In a match with serious playoff implications, FC Buffalo sparkled.
Goals from Troy Brady, Gary Boughton and Keane McIvor, plus a clean sheet from Steve Casey, helped the Wolves to a comprehensive 3-0 win over the Rochester Lancers Friday night at Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium.
"Overall, just a real solid game," remarked FC Buffalo head coach Frank Butcher. "[We're] super happy with the effort all-around."
With the three points, the Wolves vault to 5-2-2 and remain unbeaten in their last seven matches. In the National Premier Soccer League Midwest Region's East Conference, FC Buffalo sits one point back of Cleveland SC for second place and two back of table-topping Erie, which also has a game in hand. The top two teams in the conference advance to the postseason.
Friday, Frank Butcher's squad essentially ruined Rochester's playoff hopes. Brady, the Canisius College winger who'd returned home from Tri-Cities FC in Tennessee, was an unexpected part of the side, but Butcher's former pupil with the Grand Island Vikings wasted little time in putting the Lancers on their heels.
"[Troy] messaged me last week, saying things weren't going well with his club and he was home, and he wanted to know if he could train," Butcher recollected. "With the injury to Bayley [Winkel], their similar styles ... it could be a nice little switch. He trained with us this week and looked really good, so we gave him a go to see how it worked, with the injuries we've got. It worked for us today."
Brady proved an apt replacement for Winkel, who returned home to Ontario last week to nurse a nagging ankle injury.
"I've been with Troy for a while - his speed and pace are tremendous," Butcher explained. "He finds a little gap here or there, and just knows when to attack really well. He created a lot of chances today, not just the goal he scored."
[Read more about Troy Brady's development and friendship with Frank Cotroneo]
Although neither player found himself on the score sheet, left back Chris Walter, who returned after two-and-a-half months on the shelf, and former Lancer Sammy Wasson were vital pieces in the victory.
Assigned the captain's armband for his club-record 63rd appearance, a bearded Walter looked comfortable on the ball and tackled with his trademark ferocity.
"You're not going to be lacking for energy with Chris," Butcher said. "That's a contagious thing - if you can get more guys with that kind of energy, it just reverberates through the team. Everybody was up."
Due to the slow-healing, fragile collarbone injury suffered in the BSC Raiders' Amateur Cup match in April, there was concern Walter would have to temper his style of play. That simply wasn't the case.
"I thought I might be a little hesitant going into tackles, but at the first [training] session, it went out of my mind and I was tackling left and right, and that carried over to tonight," the Nichols School and Hartwick College alum said.
When asked if he had a chip on his shoulder from last summer, which Wasson spent as a seldom-used reserve for the Lancers, the Buffalo State alum was unequivocal, calling the contest his "most emotional" match of the season.
"I love all the guys on that team, but I definitely wanted to beat them," he said. "I want to prove myself still."
4': Rochester nearly broke through first inside five minutes, as burly striker Isaac Kissi deftly heel-flicked a pass into space for Will Stone, who took on FC Buffalo defender Robert Williamson at speed. Cutting to his left, Stone cranked a strike off the crossbar with authority.
38': On the right side of the box, Stone again cut back to his left foot to curl a shot toward Casey's back post. The 6'6 Niagara University keeper left his feet to push the shot away from danger.
41': Brady hinted at things to come by hustling to intercept a pass, smoothly losing a defender and then playing a square ball to unmarked Isaiah Wilson in front of goal. A heavy first touch from the St. Bonaventure forward squandered the opportunity.
1-0, FC Buffalo, 45': Brady's movement off the ball created the game's first marker. When Wasson won the ball in the midfield, Brady sprinted up the right wing in support, receiving a pass and then playing square to Keane McIvor before making a darting diagonal run into the box.
A well-weighted pass from McIvor nestled between Rochester defender Darren Toby and goalkeeper James LePetit, where Brady calmly deked the latter and deposited home from a sharp angle.
"Scoring the first goal really settled us down," Wasson said. "I really enjoyed having [Brady] over on the other side."
2-0, FC Buffalo, 71': While the Wolves didn't seem particularly threatened, a one-goal lead is never safe. The goal to double the margin began with nifty dribbling in the 18-yard box by McIvor, who managed to elude three Rochester defenders before seeing his shot blocked by Alex Harling.
The rebound found Brady atop the box; he laid off to Gary Boughton, who struck the ball through traffic, off the far post and in.
3-0, FC Buffalo, 87': Two substitutes were influential in the third tally, as Akean Shackleford ran onto a Wasson pass on the left wing, served a cross to the back post to Bautista Pedezert. A smooth trap and short square ball to onrushing Keane McIvor saw the Robert Morris talisman strike a low shot that was too heavy for LePetit to keep from caroming into his goal.
A Word with Walter
"Not being able to be active was killing me ... Honestly I was nervous - your role is not just given to you. I was like, 'I might not even make the 18, let alone the 11,' but I worked my ass off in training. One thing you can't teach is effort, and that's what I can bring out there." - Chris Walter on his return from injury.
"We can't let anything by us if we want to catch that playoff spot, we can't let any games go like we did last year. For sure, we need that win [on Sunday, at Fort Pitt]. We'd like to get them back for that [season-opening] loss, but whoever was next, we'd need to get." - Frank Butcher
FC Buffalo: Steve Casey; Austin Stout, Euan Bauld, Robert Williamson, Chris Walter (c); Jake Cooper; Sammy Wasson, Keane McIvor, Troy Brady; Kendell McFayden, Isaiah Wilson. Subs used: Gary Boughton, Akean Shackleford, Bautista Pedezert, Chris Camilli, Hunter Walsh, Brett Stern.
Rochester: James LePetit; Jake Schindler, Darren Toby, Alex Harling; Ben Allan, Glenn Holmes; Anthony Rozzano, Rafael Godoi, Lukas Fernandes; Isaac Kissi, Will Stone. Subs used: Juan Reyes-Martinez, Austin Gerber, Wyatt Scott, August Finn, Marco Mitrevski, Tim Crawford.