2011 FC Buffalo Blitzer Awards
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • July 21, 2011 @ 12:20pm
Thanks to team owners Nick Mendola, Scott Frauenhofer and Ryan Knapp, Buffalo.com was given the privilege of covering the FC Buffalo Blitzers over the past two years. Although the team’s road has been bumpy at times, the peaks of the Bedlington match and the move of Dan Stevens to a Finland professional club make the venture worthwhile. Here are our rather extensive awards for the Blitzer club:
MVP: Josh Faga, defender/midfielder: As detailed in the post about his professional trial, Faga’s been the most consistent player on a club that struggled with player commitment issues. He’s excellent on the ball, shows great vision and defends well one vs. one. The ability to shuffle Faga between outside fullback and central holding midfielder was a true luxury.
Runners up: Corey Phillips, Mike Unwin.
Best defender: Jake Rinow, outside defender: Mbwana Johnson and Corey Phillips are also deserving—the back-line was sound for much of the year. The Lancaster product, however, rarely missed a tackle, distributed well and didn’t hesitate to jump into the attack—his “Maradona” against Buxmont at home was one of the smoothest dribbling forays of the season.
Runners up: Mbwana Johnson, Corey Phillips.
Team leader: Andrew Larracuente, defender/midfielder: The most experienced NPSL player on the squad was vocal, but not annoyingly so. A pre-season injury may have slowed the captain as the season progressed, but according to head coach Dan Krzyzanowicz, there was little question that Larracuente would wear the armband for 2011.
Runner up: Mike Unwin.
Most dangerous on the dribble: Krystian Witkowski, midfielder: Although he didn’t travel with the team or see more than a cameo in the second half of matches, Witkowski was, without question, the team’s most dangerous attacker in open space with the ball at his feet. His scything 50 yard run in the 90th minute of the Buxmont contest was picturesque, and several defenders looked foolish due to Witkowski’s array of moves.
Runners up: Mike Reidy, Unwin.
Most dominant on 50/50 (loose) balls: Chris Walter, midfielder: In the “quote of the season,” Walter told me that he’d never lose a 50/50 ball—and he rarely did. Like his brother that played with Andy Tiedt at Binghamton, Walter relentlessly hounded the opposition, flying in for tackles and tracking down attackers. He’s an opposing center midfielder’s worst nightmare.
Runners up: Rinow, Phillips.
Best in the air: Corey Phillips, defender: Phillips, who stands at least 6’3, was an immovable force on aerial balls, standing his ground and timely his leaps well. Having that type of physical presence, particularly off the opposition’s goal kicks, is very useful.
Runners up: Mbwana Johnson, Andy Tiedt.
Most pesky: Patrick Zelko, midfielder/defender: Zelko started the home schedule with a tough assignment: FC Reading’s Gibrilla Conde, a gazelle-like attacker who had a tryout with the MLS’ FC Dallas in late 2010. Probably the fastest Blitzer, Zelko hassled Conde for the first 45, exhausting himself but limiting the star’s touches through constant pressure.
Runner up: Walter.
Most hot-headed: Matt Stedman, forward: The former Niagara striker and Northern Ireland professional was easily the most hot-headed Blitzer, earning a red card from the bench in the infamous Erie away match and sitting for a match due to accumulated yellows. He’s also not a dude you’d mess with.
Runners up: Unwin, Stephen Baker.
Player(s) we wish we saw more of: Stephen Baker, forward and Witkowski, midfielder: The two former All-Greater Rochester attackers didn’t suit up for many matches this summer for various reasons. Still, when active, both were very dangerous and creative, and the Blitzers’ goal-scoring droughts would not have been as prolonged with those two in the lineup.
Runners up: Patrick Regna, Frankie Valente.
Most poised on the ball: Mbwana Johnson, defender: Even in high-pressure situations, Johnson doesn’t seem to have a care in the world (which, frankly, can look terrifying.) The majority of the time though, Johnson makes the smart, simple pass to clear the defensive third, and he’s been sturdy in the back the last two seasons.
Runners up: Faga, Andy Tiedt.
Greatest professional potential: Faga/Witkowski. Neither player is far from earning a paycheck for their abilities. Faga earned an extended tryout with the Chicago Fire’s reserve side, while Witkowski is only a few years removed from a tenure with the Poland u-18 side. Both players will suit up for the Marist Red Foxes this fall; the MAAC competitor visits Niagara (9/30) and Canisius (10/2).
Runners up: Phillips, Rinow.