On the surface, the Connecticut United Women's Soccer team's six-hour trip to D'Youville College would seem a major advantage for the Western New York Flash, which hosts the Fusion at 6 p.m. July 7 at Dobson Field.
But, despite a sparkling 5-0 road record, head coach Matt Waddington's Flash remains win-less at home, and the 2018 regular-season slate concludes with Western New York hosting the final three matches, against Connecticut (July 7), Inferno Rush (1 p.m. July 8) and Rochester Lancers (6 p.m. July 14).
Sweeping Worcester, New England and Rochester on the road over an eight-day span was a tremendous accomplishment, especially considering the side was shorthanded in personnel for the bulk of the road trip due to Elite Clubs National League playoffs and players returning to their college programs.
At 5-2 with 15 points, Western New York is tied for first place in the UWS East Conference with Inferno, as the two opponents that rolled the Flash in Buffalo - NJ Copa and Long Island Rough Riders - have fallen upon hard times. Although Rochester owns 14 points, the Flash has a game in hand over their Thruway rivals and has created separation from Long Island and New England (both with 11 points in eight games).
Daemen College's Jamie Boyar, a late add to the roster, scored three times in the shellacking of the Smiles, while UB-bound goalkeeper Emily Kelly stood tall against Rochester, but it's been the steady presence and production of captain Carissima Cutrona, who scored the game-winner to beat the Mutiny and both goals to slay Rochester, that's kept the Flash afloat.
A United Women's Soccer first-team selection last year, Cutrona - primed for her senior season at the University at Buffalo - again paces the team with seven goals.
The spotlight will shine even brighter on Cutrona, as many of the Flash's early-season starters - such as Charlotte Williams (Penn State), Taylor Bennett and Georgia Allen (both Syracuse), Maddie Pezzino (Ole Miss) and Maya Palmer (Old Dominion) - have already headed back to school, testing the team's depth of talent.
Despite roughly a half season with the Flash, Williams - the first player with United States youth international experience on her resume to suit up for WNY - was full of praise for her experience with the team.
"I grew up watching the Flash and I'm from Rochester, so being able to play in Western New York has been ideal," she said following the last home match. "It's a great team, and being able to be home and see my family over the summer as well as training here, it's been the best of both worlds."
There's still familiar figures in the flock, though, with Marcy Barberic (UB), Erica Hubert (Bowling Green), Dani Braun, Jenna Raepple, Tess Ford (UB), Kara Daly (UB) and more lending stability, even if it will be tough to fill the void left by Williams, a constant threat in the midfield, and Bennett, who was often the team's strongest defender at center back.
Opportunity now knocks for many of the club's Elite Clubs National League players, such as prodigious soon-to-be high school junior Chloe DeLyser, who's already signed with Ohio State, as well as Grace Murphy, Skylar Baun, Kasey Hollins and Anna Hewlett.
In other words, the Flash's UWS fans will have a chance to witness first-hand the progress of the WNY Flash Academy's development system against competent and experienced Connecticut (3-3-1), whose top players - like former Republic of Ireland youth international Hayley Nolan, former Central Connecticut State striker Tori Sousa and Marist College alum Kylee McIntosh - are all a few years removed collegiate play.
Keep an eye on BN Soccer's Twitter account, the aptly named @BN_Soccer, for live updates for both matches this weekend, as well as a report following both games.