By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — FC Buffalo held off a late surge by Zanesville Athletic FC of Ohio, as the host Blitzers won their season-opening National Premier Soccer League game, 2-1, before an estimated 400 fans at All-High Stadium in Buffalo.
The lightning and thunder that swept through Western New York during the mid to late afternoon were long gone by the start of the match. However, by the 12th minute of play there was light rain which, by the 23rd minute, had become a more steady downpour. Fans, luckily, were protected from the elements by the roof above them at the stadium. The artificial playing field, meanwhile, became increasingly slick but FC Buffalo's first-year head coach, Brendan Murphy, said his players were able to adjust well.
"We've been playing on a grass field that we've been training on for the last two weeks, and coming on turf it was faster anyway," he said. "And then with the rain on top of that, it made the surface even slicker and balls were just skipping and bouncing off of people. That's something you've got to adjust to on the fly, which I think we did a pretty good job."
The hosts put early pressure on the Zanesville defense, including a shot off a corner kick that was stopped on the goal line just shy of the end of the 4th minute.
The quality of Buffalo's scoring chances improved as the first half progressed, with an awarded direct kick just before the end of the 25th minute hooking just over the crossbar.
Then in the 27th minute, Buffalo's Andrew Bednarsky had a clear break on the goal but his shot was fired right into the chest of Zanesville goalkeeper Kyle Ripma.
Finally, FC Buffalo broke through in the 39th minute when Richie Wilson took the pass from Andrew Tiedt just inside the 18-yard line and scored to give the hosts the 1-0 lead.
The Blitzers were right back to their steady pressure of Zanesville in the second half, maintaining possession of the ball for most of the first six minutes. The visitors gave Buffalo a scare in the 51st minute when a Zanesville header cleared over Buffalo goalkeeper Kareem Gray but rolled wide of the net.
Shortly after, the Blitzers went up 2-0. In the 55th minute, Richie Wilson's breakaway was stopped brilliantly by Ripma and cleared out of bounds. On the ensuing throw-in, Tiedt took a pass from Ryan Walter and scored the goal.
Zanesville had their moments of opportunity in the second half. They finally broke through in the 85th minute when John Barr found the net and cut FC Buffalo's lead to 2-1.
The hosts, for the most part, played more defensive-minded late in the second half but sought opportunities to send a player on the Zanesville net.
The visitors had a couple of quality chances in the 89th minute and in stoppage time, but their luck ran out after about four minutes of extra minutes as the referee blew the whistle to end the match.
For Murphy, the win brought not only personal satisfaction but a sense of relief as his lineup showed signs of forming chemistry. While Zanesville crept back into the game late, Murphy said part of that was disrupting the chemistry somewhat with player substitutions that put fresher legs into the game but also into a situation where they weren't necessarily into a groove.
That, he suggested, is something that can come with more practice together. He was otherwise pleased with how the team has bonded in this new season.
"The biggest thing is the boys have battled hard," Murphy said. "They fought for each other. I thought we really started to come together as a team there. It got nerve-racking at the end, which I don't think it needed to. I think we could have done a better job shutting them down defensively, which we did the whole game."
FC Buffalo (1-0) next hosts FC Sparta Michigan at 7:30 p.m. May 17 at All-High Stadium.