Toss aside big-picture discussions - the disappointments of the regular season and the unlikelihood of competing in the postseason - when FC Buffalo hosts the Erie Commodores in the Erie County Derby.
The rivalry match, which kicks off at 7 p.m. June 30 ($7 here or $8 at the gate) at Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium, is always a spirited affair, transcending win-loss records, sites and years. It's a barely disguised loathing passed down from veteran teammates to newcomers, who would get the message inside the first 10 minutes of the match, heads up or not.
"I know what is at stake," said FC Buffalo forward Akean Shackleford, who made his NPSL debut in the first meeting this year against Erie. "I know how much this game means to Buffalo and the fans, and how badly they want [us] to win."
Before the Wolves (2-4-3) tangle with the Commodores (4-0-2), here are five things to know:
• Hostility, 2017 Edition: Don't let the scoreless result from the May 26 clash with Erie fool you - the match brimmed with entertainment.
A tumble and shoving match at the corner flag between FC Buffalo's Chris Walter and Erie's Shane Wiedt caused enough of a ruckus to draw a crowd of players from both teams, while a tough tackle in the run of play resulted in Jake Cooper's trip to the emergency room to stitch together a severed finger.
Frequent jabbering between Erie's Ezana Kahsay and several FC Buffalo players raised tensions and led to a yellow card for the Erie forward, who may have been lucky to dodge a second booking after his complaints when a Lewis Osborne goal was disallowed due to Kahsay's offside position. Expect more of the same fireworks Friday in what should be even more of a rousing atmosphere.
• McFayden, Toland on the mend: Given the coaching staff turnover preceding the summer, it was expected that returnees like Kendell McFayden and Kieran Toland would be the anchors of a new-look squad. These plans went awry, however, when Toland severely hurt his shoulder in the spring at St. Bonaventure, and then McFayden broke his wrist in the home opener against the Dayton Dynamo.
Although these absences certainly hurt the quality and depth of Frank Butcher's squad, they opened the door for players like Shackleford and Cameron Emerson to soak up playing time and endear themselves to the Wolves' faithful.
But with three matches remaining in the season, McFayden and Toland have both returned to training and could be available for the Erie clash Friday. Shackleford, who's fighting an ankle knock, is expected to give it a go, too.
• Enstrom to Sweden: FC Buffalo holding midfielder David Enstrom has moved back to his native Sweden for the duration of the FC Buffalo season - his post-UB destination is uncertain, although it's likely to be a major Division I school.
An All-Mid-American Conference second-team pick for the Bulls last year, Enstrom followed up those honors with a strong seven matches with the Wolves, earning honorable mention in our NPSL Great Lakes East Midseason Best XI.
• Kahsay's return to Buffalo: Western New York soccer supporters who haven't seen Kahsay play since high school will marvel at the International Prep grad's progress over the last three years. Playing at soccer power University of Akron doesn't hurt, even if he's started only four matches in his college career.
The starting striker for Erie leads the conference in goals with six, including a hat-trick in a 4-0 demolition of Fort Pitt. His constant movement and boundless energy make him a tough mark, although the Wolves had minimal trouble keeping him quiet in the first meeting. The Eritrean striker is in brilliant form now, however, and he'll be hungry to perform in front of his friends and family.
• Fan giveaway, relevant charity: Local bar-restaurants Soho Burger Bar and Frankie Primo's +39 will give away glow-in-the-dark mini soccer balls to the first 500 fans through the gate on Friday. You can see an image of the collectible at FC Buffalo's Facebook page.
The local NPSL club also continues its charitable contributions to Westside International Soccer, with proceeds from specific merchandise and single-game tickets to the home finale on July 14. More on that below.