Rochester Riverdogz FC shot out of the gate on Sunday afternoon against FC Buffalo. In the NPSL season opener, the Riverdogz surprised Buffalo with a 1-0 win on the road. The first-year club showed the energy early and the grit late to secure the second win over its nearby rival.
In just the fifth minute, Rochester winger Rafael Gamarra Godoi raced to the endline and fired a ball across the face of goal from the left side. Lone forward Matt Tucker ghosted in behind FC Buffalo’s defense and turned in the chance from close range. Buffalo’s defense got caught napping and goalkeeper Steve Casey had no chance on the shot.
On the half hour mark, midfielder Gianluca Cuomo ran horizontally near the top of the Buffalo 18-yard box and fired a heavy left-footed shot towards the near post. Cuomo’s shot caromed off the woodwork and Tucker was on hand again to tuck home his second goal of the game on the rebound.
In the 30th minute, the Riverdogz were leading their biggest rivals 2-0 at home. Battling the heat and their energized opponents, however, the hosts were unable to hold out until halftime. FC Buffalo forward Romario Guscott showed strength to hold onto possession and cut a ball back in the mix from the endline. Midfielder Kieran Toland latched on Guscott’s service and blasted a shot into the roof of the net at the near post.
Hard work from the visitors cut Rochester’s lead in half before the break. Both goalkeeper Cameron Hogg, who had been walking gingerly for most of the first half, and center back Jake Schindler, who took a knee on the field after the whistle, came out of the game at halftime. Riverdogz head coach Matt Tantalo had to shuffle his players around for the second half, knowing that the team has struggled to hold onto leads.
In the 59th minute, FC Buffalo defender Chris Walter was shown a yellow card for a late challenge on Ben Derleth in midfield. Buffalo head coach Brendan Murphy showed his intent to get a result by introducing both Isaiah Barrett and Kendell McFayden. A former Rochester Rhinos forward, McFayden was a constant threat up top for Buffalo and caused a headache for the Riverdogz defense for the last half hour of the game.
Throughout the second half, Rochester left a forward isolated up top to act as an outlet which required a lot of work from the team’s midfield. Rafael Godoi in particular showed a tremendous work rate closing down FC Buffalo players in midfield. In the 75th minute, Rochester’s task became more difficult when Gianluca Cuomo left the game injured. Cuomo is not only the team’s leading goal-scorer, but also an important ball-winner sitting deep in the Riverdogz midfield.
The referee sparked a bit of controversy in the 80th minute by electing to keep his cards in his pockets. Substitute forward Austin Gerber raced to get on the end of a long ball and turned towards goal as Buffalo’s Walter slid in. Walter, who had previously been booked, was not near the ball when he tackled Gerber, who was bearing down on goal. The referee chose not to show Walter a second yellow card, much to the annoyance of the home fans.
Substitute goalkeeper Lenny Wilson made a number of key saves in the final quarter hour to preserve Rochester’s lead. In the 86th minute, Wilson made himself big to block a shot after McFayden headed a ball over the top for Barrett. In stoppage time, Wilson rushed off his line to block Barrett again after a miscommunication in the Riverdogz backline allowed Buffalo to race into the box.
The referee’s final whistle brought a close to the Thruway Derby. With the postseason out of reach for the first-year club, the Rochester Riverdogz celebrated a 2-1 win over FC Bufaalo and a season sweep over their rivals.
“It was just a great team effort for us,” head coach Matt Tantalo said after the game. “We’ve been unfortunate in the last couple matches. We’ve been there, we’ve been close, but we just haven’t been able to finish matches off. I thought we played well today. We had a good tactical plan, the guys stuck to it and found a way to finish it.”
Tantalo commented on the difficulties both teams faced with the heat over 90 degrees in the air. It’s not easy in this heat,” he said. “It was a real challenge. I thought we had a good 20- 25 minutes to start and then I thought we hit a wall in the second half of the first half. We were a step slower all over the place. We were chasing a bit in the second part of the first half and they got a goal back.”
The Riverdogz coach said that the team was able to regroup at halftime and come out more focused for the second half against a capable Buffalo side. “They’re a really good team. They’re an excellent team. They made it interesting at the end, but our guys found a way to dig deep and find a way to get the result. I’m really proud of this group.”
Tantalo credited the team’s determination to hold on despite heavy pressure from FC Buffalo. “We were missing some players again today. We lost our center back at halftime and we lost our goalkeeper at halftime to injuries. It’s part of our identity that guys are always ready,” Tantalo said. “Guys stepped in and did the job. It was huge. Lenny makes a big time save at the end with two minutes left in injury time. Those are big plays that get you points.”
Tantalo put the two wins over Buffalo in perspective given the rather tumultuous first season the Riverdogz have experienced. “It’s becoming a great rivalry and we have a lot of respect for each other. It’s great for us especially, because we’ve had our ups and downs. We’ve learned a lot this first year. I think we’ve played well enough to get some results but we’ve given up some late leads. It’s great to sweep the series. We expect that rivalry to grow even more next year and get even bigger next year.”