It was supposed to be a Tehel Cup clash that pitted one of the Buffalo & District Soccer League's elite team defenses against a crop of crafty, up-and-coming standouts. But often, early season mid-week tournament matches just don't turn out as advertised.
In the end, BDSL premier side Wolfpack thumped championship division squad Beast City SC, 4-0, rattling off four second-half goals before two red cards and a whole lot of commotion forced the match to be called five minutes early.
Electric Wolfpack winger Caleb Richards had a hand in the final three goals - potting two and assisting Eric Russell's header - after striker Nick Cavalieri opened the scoring on a penalty kick roughly 10 minutes into the second half.
Here's a quick description of the goals with commentary from a slew of players:
*1-0, Wolfpack, 55': A bouncing ball in the box caromed off the hand of Beast City SC center back Brock Prizel, who immediately protested the call. The center referee claimed Prizel's arm was extended into an unnatural position, leading to a penalty kick. Cavalieri went right on his first attempt - Dylan Guarino got a mitt to the strike but couldn't keep it out.
The referee blew his whistle as the shot was taken, however, as players from both sides had encroached into the half circle. Unfazed, Cavalieri blistered his second take into the side netting, leaving Guarino rooted.
*2-0, Wolfpack, 72': The premier side took advantage of its considerable height and strength edge by winning the physical battle on a set piece. Richards' curling corner kick from the left met the head of Eric Russell, who'd made a sharp near post run. Russell's powerful glancing header careened into the right corner of the net.
*3-0, Wolfpack, 81': With Beast City tiring due to only two substitutes, Richards' speed on the flanks became increasingly dangerous. A nice turn in midfield by Nick Cavalieri and quick pass to Jose Rodriguez gave the midfielder time to pick his head up and spot Richards' run down the left flank. A well-weighted pass put Richards in behind, and he poked over Guarino's slide for a commanding three-goal lead.
"Cal's got his own speed that nobody else can keep up with a lot of times," said Chris Moonan, Wolfpack's co-manager and center back. "When he takes the ball and gets around somebody, it's hard to stop him."
*4-0, Wolfpack, 84': Receiving a pass beyond midfield from Rodriguez again, Richards turned on the after-burners, leaving three Beast defenders in his wake and tucking past Guarino from close range. In explaining his late production, Richards emphasized that Beast's fatigue - and his own side's wiser distribution - both played a role.
"There was a lot of space, open lanes and [our] guy playing the right ball," BN Soccer's man of the match said. "Jose [Rodriguez] had two assists, and they were both good."
The match took an ugly turn five minutes from time, as a hard foul by Beast City's Joey Keem ignited a scuffle between the offender and Wolfpack's Zack Griffey. While it was difficult to tell if punches were landed, there was plenty of contact between the two after the whistle, which quickly drew a crowd of other players anxious to have their say.
After maybe 15 minutes of discussion - during which the officials chose to end the match early - the ultimate decision was straight red cards to the two primary combatants, then yellow cards to Beast's Noah Keem and Wolfpack's Rick Fleck, who were the third and fourth men into the melee.
While the post-match discussion centered around the fracas, the result on the pitch was clearly one-sided after a sloppy first half from both squads, even though Beast City came close a few times in the first half through individual efforts by youngster Kyle Hofschneider. With just two substitutes, though, City couldn't sustain their play - particularly in the midfield and defensively - through a full 90.
"Eventually, the game just started to open up a little more," Richards reflected after the match. "They were short on guys and a little tired."
Wolfpack's vaunted defense - vital to the team's promotion from championship division title last season - did well to quiet Beast's 2017 leading scorer Noah Keem, who was often on an island up front without Dylan Cunningham and Tony Roncone in attendance.
"We just took away [Keem's] space and didn't give him any time on the ball," explained Renkas.
"We definitely knew where he was at all times, and gave him a little more buffer so he wouldn't use his speed against us," Moonan added.
[Read more about Wolfpack's 2018 outlook in the BDSL Premier Division Primer]
Jason Curry, Brian Terpin and Griffey joined Moonan in playing the full 90 minutes in the back, and the latter chimed in on what makes Wolfpack's defense so difficult to break down.
"We communicate well," he said, simply. "We've worked together for so long that we know each other well. We hold each other accountable."
FINAL WORD: "I think the second half was more of a tilted playing field," summed Wolfpack 'keeper Andrew Renkas, who earned his first clean sheet of the young season. "We showed what we can do, and it's definitely a big confidence booster headed into week two."
Wolfpack lineup: Andrew Renkas; Zack Griffey, Chris Moonan, Brian Terpin, Jason Curry; Caleb Richards, Eric Russell, Jose Rodriguez, Scott Berardi; Rick Fleck, Andy Dugan. Substitutes: Nick Cavalieri, Kyle Weaver, Steve Acheampong.
Beast City lineup: Dylan Guarino; Alex Olczak, Brock Prizel, Joey Keem, Nick Ruiz; Kyle Hofschneider, Kristian Annibali, Trevor Moreland, Brandon Guarino; Noah Keem, Ben Hall. Substitutes: Matt Hall, Zack Kinnaird.