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Blitzers rally twice to draw AFC Cleveland

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

The Blitzers’ feet were dragging, AFC Cleveland was finding acres of space all over the field, and top FC Buffalo defender Jake Rinow had just left the match with a potentially serious hamstring injury. When Cleveland’s Tyler Johnston nodded home a Carlo Manna (Notre Dame College) cross at the back post in the 83rd minute to break a 1-1 draw, it looked unlikely that FC Buffalo would have the legs to respond.

No one told that to pacy Buffalo midfielder Mike Reidy, the man of the match in Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium.

In the 87th minute, poised midfield play and a long run out of the back presented the Blitzers with a high-percentage chance. Nekabari Tor, who’d only entered a minute prior, picked his head up just beyond midfield to find John Grabowski in space. Recognizing center back Josiah Snelgrove’s galloping run down the left wing, Grabowski slid the ball into the Houghton College product’s path.

A looping cross from Snelgrove found Reidy 12 yards from the Cleveland net, and while his initial first-time shot was blocked by a defender, the Colgate University stalwart then smacked a bouncing shot into the ground, through traffic and under Royals’ keeper Ben Yabrow.

“I could tell [Snelgrove’s] cross was going over the defender’s head,” Reidy explained, “so I came in and tried to get a one-timed shot—it hit off their defender, I think—but I followed up and got another shot in. There were a lot of people in the way, so the goalie couldn’t really see it.”

“Mike [Reidy] is a workhorse, and he’s so skillful on the ball—so smooth,” FC Buffalo head coach Dan Krzyzanowicz said after the match. “He created a goal, scored a goal, and created a couple more dangerous opportunities. I can’t say enough about how good Mike has been with FC Buffalo.” 

Spurred by the energy of five substitutes and a fortuitous red card given to the Royal’s Anthony Bahadur in the 84th minute, FC Buffalo managed to escape with a point, but three points were certainly within reach after the late flurry. Snelgrove’s thunderous header off a Gary Boughton header was rejected by a diving Yabrow, and Kendell McFayden skied the rebound over the net.

Unrelenting effort on the flanks put the Royals on their heels, as Reidy repeatedly attacked the Royals’ left side and substitute Cory Cwiklinski gave AFC Cleveland’s Dennis Holowaty fits on Cleveland’s right. 

“I thought [the result] was probably fair,” Krzyzanowicz said. “I thought at the end we had a great opportunity to make it 3-2. I felt like we had more quality chances to score. I’m disappointed, I thought we could have had three today, and at home now, twice, getting one point isn’t good enough.”

The momentum shifted noticeably when head official Ron D’Ambrosia awarded substitute Bahadur his second yellow in four minutes. After a careless tackle of Mike Reidy in the 80th, Bahadur struck Snelgrove to the ground with a kick from behind. With the Royals down to 10 men, FC Buffalo could focus solely on equalizing. 

“The red card was a really big deal because we were throwing a lot of people forward [before that], so we could then send everyone forward and didn’t really have to worry about leaving many defenders back,” Reidy said.

“I don’t know that the red card tactically did a lot, but it definitely helped our energy level,” FC Buffalo head coach Dan Krzyzanowicz admitted. “It got our guys a little excited, and then the substitutions played a huge role. They were a bigger impact on the game than the actual red card. All of them played quite well in really tough circumstances.”

Tor, Grabowski, Cwiklinski, Mbwana Johnson and Patrick Zelko energized a Blitzer side that looked lethargic early in the second frame. AFC Cleveland countered well, however, as two substitutes—Manna and Johnston—connected on the team’s second goal, and Vaughn Spurrier (Temple University) and Thomas Schmitt (University of Akron) threatened Buffalo’s back-line. 

AFC Cleveland opened the scoring in the 41st minute on a botched off-side trap by the Blitzers, as a well-timed through-ball from Dean Miller sent hulking striker Vinny Bell alone on Blitzer keeper Eric DeHond, and Bell made little mistake in poking the ball under DeHond’s dive.

Buffalo responded in the 60th minute, however, as an alert Reidy forced AFC Cleveland’s back four into a turnover, and Blitzer forward Alexander Rouse had plenty of time at the top of the box to take a few touches and finish with a low drive to Yabrow’s right.

“We basically caught them sleeping,” Reidy explained. “Their defender got lazy—he tried to play it right by me. I got a foot on it and Rouse put it away, so that was a good heads up play by us.”

Although his defensive play was spotty, Cleveland’s Holowaty was integral in breaking the deadlock. On an offensive foray from his right midfield spot, Holowaty maintained possession under pressure before laying the ball back to Manno for a service. The low swerving cross bounced between Johnson and Alexander Rouse at the back post, leaving just enough of a nook for the Royals’ Johnston to step in and head the ball into the turf and past DeHond.

FC Buffalo: DeHond; Hall (Grabowski 79’), McFayden, Snelgrove, Rinow (Johnson 69’); Reidy, Faga, Stedman (Cwiklinski 57’); Tiedt (Zelko 46’), Rouse (Tor 83’)

AFC Cleveland: Yabrow; Cutler, Winters, Spilker (Manna 62’), Earnest (Spagnolo 75’); Poe, Matlock (Spurrier 46’), Vail (Johnston 79’), Holowaty; Miller (Schmitt 46’), Bell (Bahadur 67’).

Other recaps:

FC Buffalo

(Photos courtesy of Nate Benson—full gallery here)

TAGGED: afc cleveland, alexander rouse, buffalo blitzers, dan krzyzanowicz, fc buffalo, mike reidy, npsl soccer

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