For the second straight year, midfielder Braden Culver opened the year with Men's Soccer's first goal, scoring off a nice feed from Scott Doney in the 22nd minute.
It's early, but the differences for the Bulls from last year were evident and most noticeable in the final scoreline, as Buffalo used a strong possession game and much-improved midfield from 2014 to take their season opener 2-0 over Seton Hill. Steven Stryker added the second goal on a header in the 49th minute, and Cam Hogg was in net for the shutout. UB only shut out two opponents in 2014.
There were few surprises in the starting lineup, though it differed slightly from my preseason predictions. Butler transfer Nick Forrester started at centerback alongside fellow Kiwi Fox Slotemaker, moving David Enstrom up to a midfield role. In the midfield, Bradens Culver and Scales got the start alongside Russell Cicerone, while Scott Doney and Marcus Hanson rounded out the attacking group. Alec Fisher and Daniel Cramarossa started as fullbacks, while Cameron Hogg opened the game in net.
Today's game, for someone like me who hadn't been able to catch any video in the spring or exhibition matches, was clearly still Stu Riddle's system and style, but much improved over years past. UB still found success maintaining possession and passing back when challenged, while occasionally trying to move into attack on tentative long balls to the forwards.
The midfield, though, was more impressive than I remember, both in stringing passes together and turning loose balls into possession and building the attack from higher up the formation. Culver's goal was simply a play UB didn't make last year, on a nice run from Culver and good vision from Doney, and was the result of steadily building pressure from the Bulls. Braden Scales brought consistent play to the right wing and was rewarded for his strong play from the wing on Stryker's goal.
The Buffalo defense was not perfect, but did the job, narrowly escaping some dangerous Seton Hill chances in the second half on the rare occasions that UB ceded possession. Even on those occasions, you could see the improvement over last year's early season showings in San Diego and against Canisius and Niagara. On the night, UB took eleven shots and earned nine corners, to Seton Hill's nine and two. Hogg made five saves in the shutout.
The Bulls will remain at UB Stadium for their second game, a Sunday match against Belmont that begins at 1:00 PM.