watch for the visitors include goalkeeper Pat Castle, forward JerJer Gibson and former Rochester Rhino Nate Bourdeau.
FC Buffalo's Chris Walter will be available for the match after serving his one-game ban for his red against Rochester.
INTERESTING NOTE: According to Dale Paradowski on Twitter, Sunday's tilt will be FC Buffalo's 100th match as a club.