Tryout reflections: A new breed of Blitzers
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • December 31, 2012 @ 6:26pm
After a difficult second season under head coach Dan Krzyzanowicz, FC Buffalo’s front office did exactly what a struggling team should do: institute change.
Enter University at Buffalo assistant coach Brendan Murphy, who was handed the head coaching reins Nov. 21 by FC Buffalo’s ownership group of Nick Mendola, Scott Frauenhofer, Donny Kutzbach, Brent Garner, Ray Siminski and Joshua Batten to usher the Blitzers into a new era.
The first session of tryouts was held Friday at Sahlen’s Sports Park in Elma, and a whopping 45 players attended, seeking to impress the new head coach and earn a place on a highly-competitive NPSL roster.
A surprising amount of returning players vied for a place—Pat Zelko (ex-Medaille), brothers Chris and Ryan Walter (Hartwick, ex-Binghamton), Andy Tiedt (Rochester Lancers, ex-UB), Ryan Schroen (Canisius, ex-Clarence HS), John Grabowski (Rochester Lancers, ex-Fredonia), Nekabari Tor (ex-Roberts Wesleyan, pictured, left), Steven Carcaterro (St. Bonaventure) and Matt Goldwater (Medaille, ex-ECC).
“I’ve been getting a lot of great response from [the returning] guys already,” Murphy said following the practice. “As soon as I got hired, they started emailing saying, ‘Hey Coach, what’s going on?’ ‘Really want to play for you!’ ‘Would love to come to a tryout’, and I think a lot of guys who played last year want to continue playing.”
“There’s a certain core of guys who played last year and in years past who are the kind of guys we want on the team and who will contribute again this year,” the new gaffer added.
In addition to the slew of returning players, however, an intriguing group of aspiring Blitzers sought to make an impact, and unlike in years past, Murphy has the opportunity to recruit from anywhere in the U.S.—he’s not isolated to the Buffalo-Rochester region.
“We had a guy from Temple, a guy from Binghamton, a guy from Albany, Buff State, St. John Fisher, Daemen, D’Youville—it must have been 15-20 schools represented here,” Murphy explained. “I love that. That’s one thing I’m very clear on—I have no loyalty to any school, I don’t care where they’re from. I just want guys who are going to fit this group.”
After a few warm-up drills—juggling, crosses and finishing—the players were split up into four separate teams and rotated eight-vs.-eight games. After three eight-minute sessions that allowed Murphy and volunteer assistants Ian Fairlie (UB), Bob Roach (Newfane HS) and Hector Vasquez (Daemen College women’s coach) the opportunity to evaluate players in pressure-filled game situations.
Once the small-sided games concluded, teams were split into 11-vs.-11 sides, and players were subbed in and out at the coaches’ discretion. Here’s how Murphy evaluated the collection of talent after the tryout:
“I think it was a good group—the level was pretty high, and there was a definite separation at a certain point, somewhere in the 20s,” Murphy mentioned. “The top 22 is pretty clear, [numbers] 23 and 24 are pretty clear, and then there’s a drop off. We’ve got four signed already, and there’s another four or five that are high on the prospect list that were either out of town or couldn’t make the tryout.”
Canisius striker Asani Samuels, Griffin keeper Kareem Gray, Cornell outside back Jake Rinow and midfielder (and emergency outside back) John Grabowski have already agreed to terms.
While it’s difficult to evaluate a player fully in one two-hour session—especially when individuals are making every effort to impress rather than fit in with a team’s structure—here is my list of potential Blitzers who did well for themselves.
Anthony Rozzano, midfielder-forward, Albany University: A freshman from Rochester’s Webster Schroeder High School, Rozzano was a surprise attendee at the tryouts. He led the Great Danes in points and assists in his first year, and he fit in seamlessly during the workout, displaying composure on the ball and an awareness beyond his years. We’ll have a Buffalo.com feature story on Rozzano later this week.
Alex Stephan, defender-midfielder, Geneseo: A standout four years ago at Clarence, Stephan has matured as a player, looking both tough on tackles and composed with the ball. Aside from a few missteps in possession, Stephan fit right in among the returning Blitzers and made a real case for inclusion on Murphy’s roster.
George Tor, forward, Medaille College: Ineligible to play for the Blitzers the last two years because his college coach was FC Buffalo’s head coach (an NCAA rule), Tor was a goal-scoring machine at the D3 level, wrapping up his career with 17 goals as a senior after notching 18 as a junior.
A first-team D3 All-East Region selection, Tor is blessed with dynamic speed and quickness—with the ball at his feet and without—and occupies the attention of multiple defenders. He struggled with unfamiliar teammates at the tryout, but he has difference-making ability.
John Taggart, midfielder-forward, Medaille College: Taggart had perhaps the best tryout of anyone, notching three goals in the small sided games and knifing through the opposing backline to create chances during the 11-vs.-11 scrimmage.
He was smart and decisive in his finishing, and he played well off Zelko in the small-sided tilts. The Medaille senior from Tonawanda scored five times in 12 starts this year, placing third on the Mavericks in goals.
Nick Garcia, defender, Niagara University: En route to the NCAA Tournament, Garcia was the less heralded defender alongside teammate and MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Rene de Zorzi. Still, the junior from Rochester was steady for Chase Brooks’ squad, winning tackle after tackle and distributing with confidence out of the back. If he chooses to spend his summer in Buffalo, expect Garcia to be a fixture in the Blitzers’ back-line.
Mitchell Skrabacz, midfielder-forward, Temple University (pictured, right): A D1 player who graduated from West Seneca East, Skrabacz played more of a defensive role in Friday’s scrimmage, but like Stephan—and the two look oddly similar because of their hair—Skrabacz showed a willingness to battle and scrap for loose balls as well as displaying confidence in possession. One thing’s for sure: Murphy has an abundance of options on the back-line in forming his 2013 squad.
Stay tuned for the feature on Rozzano, a look into the aspirations of veteran John Grabowski and a more in-depth look into Brendan Murphy’s coaching career. Apologies for the quality of my photos, but you can see a whole gallery of clearer shots from Go Upper 90’s Brandon Chiarmonte.