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Home woes explained - but not corrected - in WNY Flash loss to Fusion

How can you explain a 0-3 record at home when the same team has won all five of its road games?

In sports at large, home field is almost universally an advantage - ask Russia at the World Cup - but the Western New York Flash, in a surprising 2-1 loss to the Connecticut Fusion on Saturday at D'Youville College, didn't look like a team tied for first place in the United Women's Soccer East Conference.

"I think it's a comfortability thing, to be honest with you," said Western New York head coach Matt Waddington. "I think they're relaxed at home, they're in their home environment, they're staying in their homes - I don't know if there's an expectation just to come out and win, but when we're on the road, I feel like there's a unity and a bond and the girls go out and die for the game.

"From minute one to minute 90 on the road, we're sprinting and working - and I feel like we just don't have that effort on our home field in front of our home fans, and it's very disheartening."

With a chance to separate from the pack in the UWS East, the result sends the Flash back into a muddled playoff picture, below.

Standings in the UWS through eight games for the Flash. (Via UWS)

Western New York must rebound quickly, as top-of-the-table Inferno Rush comes to town for a 1 p.m. clash July 8 at D'Youville College's Dobson Field. The Rush knocked off the Lancers, 3-1, on Saturday, a positive result for the Flash, especially if they were to have defeated Connecticut.

The Goals

*1-0, Fusion, 8': Connecticut, a project of longtime soccer announcers Shep Messing and J.P. Dellacamera, who's in Russia covering the World Cup for FOX, wasted little time in putting the Flash on its heels.

The Fusion's Stephanie Santos, a whirling dervish in the middle of the pitch, spotted a run in behind by captain Chanel Johnson and played an inch-perfect ball for the striker to receive at speed. One on one with Flash goalkeeper Meg Tock, Johnson decisively picked out the lower-left corner.

*2-0, Fusion, 22': Brilliant effort in the midfield by Connecticut's Sierra Stone to hustle back to win a 50-50 tackle from behind, earn possession and alertly play in Johnson on goal again; this time, Johnson cracked a shot early that seemed to catch Tock between steps. The Fusion captain, blending pace and power, broke in on goal two more times in the first half but was thwarted by Tock both times.

*2-1, Fusion, 84': The Flash showed some gumption late as striker Chloe DeLyser anticipated an Anna Hewlett through ball, beating Connecticut keeper Meghan Dalton to the ball and poking it around her into the gaping goal.

As the Fusion fatigued - the visitors had just one sub available - Waddington's substitutions of Hewlett and Skylar Baun helped turn the tide of the game. While the last five minutes were intense, Western New York left itself with too little time to solve the deficit.

No Cutrona

Returning first-team All-United Women's Soccer selection Carissima Cutrona, likely en route to the same honor again this season, missed Saturday's match for an obligation; she'll be back in the fold Sunday.

Still, her absence was obvious in the loss; Waddington tried to scheme around the missing captain and leading goal scorer, moving to a 4-3-3 formation to include an extra player in the attack.

"We were turning the ball over too much centrally, and then it was the counter-attack style [that hurt us]," the first-year UWS head coach said. "We were losing possession, we were giving up the ball too easily, we weren't working to get into a gap or a space to maintain possession and hold it."

As noted in the game preview, WNY's adjustment to the departures of Charlotte Williams, Taylor Bennett and Maddie Pezzino, three starters who returned to their school programs, was already going to be tough enough. Remove Cutrona, and the situation became insurmountable.

Even with the poise of Dani Braun and leadership of Jenna Raepple, the Flash proved too young and inexperienced. Raepple, a decorated graduate of NCAA Division I's Colgate University, simultaneously took pride in helping the group of Flash Academy players rise to the level while admitting some frustration.

Colgate women's soccer alum Jenna Raepple, in white, eyes up her defensive responsibilities. (Ben Tsujimoto/Buffalo News)

"It's difficult but also exciting as one of the older players trying to help those younger girls find their game," she reflected. "[I] try and direct them and help them evolve their game to see what they're going to be like in college and if they want to continue to grow after that. It's a challenge but we'll figure it out."

Defensive Struggles

Tracking runs and constantly remaining aware of opposing strikers' positions have been two major problem areas for the Flash back line this year, regardless of who's been in the lineup. Consider Saturday's game a terrific learning experience for Tess Ford and Hope Balling, who had their hands full on the right side in contending with Johnson's threat.

Waddington delved a little into the defense's problem areas following the match.

"I don't think it's about the combination of players as much as it is about an understanding of what we want to do and what we need to do, and if they're all on the same page, talking about supporting each other and filling in for each other," he explained. "No matter who's back there, you need to step up and do the job. It's about communicating and being in the same group on the same line.

"Too often, instead of being on the same back line of four, we were two or three individuals, individuals popping out and unlatching from the group."

FINAL WORD: "When we're at home, we try to do too much. It's easy, when we're away, to make sure we're connected on and off the field, but when we come here, it changes a little bit but if we clean up the little things - if we find our midfield - we'll be able to finish and go from there." - Jenna Raepple, Flash defender.

Email: btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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