For the sake of my blood pressure, and my own credibility as a watcher of sports, I always endeavor to keep a level head when it comes to watching my teams get jobbed by an officiating crew. Watching a game and feeling like the team is fighting two battles - one against the opposition, and one against some ass-clown referees - is beyond frustrating. After then inevitable loss, I'll walk away from the arena or field, burdened by a sneaking fear that my love for the team is clouding my judgment, and even if I saw repeated instances of head-scratching, hair-pulling decisions by a ref, I'll always wonder if I'm simply in denial that my team just wasn't good enough to win. Perhaps that's why those moments of anger, when I almost can't talk as I cope with the sheer absurdity that a ref missed a certain call, are often not about anger at all, but sadness, disappointment, regret. That this seems to happen so often as a Buffalo fan - to the point that I have legitimately been convinced (if only for a brief periof of time now and again) - that the higher powers of sports management hate Buffalo and will fix games to ensure that we will be forever saddled with the "Dear God, Why Us?" meme.
Catching the D train from John Dewey High on Saturday, I was much less nuanced in my attitude, mostly because I had no real confidence that the officiating crew working the game was necessarily credentialed, but also because their ineptitude was on display from the opening whistle and lasted the full ninety. While the linesman closest to our small but spirited group of Blitzers supporters was good-natured about the heckling rained down by the Yachtsman, and others, he was apparently ignorant to the true workings of the offside rule. Time and again, FC Buffalo players would streak behind the defender, running onto a well-placed ball into space, only to get called back. "Flag," as we so affectionately, yet degradingly, called him, simply didn't get it.
The head referee, though - the key component of any officiating crew - was where we fans focused much of our rage, and with good reason. Down 1-0 in the second half, the Blitzers were threatening to score an equalizer, and had more than their share of opportunities to get decent balls into the box (Ed. Note: That phrase will NEVER not be funny to me). Two plays, about four or five minutes apart, sealed the Blitzers fate. First, with about 25 or so minutes remaining, a ball was dropping towards a Brooklyn player who controlled it off his chest. The ball, falling to the ground, took a bounce before the fullback directed it back, with his foot, to his keeper, who then picks it up. With his hands.
In a world where justice exists for my teams, an indirect free kick is called, the Blitzers score, and we got ourselves a game.
The back-pass was, of course, not called. Yachstman and Barrister look at each other, incredulous, then calmly accept fate while holding out hope for that next break to go our way.
Needless to say, a disappointing result. FC Buffalo controlled possession for much of the game, and showed a surprising cohesiveness in doing so, especially given the fact that this was the first game (or time, even) many of these guys had played together. It looks like the new coaching regime has the team on the right track, at least with respect to the players they've brought on board, and I think its fair to say that this match will likely put the Blitzers on solid footing to start their regular season off right.
Some other thoughts/highlights from the game:
- Pat Regna, the Blitzers starting goalie, went down in the second half after a collision with Brooklyn player Mostafa Haridi. According to FC Buffalo's website. both players required pretty serious medical attention - Haridi for an injury to his mouth, requiring emergency dental surgery, and Regna for a large laceration under his knee. Here's hoping both guys are ok.
- In addition to the infuriating no-calls in the second half, the referee can also be credited with one of the most hilarious moments of the match, after he called an infraction on a Blitzer player (it may have been the sole 1st half yellow card, which was against Matt Stedman, for "dissent") and was heard explaining that "he knows what he did." As we fans were in the dark as to the true reason for the call - which was bullshit, obviously - having seen nothing of note, this moment was especially funny.
- A few minutes before the game got underway, Team President Nick Mendola stopped by and greeted me and my buddy Geoff (City Honors Soccer represent!), and mentioned that the team was a little short-staffed. Upon the start of the game, I thought there was only one sub on the bench, though when Regna went down it became apparent that there was a keeper as well. Short-staffed indeed. After the game, me and the Yachtsman chatted briefly with a player on his way to the team's bus, and - I hope I'm not misunderstanding him - the guy mentioned that he wasn't even really on the club anymore, that he used to play for Queen City FC, that he now lived in Jersey, and that he was called to fill out the roster for this game since he was close by. I suspect that these issues will work themselves out in the coming weeks as the season comes up, though for the time being I think it shows the heart and talent of these guys to play so well in the circumstances.
- Another thing to keep in mind is that, as was mentioned by another player on his way to the bus, this team had not played together this year. Let me clarify - when I say "play," I don't just mean play an actual game. This team hadn't even gotten the chance to practice together. As per the team's website, there were no available, playable fields in WNY during the possible window for practice times (which was limited by the NCAA eligibility freeze...which maybe someone could explain to me, since I'm a little slow), and this team legitimately had no opportunity to train together before this game. I am astonished that this can be possible (though, knowing the quality of some WNY soccer pitches, I wouldn't be surprised if the team deemed some of them simply unsafe), and even more astonished that the team played so well and to such a narrow defeat. Again, positive signs for the season.
- Finally, I have to say that I had a blast at this game. Much respect to the guys that came down from Buffalo for the game - Dale, Jeff and Brandon - as well as the other crew of Buffalovers who came out (though, I never really caught their story...I was a *few* beers deep, after all). The DGWU crew is looking forward to a roadtrip up to Buffalo for a home game or two this summer, especially if it means getting to link up this portion of "The Situation Room" for some adult beverages. Also, in the coming weeks, we'll be looking to extend a similar invitation to Buffalo residents who might be tempted to make a second trip down to the Tri-State area for FC Buffalo's match against the NJ Blaze (who, incidentally, are not the Bible-thumping sqaud I thought they were; the Buxmont Torch, a different fire-inspired club, is down with the G-O-D...good for them), scheduled for Friday, June 10th. Hope some of you guys can make it down this way again.
Again, despite the result, this game gave a lot for Blitzer supporters to be happy about. Look for more game analysis from the Yachtsman and yours truly in this week's edition of the DGWUS CrapTastiCast, which is likely slated for posting late in the week. Until then...