‘Near enough perfection’ – FC Buffalo coach, players thrilled with fast start in home win

[ MORE: Recap, video highlights from FCB 4-1 Toledo ]

FC Buffalo coach Sean Hallas, captain Max Kwitchoff, and center back Kobe Grant were buzzing after the club began its 2024 USL League Two campaign by beating Toledo Villa 4-1 at Robert Rich Sr. All-High Stadium on Sunday.

Ander Castillo scored two of FCB’s three goals in the first half and assisted midfielder Matheus Spina in the second half to make it 4-1 after a goal from Toledo pressured the Wolves. German defender Fabian Overkamp (Robert Morris University) scored FCB’s second goal in the first half.

The Wolves’ high pace and aggressive press in the first 25 minutes allowed Sean Hallas’ side to find the net thrice. 

“The first half was near enough perfection,” said Hallas. “We set out a trigger where maybe it was their six or their 10. The big thing for me was to stop their six from playing through the lines.”

Hallas also accredited his two starting strikers, Ander Castillo and Felix Kogler, for their understanding of when to press.  

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“Ander has been with me before. He understands what I want to see at this level,” said Hallas. “Felix does this at Niagara University, and he knows when to press and when to stay.”

Hallas coached Castillo at Medaille University.

Wolves right-wing back Ashton Jell crossed from the right flank into Castillo in the eighth minute. He pounced in front of Toledo’s Brady Horn to slot in his first goal on the left-hand side of the net.

The lead went to 2-0 when midfielder Timo Jansen’s corner kick landed on Overkamp, but his initial header ricocheted off the two Toledo players marking him. Overkamp didn’t give up on the play, slotting the loose ball into the low left corner in the 20th minute. 

Four minutes later, the Wolves took the 3-0 lead as team captain and midfielder Max Kwitchoff’s clearance became a perfect long assist when it found Castillo, sparking a two-on-one counterattack with Kogler on the right. Castillo ran with the ball for nearly 40 yards before cutting toward the right of the 18 and placing the ball across his body to the left-hand side of the net. 

Besides the team’s press, the Wolves ended the first half without conceding thanks to their solid and commanding back three. 

“The back three have so far been unbelievable,” said Hallas. “They understand when to play long or when to play through a line. They also understand that when there is pressure, they must get rid of the ball.”

New Wolves center-back Kobe Grant stood out the entire game through his communication and multiple interceptions. The former Toledo Villa defender felt many emotions while facing his former team. 

“I felt a bit nervous, but I was also excited and smiling at times throughout the game because sometimes you just have to take it in,” said Grant. “I am so happy to get the opportunity to prove that I can play at this level.”

Another standout from today’s match was Kwitchoff, who delivered in his second match at All-High Stadium. The second-season FCB veteran and Buffalo native guided his team through his pressing, ball recoveries, interceptions and leadership. Playing at All-High played a part in his performances as well. 

FC Buffalo vs Toledo Villa
Photo by Brett Ballachino

“I grew up watching the team play as a ball boy when I was 8 to 9. Playing for the city brings a lot of pride.”

Max Kwitchoff

The Wolves started slow in the second half, allowing Toledo to pull one back. Villa midfielder Gijs Velings blasted the ball from outside the box to score a low left-post shot, making it 3-1 in the 64th minute. 

The Wolves responded, beginning with Spina subbing in for Jansen. Grant progressed the ball from his end into the center of the field and delivered an incisive pass for a darting Castillo on the right flank. Castillo, who ran inside the box, crossed to a lurking Spina as he scored a spectacular backheel goal in the 82nd minute.

FCB comfortably closed out the final eight minutes and added time to get the 4-1 result and equal last season’s USL League Two total win tally. 

After Sunday’s win, Hallas mentioned that an area of improvement is utilizing more substitutions. Still, he relies on the super-sub who has scored twice in two matches when coming off the bench. 

“Spina is always there, and he came in great,” said Hallas. “His defending, his attacking, he understands that position for playing at Niagara.”

Spina and Castillo also scored on Thursday in FCB’s win over Erie Commodores 2-1 in the first leg of the 2024 Erie County Brewers Cup. 

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FC Buffalo’s men will play away from All-High Stadium for the next four games.

Toledo and FCB face off again on May 29 for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Paul Hotmer Field. FCB will play its first 2024 USL League Two-away match. 

On Wednesday, the Wolves will face the Erie Commodores in the second leg of the Erie County Brewers Cup at Saxon Stadium. Kickoff begins at 7 p.m.

On Friday at 7 p.m., FC Buffalo’s women’s team begins its season by playing FC Berlin at Buffalo State University.