By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — Never mind that FC Buffalo had won its last three matches, or that there is still some season left to play in the National Premier Soccer League. Their victory Friday night at Robert Rich All-High Stadium in Buffalo is all that matters to this club right now.
That's because the Blitzers did something they were unable to do in their first seven tries since the team's birth in 2010. They beat their hated archrivals, the Erie Admirals, 1-0. It came after six losses and one draw in their previous starts.
First-year FC Buffalo head coach Brendan Murphy knows this was definitely not just another opponent.
"The owners really prepared me for the rivalry as soon as, basically as I was interviewing for the job," said Murphy after the match. "Their big point to me was we've got to beat Erie."
FC Buffalo put early pressure on Erie, with the Blitzers getting a couple of chances as early as the 2nd minute of play but unable to get a clean shot on the Admiral net.
Buffalo's first good chance came in the 5th minute when Erie keeper Daniel Mudd stepped out several yards to play the ball but Buffalo hooked a shot over him. Unfortunately for the Blitzers it sailed over ther crossbar as well.
The hosts finally scored in the 11th minute. On a Buffalo throw-in about 15 yards from the corner, Brian Knapp heaved the ball toward the Erie net, where within the goal area Ian Mort headed the ball to Nick Garcia, who in turn headed it past Mudd into the net.
The crowd erupted in celebration. The Buffalo bench would have no part in joining them.
"Never comfortable. Never comfortable," said Murphy. "We had a bunch of chances that we could have put away, even before that goal and even several more after that goal. One goal against a team like Erie is not comfortable whatsoever."
Erie had its chances to equalize in the second half, with a hard shot from about 25 yards out sailing wide of the Blitzers' net in the 61st minute. One minute later, an Erie cross pass created a serious threat to tie the game but Buffalo goalkeeper Kareem Gray punched the ball away to prevent the shot.
Several times, Erie players went down for apparent injuries, much to the disdain of the FC Buffalo crowd, with many of whom among the estimated 650 fans rattling miniature cowbells distributed at the stadium entrance.
Erie added pressure and threatened late, beginning in the 84th minute, but the Blitzer defenders were in place to allow Gray to slide on top of the ball at the 18-yard line to stop the play.
The even bigger threat came just two minutes later, when Karl Jones headed the ball on the Buffalo net past Gray, but it went off the crossbar. Still additional pressure came in the 89th minute, with Erie pressure leading Buffalo's Bobby Ross to play the man too hard and draw the game's only yellow card.
FC Buffalo had a very good chance in stoppage time of the second half to go up 2-0, when Andrew Tiedt led a rush down the right side, only to have his decent cross pass kicked away by the Erie defender.
After some tight battling deep in the Erie end, fans and management alike turned their eyes to the referee, awaiting his final whistle.
"Counting down the minutes in the end there, it was kind of nerve wracking, but finally, finally we did a good job killing off a game," said Murphy. "I thought we were composed. Erie put a lot of numbers forward, and we knew they were going to. I thought the guys just finally really did a good job managing the game."
How special was this win? Many among the crowd staged their own "pitch invasion," taking to the field to celebrate the win with the players and Murphy, who admitted he was likely off to the nearby soccer pub on Hertel Avenue to join those peers and celebrate his role in the club's historic moment.