Given the scoring chances that FC Buffalo have generated in 2017, it's about time the Wolves were rewarded with an avalanche of goals for their efforts. Unfortunately for expansion side Syracuse, the visitors were thoroughly beaten down on Sunday.
For the first time in 2017, FC Buffalo excelled in the final third, depositing a handful of goals in their 5-1 whitewashing at All-High Stadium. The victory was the Wolves' first of the campaign, improving their record to 1-2-2 (five points).
The wealth was spread between five different goal scorers, as Isaiah Barrett, Bayley Winkel, David Enstrom, Akean Shackleford and Julien Dragomir all found the back of the net.
"It's a huge bounce back for us," said FC Buffalo assistant coach Casey Derkacz, who spoke post-game because head coach Frank Butcher had to leave quickly for a personal obligation. "These guys need a little bit of confidence right now from all their hard work. They've come with a great attitude in training, but it's tough - when you don't have the results coming your way, it's hard to maintain that. I think this is a big starting point to what we hope is a string of positive results."
In the first four contests of the season, FC Buffalo had potted only two goals: both from midfielder Cameron Emerson. The five markers Sunday were the club's most in a match since they struck for a quintet against the Michigan Stars in July 2014.
The Wolves' all-time mark remains seven goals against the Buxmont Torch in 2011.
FC Buffalo winger Bayley Winkel, the side's most threatening attacker so far this season, knew good fortune was around the corner.
"Just our record for the past four games - we were due a win and we had Chris [Walter] back [from suspension]; he's a great captain, and to have him back in the locker room motivating us, it's great," the Robert Morris winger said.
"Of course, in front of our fans, again, it's awesome." There were roughly 500 fans at All-High on Sunday, likely the season high so far.
*1-0, FC Buffalo, 9': Defending set pieces has been a nightmare for Syracuse this year, and that weakness reared its ugly head off the bat on Sunday.
After nearly conceding from a corner in the eighth minute, SFC lost their markers again on Bayley Winkel's drive to the back post; Fox Slotemaker knocked the ball to the top of the six-yard box where Isaiah Barrett was stationed to tap in past Syracuse keeper Pat Castle.
"Isaiah had a great game today - he's starting to come into his own," said Derkacz after the match. "He's floated in the midfield and up top, but I think he's found a good home for himself out wide."
Although a potential edge on set pieces wasn't discussed before the game, it became immediately apparent, especially because Syracuse's two starting center backs - Ben Ramin and Wyatt Scott - are not defenders by trade.
"After the first two corners, you could see we have the big boys at the back who can win everything on the corners," Winkel explained. "I kind of held back on my crosses - I was whipping them in pretty hard, but then decided that there's a lot of wind, so let's chip them up a bit, and that gave us a little more time to win the ball and we got two goals off corners."
*1-1, level, 21': With only three subs on the bench, Syracuse knew they were in for a long afternoon in steamy weather. They had enough energy to muster a few chances in the first half, and the visitors capitalized when Nate Bourdeau dribbled at speed to the end line, then cut a low pass back to Jacob Kohlbrenner, who beat FC Buffalo goalkeeper Jeremy Figler to the far post.
*2-1, FC Buffalo, 23': Just two minutes later, the Wolves reclaimed the lead off a left-footed crack from Winkel.
Near the right side of the 18-yard box, Winkel cut hard to his left and hit a knuckler to the back post - it pinged off the woodwork, then off the back of Castle's legs and rolled slowly over the goal line.
"I've been struggling the past couple games to finish some of my chances - I've been creating good chances but it's been hard to put them away," the goalscorer said. "To get a goal like that where it bounces off the post and bounces in, it's nice."
"Bayley has provided consistent performance throughout the season," Derkacz added. "I thought he needed a little bit of luck here and there. But it's been absolutely great attitude from him."
*3-1, FC Buffalo, 50': The Wolves started the second half on the front foot and were rewarded off another set piece. Winkel lofted his corner kick to the back post, where Slotemaker was first to the ball, forcing a save from Castle.
The rebound rolled out to David Enstrom at the top of the six, and with Castle still scrambling back into position, the former University at Buffalo midfielder roofed his shot over two defenders, leaving no chance for a block.
*4-1, FC Buffalo, 64': It was not a memorable afternoon for Syracuse left back Anthony Gaglianese, who was a step or two behind the aggressive, pacey FC Buffalo wingers all afternoon. The defender tried to play a pass back to the feet of his goalkeeper, but he didn't put enough pace on it, allowing alert Wolves striker Akean Shackleford to pounce on the error, round Castle and tuck into the empty net.
"Playing up top alone is always going to bring pressure, especially because you're the lone striker and your team is looking for a lot from you," Shackleford said of his role.
"You have to be aware of that stuff from defenders, keep pressing them - they're always going to make a mistake and you just have to capitalize."
For his celebration, Shackleford ripped off his jersey to display a white t-shirt that read "100% Jesus."
"Ever since I was younger, I've been through the struggles, and Jesus pushed me through, with faith," he said. "I definitely won't turn my back on him, and I'll always go with Jesus."
*5-1, FC Buffalo, 76': Romanian forward Julien Dragomir joined in on the fun as the beneficiary of a suffocating high press by substitutes Austin Stout and Mackenzie Roach.
Stout forced a turnover high up the pitch, raced forward on the counter and picked out Roach's diagonal run.
The Niagara winger was clobbered in the box, but the loose ball rolled to Dragomir, who sniped from close range on the play-on.
*ON HOW TO WAKE UP AN OFFENSE: There's no magic elixir to turn around a sluggish offense, but the FC Buffalo coaching staff continued to preach chance creation over the past two weeks, knowing that the goals would eventually come.
*ON THE BLOWOUT, COMING REMATCH: The lopsided score also intended to send a message to Syracuse, who hosts FC Buffalo at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Onondaga Community College's David Murphy Field.
"We talked about it even at halftime," Derkacz recalled. "We said, 'Hey, guys, we've got to bring it to them, hammer them in this half as a reminder to be like, hey, we're coming on Wednesday, too.' It's big - this is two wins now if we can get one on Wednesday, then we're right back in the thick of things."
"Beating them 5-1, they're going to be mad, they're going to have extra guys, so we need to be extra sharp," Winkel added. "We can look back at this game, look back at the tape, and do the same things, or look for weaknesses that we didn't see even in this game, maybe expose those even more. I think we've got them, though, so we look forward to another win."
FC Buffalo: Jeremy Figler; Braden Scales, Jordan Sinclair, Fox Slotemaker, Chris Walter; David Enstrom, Jake Cooper; Isaiah Barrett, Cameron Emerson, Bayley Winkel; Akean Shackleford. Subs used: Austin Stout, Mackenzie Roach, Julien Dragomir, Brian Paredes, Zach Peterson.
Syracuse FC: Pat Castle; Anthony Gaglianese, Wyatt Scott, Ben Ramin, Leonardo Rubio; MaCain Spragling; Adnan Bakalovic, Stefanos Stamaloucatos, Nate Bourdeau, Jacob Kohlbrenner; Luiz Mota. Subs used: Cameron Pashley, Bryan Sibble.