Living away from Buffalo for the last 6 years, I'm one of those expats who latches onto anything good coming out of the city and will search under every rock and toadstool for some civic pride. When the Sabres and Bills don't quite do it for me, happily there are tons of other places to look. The Bandits are small-scale, but successful, and the Queen City Roller Girls are tons of fun, though they don't get a lot of traction outside the area.
One local team, however, has been around for a couple years now and has improved on the pitch and in the bank accounts season over season since their inception. And while FC Buffalo of the National Premier Soccer League isn't a UB team, they are co-owned by Nick Mendola and have as much crossover with our Bulls as any sports outfit in the area.
The NPSL is a fourth-tier soccer league in America roughly comparable to A or AA leagues in Minor League Baseball. FC Buffalo plays in a regional league against teams from other Rust Belt cities in the "Great Lakes Division," and can advance to larger NPSL tournaments where they would meet representatives from other regions.
The NPSL is also an opportunity for collegiate players to get minutes and stay fit over the summer while maintaining their NCAA eligibility. Even though we're winding down the UB sports year until soccer and football pick up in Mid-August, four current athletes and one alum from UB will be playing for FC Buffalo and giving me something to write about during the summer.
Kyle Rogers, Defense - A Bulls alum, Rogers trained with FC Buffalo in 2013 and looks to continue his soccer career with the local squad
Waleed Cassis, Goalkeeper - A rising senior, Cassis made 17 starts for UB last year after transferring from Cal State - LA, where he helped the team advance to the Division II national tournament and received numerous academic honors. Cassis is an experienced goalie who will help the Bulls build on last season.
For FC Buffalo, Cassis will likely see substantial time in net, as the team only carries two goalies on their roster.
Kristian Lee-Kim, Midfielder/Forward - Another rising senior, Lee-Kim also played in 17 games last year for UB after transferring from Appalachian State, where he was the team's leading scorer and received all-conference academic honors.
Marcus Hanson, Forward - Hanson, a junior from Mississauga, ON, looks to build on his solid offensive contributions over the past two seasons. At 6'1", Hanson brings some serious size to any soccer team, and hopefully a summer playing against more seasoned competition will help Hanson become even more of a force against college competition. Hanson also has international experience, having played on the St. Kitts and Nevis U20 team
Russell Cicerone, Midfielder - Learn the name Russell Cicerone. Seriously. The Sophomore from Bloomfield, Michigan exploded onto the MAC scene in 2013, earning Conference Freshman of the Year honors and being named to the All-MAC First Team. Cicerone led UB with 6 goals and 2 assists on the season and has a bright career ahead of him.
For what it's worth, FC Buffalo is ecstatic to have Cicerone on board.
"Russell has been at the top of our recruiting charts ever since his first exhibition with UB," [FCB Coach] Murphy said. "Within 5 minutes of seeing him play, (assistant coach) Bobby Roach texted me that ‘This kid’s got something special.’ We are ecstatic that Russell has committed to play for us this summer and I personally couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity to coach him. I am confident that the fans will be on the edge of their seats every moment that Russell is on the field."
If you follow that link, you'll also see some glowing reports of Waleed Cassis.
FC Buffalo opens the season this evening with a visit to hated nemesis Erie. When home matches roll around, FCB will play at the Demske Sports Complex at Canisius College, a new location after several years at All-High Stadium. If you're looking for something to do, head on over.
And if you're looking for a bit more info on FCB, you can find them at www.fcbuffalo.org, and could do worse than to start at this interview with UB friend Nick Mendola:
I've known FC Buffalo owners Nick Mendola and Scott Frauenhofer for a decade and a half, watching their love for the game of soccer evolve into running their own National Premier Soccer League team. It only took the Wolves (the current, approved nickname after a few years going by the Blitzers in honor of Ken West grad Wolf Blitzer) two games to earn their first win and clean sheet, defeating the New Jersey Blaze in front of the home crowd at Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium 2-0.