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5 ways to fix FC Buffalo

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

At the onset of the NPSL season, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the FC Buffalo Blitzers would reach the league’s postseason, which included the four teams with the most points out of the five-team Midwest-Great Lakes Conference. The opponents were unfamiliar—only Erie was a carry-over after realignment—but given the club’s history, avoiding the cellar still seemed reasonable.

The results were ugly. FC Buffalo finished with a record of one win, four draws and seven losses (1-4-7) and missed the post-season by two points due to a late surge from Greater Binghamton FC, who the Blitzers had beaten 2-1 for their lone win. When the NPSL postseason begins on July 21, the Blitzers will be spectators. Especially at the close of the season, Dan Krzyzanowicz’s squad was a shell of its opening day side, as injuries and other summer commitments revealed a startling lack of depth. Changes are necessary. But what should they be?

1) Find a striker: FC Buffalo has suffered from the absence of a menacing striker for the last two years. Cleveland’s Vinny Bell, Binghamton’s Sergey Molchanovich, Erie’s Afrim Latifi and Detroit’s Stefan St. Louis tormented opposing back-fours, but FC Buffalo had no means of countering. Alexander Rouse provided an excellent work-rate up top, but his solid scoring ratio from D3’s Medaille College didn’t translate to NPSL success. Before he signed with the USL’s Rochester Rhinos, Kendell McFayden was too busy alternating between center back, outside midfielder and occasionally striker to consistently harass other defensive corps. Simply put, FC Buffalo needs to find one forward to strike fear into opponents and not yank that player around from position to position.

2) Assess the head coaching situation: Head coach Dan Krzyzanowicz’s second season at the helm of FC Buffalo was marred with controversy. Saddled with a three-game suspension for his outburst at officials during the home Erie match June 8—which delayed the game for 12 minutes—Krzyzanowicz’s absence actually improved the Blitzers’ play, as the team drew two of its next three contests, including an impressive road draw against rival Erie. Upon his return to the sideline, FC Buffalo lost the final three games of the year—all with playoff implications—and thus missed the postseason.

Replacing Krzyzanowicz wouldn’t be an easy task, however. The Medaille College boss is a refined “Xs and Os” coach, owns an expansive network of local player connections through college recruiting and is often praised by many of the FC Buffalo players. Like any struggling team, though, rumblings of discontent emerged late in the season, and perhaps a courting of Canisius head coach Dermot McGrane or a selection of ambitious high school coaches like Kenmore East’s Rolfe Friedenberg or West Seneca East’s Jeff Bauda could effectively change the culture.

3) Add size without losing speed: Losing big bodies like forward/midfielder Mike Unwin (Des Moines of the PDL) and central defender Corey Phillips (unassigned) from last year’s team was an underlying reason for the team’s struggles. The Blitzers were noticeably less physical in 2012, as only Josiah Snelgrove offered the size/speed combination of the two departed players. With an eye to Detroit City FC, who employed 6’7 Adam Bedell and 6’5 John Dreshaj centrally, it’s clear that physical advantages—especially in the middle of the pitch—make a real impact. With Andy Tiedt, Cory Cwiklinski and Peter Duerden manning the middle late in the season, the Blitzers were a little too slow-footed to win 50/50 battles.

4) Uncover new pools of talent: If a coaching change does occur, then new pools of talent will come with the territory. It would be interesting to see how many former Medaille College players would stick around—no one on the active roster is being paid, remember—so allegiances come down to comfort with the organization, the coaching staff and the team’s location. The influx of Canisius Griffins was encouraging this year, as defender Ryan Schroen was featured more down the stretch, Kareem Gray stood on his head in Erie and Derek Maier suited up for a few road matches. If McGrane could be coaxed, then perhaps a more formidable Canisius-to-FC-Buffalo pipeline would be developed (Edit: Due to NCAA regulations, McGrane would be unable to field current Canisius Griffins on his summer roster if he was the coach of FC Buffalo.)

5) Boost the roster size or demand commitment: Two significant injuries to star players hampered FC Buffalo this year, and much of the season was spent searching for viable replacements. Left back Jake Rinow suffered a serious hamstring injury early on and forced Krzyzanowicz to shuffle his back-line. Versatile John Grabowski willingly stepped in and competed, but outside back isn’t his natural position. Center midfielder Josh Faga, the team’s metronome, fractured his fibula against Greater Binghamton FC June 3 and never returned to the pitch. The insertion of two natural forwards—Tiedt and Cwiklinski—into the center midfield position lost the creativity and aerial ability that Faga excelled at.

BONUS: Schedule more matches on Fridays and Saturdays: FC Buffalo is at the mercy of the NPSL with this one, as amateur soccer schedules are probably brutal to coordinate. Still, given the fact that the majority of Buffalo’s young soccer fans are occupied on Sunday afternoons with their own Buffalo District Soccer League matches, the team is missing out on an interested, passionate and relate-able audience. 

Attendance was fairly similar from 2011 to 2012, the organization added a few perks—catering, cowbells and eye-catching poster schedules—to create a solid game-day experience. Unfortunately, very little media attention was paid to the club, limiting FC Buffalo’s exposure. If a few of the five suggestions above are addressed, then winning football will certainly draw fans. 

(All photos courtesy of photographer Nate Benson, a Buffalo.com contributor who also shoots for FC Buffalo.)

TAGGED: buffalo blitzers, canisius griffins, dan krzyzanowicz, detroit city fc, fc buffalo, npsl soccer, soccer

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