The National Premier Soccer League National Game of the Week lived up to its billing. Unfortunately, the late-game drama that bore three goals between the 88th minute and the fourth minute of stoppage left FC Buffalo and its traveling supporters with a sick feeling in their stomachs.
Behind stoppage-time tallies from substitute Christopher Eduardo and hat-trick hero Cam Philpot, the Erie Commodores stunned FC Buffalo, 4-3, on a steamy Saturday afternoon at Edinboro University's Sox Harrison Stadium.
After a gifted own goal by Erie center back Andy Bennett put FC Buffalo in front, 3-2, just two minutes from time, Dale White's Commodores responded with markers in the 92nd and 93rd minutes, capped by Philpot ripping off his jersey in a raucous celebration.
"We made some poor decisions at the end," FC Buffalo head coach Frank Butcher said. "Guys have been playing this game a long time, and situational play - we did some things that we shouldn't have done, especially it being this hot and us being this tired. When we're fresh, we can sometimes cover up when we do something out of character."
The defeat marked FC Buffalo's first blemish against the Commodores in the Erie County Derby since June 2015, ending a streak of five games unbeaten (three wins, two draws).
While Erie vaults to 2-0 despite leading for less than a minute on Saturday, FC Buffalo drops to 0-2 and now must bounce back for a 7 p.m. home contest Sunday against Syracuse FC (1-1) at Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium ($8 at the gate).
1-0, FC Buffalo, 14': In his season debut, Wolves striker Kendell McFayden waited fewer than 15 minutes to put his side ahead, leaping to nod a sweet left-footed cross from fullback Lewis White inside the far post of Nicolau Neto's cage.
While foes fear McFayden for his pace and ability to get in behind a defense, the former pro's aerial ability - both off set pieces and in the run of play - is a hugely valuable trait.
Perhaps this early goal unnerved Erie, as the Commodores' historically steady back line turned to shambles over the next half hour. Ugly turnovers by Casey Bartlett-Scott and another by Austin Solomon sent Wolves striker Isaiah Wilson on two partial breakaways, one he pulled wide of the far post and the other resulted in a hard recovery tackle that had the bench appealing for a penalty.
Trailing by just one at the break, Erie began to muster more offensive pressure in the second half.
1-1, even, 55': The Commodores got on the board just seconds after FC Buffalo goalkeeper Jeremy Figler punched away a dangerous cross from Erie captain Ashley Phillips. Steven Rigg wriggled free on the left side, picked his head up and slipped a low cross to Cam Philpot, unmarked atop the six-yard box. Erie's No. 7, who led USC Upstate in scoring last season, made no mistake on the gimme.
2-1, FC Buffalo, 70': A wild end-to-end swing propelled FC Buffalo back ahead. Erie substitute Jack Simpson, a college teammate of FC Buffalo's Euan Bauld and White, surged forward and bent a cross toward Rigg's run at the far post. While Erie's bench howled that Black pushed Rigg as he vied for the ball, the head official did not deem it a penalty.
On the next foray down the field, good hold-up play from FCB's Akean Shackleford allowed midfielder Austin Stout to join the attack, juke quickly to his left and curl a pretty shot away from Neto and into the right upper-90.
"This past spring, so far this summer, that's what I've been trying to work on: be a bit more aggressive and picking my spots," Stout commented after the match.
2-2, even, 84': The Commodores' equalizer was a blueprint for how to orchestrate a counterattack. Right back Kwame Opoku stepped forward to break up a Wolves' pass, then quickly fed Gabriel dos Santos' sprint up the right sideline.
Philpot darted to the front of goal, received dos Santos' cross and smashed past a helpless Figler.
3-2, FC Buffalo, 89': In a howler that was fitting considering Loris Karius' two epic blunders in Saturday's Champions League Final, Bennett, under relatively little pressure, turned to play the ball back to his goalkeeper. The defender committed the cardinal sin of pass backs, however, rolling the ball back on frame.
Neto, positioned to the right side of his goalmouth, couldn't scurry back in time to prevent the ball from trickling into his own net. Unlike Liverpool after their loss, Neto and a defender were quick to help a forlorn Bennett back to his feat, urging him to shake off the mishap.
FC Buffalo's supporters section, the Situation Room, wasn't as merciful. "He's one of our own" was the mocking chant raining down on the crestfallen defender.
3-3, even, 92': Instead of dooming Erie, the own goal galvanized the side that was more threatening throughout the second half. A give and go on the left side freed Phillips, who caught up to the ball just before the end line, cutting it back sharply to elude Figler's dive and find Eduardo, who was waiting on the doorstep to smash home.
4-3, Erie, 94': In the final minute of stoppage time, an overlapping run on the left by Erie outside back George Stannard was picked out by Ashley Phillips; Stannard's cross met Philpot's diagonal run, and the latter's finish was deposited into the side netting of the right post.
While all three of Philpot's goals may have been tap-ins, his intelligent, quick movement in the 18-yard box put him in glorious position each time. In fact, it was mostly Erie's ability to exploit its edge on the wings and then move off the ball that suddenly made the attack more potent after halftime.
Although the times don't quite add up, check out the scoring from Erie's solidly-produced Facebook Live stream of the match, below.
Breaking down the breakdown: In explaining the late-game collapse, Butcher pointed to sloppy organization as well as mental and physical fatigue. "[It was] miscommunication, a little bit," he said. "We worked on it all week, and for the majority of the game, I thought our shape was great. We didn't give up many chances, but towards the end we started getting away from it.
"Tired legs may have played a part, but that's our own fault because they had the same tired legs on the other side. We've got to be better."
FC Buffalo goalscorer Austin Stout was most disappointed in how his side protected the 2-1 lead following his left-footed curler.
"That's where you have to be professional, see out the last 20-25 minutes of the game," the Duquesne University winger said. "All of [Erie's] goals came the same way, most of the goals were down the line, ball comes in the box and we weren't able to get to our mark quick enough and they ended up having some pretty easy finishes.
The most shocking flaw was FC Buffalo's inability to kill off a 3-2 edge in the 88th minute.
"We didn't take care of business at that point," Butcher said with frustration. "The energy was higher on the bench than it was on the field for that last 10 [minutes]."
FINAL WORD: "We're a group of tough guys, people from all over the place, we've got our fans out here supporting us, so for them, we'll come home tomorrow, we'll give the best shift that we can and see if we can get a result for them." - Austin Stout, FC Buffalo winger
FC Buffalo: Jeremy Figler; Lewis White, Euan Bauld, Robert Williamson, Chris Camilli; Bayley Winkel, Jake Cooper, Sammy Wasson, Austin Stout; Kendell McFayden, Isaiah Wilson. Subs used: Devonte Black, Akean Shackleford, Hunter Walsh, Brett Stern, Ali Shawish, Chris Berardi.
Erie Commodores (4-4-1-1): Nicolau Neto; Ashley Phillips, Casey Bartlett-Scott, Andy Bennett, Kwame Opoku; Cam Philpot, Austin Solomon, Craig Quinn, Evan Beutler; Fernando Martinez; Steven Rigg. Subs used: Christopher Eduardo, Gabriel dos Santos, George Stannard, Jack Simpson.