Saturday’s match between Erie and Buffalo will feature one of the league’s most established rivalries. It is a derby between two long-standing members of the NPSL and there’s plenty of healthy banter between the clubs, supporters, and even owners.
“Rivalries are always good,” Erie owner John Melody commented. “In Erie versus Buffalo this will be the 10th season of it. It’s the first game you look for when the schedule comes out. They don’t like us much and we are not too fond of them either. I’m not sure what the record over the years is, but it’s easy enough to count the Buffalo wins.”
Nicholas Mendola, co-owner of FC Buffalo, shared similar sentiments.
“All players need to know about the rivalry; they learn within moments of joining the club, whether from returning team members of our passionate supporters online. The distaste for Erie is visceral, and it extends from our fans to each member of our club. We have a terrific amount of respect for our fellow NPSL owner in John Melody, but we have nothing but dislike for his club.”
All of the banter has led to amazing play on the pitch over the years, creating one of the country’s most anticipated matchups and a favorite for fans of the East Conference.
Both teams are loaded with talent at every position and the rosters may not be fully complete just yet.
Goalkeeper Nicolau Neto, midfielder Cam Philpot, and forward Sam White have been leading the way for Erie this season. Neto has been absolutely incredible in goal and leads the team in saves. Philpot leads Erie in goals, while White has the team lead for assists.
This talented trio has already seen plenty of action, including a successful run in the U.S. Open Cup. Erie played two games in the Open Cup, winning the first on penalties against the Rochester River Dogz before bowing out to the USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a 2-1 loss. The latter was against a full-time professional side and it was a match that could have gone either way, even in the final moments. Erie won their season opener against Syracuse FC 1-0.
FC Buffalo’s preseason was wrecked by the weather so they were only able to play a single friendly, which ended in a scoreless draw. Buffalo lost their season opener 2-0 to Fort Pitt Regiment.
This is the first match this season where two of Buffalo’s all-time greats are available from the opening whistle. Akean Shackleford, who flew in the day of their opener and came off the bench, scored seven goals in 11 matches during his first season with FCB. Captain Kendell McFayden, a former Rochester Rhinos striker, has 12 goals in 28 career matches for Buffalo. Whether Bayley Winkel is on the wing or at center mid, he’ll be an important part of the attack, having worn the captain’s armband in the opener. He’s also coming off an All-Northeast Conference season at Robert Morris University. Euan Bauld from Cape Breton University has been a big part of FCB’s early season at center back, and his college teammate and lifelong friend Lewis White is a spectacular left back. Jeremy Figler will start in goal, and he’s a reliable veteran presence for Buffalo.
As you can see, fans and supporters will be treated to a great match.
“We know every Erie County Derby match is a physical, hot-blooded match,” Mendola added. “We know Erie is a guaranteed tough 90-plus minutes, and they know we’re the same. That said, both teams are early in their seasons and surely waiting out a few more international clearances. We expect our men to fight for every ball and do everything they can to extend our unbeaten rivalry run.”
Melody isn’t sure what to expect from the match-up. Anything could happen in such a heated derby.
“It’s early in the season so we’d expect a cagey affair, but this game has the potential to break wide open. We’ve had three-goal wins, 3-3 and 0-0 ties and they have the odd win so who knows really.”
There is one guarantee however. There will be plenty of entertaining and exciting soccer.
“We want to keep the ball and press hard when we don’t have it,” Mendola continued. “When we’re at our best, we’re not necessarily doing anything spectacular but the ball is headed to dangerous places.”
Erie has found a style that works for the team over the years.
“Our style has changed little, but in 10 seasons we’ve adapted well to what’s needed to be successful.”
It’s certain that the competition will be fierce between two clubs that have experienced tremendous success.
“The conference will be competitive, same as last year,” Melody concluded. “We won the conference on goal difference and there wasn’t a lot of points between Erie in first and Buffalo in fifth. The NPSL is tough with competitive games week in and week out.”
“We firmly believe that this is the toughest conference in the league, and there’s isn’t a day you can afford to let up.”
Both teams are hoping to use this match to gain momentum in a run to win the conference title and qualify for the national playoffs and the Open Cup.
It’s a certainty that fans and supporters will be treated to some incredible NPSL soccer on this holiday weekend.
Photo Credit: RJZ Photography and Jennifer White/Acacia Studios