Niagara Gazette — They made history earlier this season by defeating their archrivals, the Erie Admirals, for the first time in club history. This Saturday, the same two clubs will meet again.
The stakes will be higher.
FC Buffalo and the Erie Admirals are first-round opponents in the National Premier Soccer League playoffs. Their conference, Great Lakes, will hold their branch of the playoffs in Detroit, Mich. Following the first round, the winners will meet for the division’s final on Sunday, with that winner advancing to face the winner of the Central Conference the following week.
What the Blitzers are hoping is to, ultimately, extend their soccer season by about one more month. First, though, they want to be sure they’re ready for their archrivals.
“We’re definitely focused on Erie right now,” said FC Buffalo head coach Brendan Murphy. “It’s a one-game season for us. Our main focus is just to get to that game on Saturday. I believe in this team. I think the guys believe that we have the ability to make a deep run, if we get hot at the right time. All the elements are there for us. It’s just about whether we can execute on Saturday.”
The Blitzers’ historic win came on June 14, when they blanked the Admirals, 1-0 at All-High Stadium in Buffalo. They nearly gave fans another highlight performance against Erie on June 30 in Buffalo, rallying from a 3-0 deficit to cut the lead to 3-2, attacking fiercely in the match’s final moments but falling just short of stealing a point for the standings.
Both experiences did just as much, however, to build the team’s confidence to face a squad that had never lost to FC Buffalo in the Blitzers’ first three seasons, dating back to 2010.
“When we beat them the first time, it was huge. We made history,” said midfielder Bobby Ross of Grand Island. “Even though we lost the second game, we still fought back the second game. But just knowing we can beat them, we showed our fans we can beat them, and it gives us confidence going into the game, playing them again and hopefully beating them again.”
That doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. FC Buffalo dropped its regular season finale at home to Detroit City FC and showed coach Murphy where his team needed to work to be ready for the postseason.
“I think finishing is something that we’ve needed to work on all year,” he said. “I continue to feel that’s our biggest area of need. I think defensively we’ve really done well to lock things down in the back. I think our possession rate has been pretty good all year.”
For both clubs, playing their first-round match will be a departure from their usual playing surfaces, artificial turf. All-High Stadium has it, as does Erie’s home field. The Blitzers do hold their training sessions on the grass field at Amherst’s Park School, but coach Murphy sees Saturday’s matchup, including its venue, as a truly level playing field.
“I think we’re both facing similar circumstances,” he said. “We’ve both had a couple of trips out to that field, and we get the idea of the bounces. It’s grass, it’s a little bit smaller, it’s pretty narrow. I think we’re both going to be in the same boat playing on that.”
The opening kickoff is scheduled for 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first semifinal match between Detroit City FC and AFC Cleveland, which begins at 5 p.m. The winners of both matches will face each other Sunday afternoon.