One of the pack — A happy anniversary

This blog entry is the start of a series of posts from club leadership on what’s happened, happening, and to come within our club. This first post is from club co-founder Nick Mendola, and he personally would love it if you bought season tickets for this summer. It marks an important anniversary for the club, and comes with news on jerseys, the women’s schedule, and new events coming over the next few weeks.

Last week marked three years since FC Buffalo and United Women’s Soccer announced the fulfillment of our club’s long-held goal of starting a women’s side, and seeing that anniversary pop up on our timeline has brought back a flood of memories and pride.

I wanted to live in that space for a minute or 10, mindful of where this club has grown over the years despite the never-ending forward-looking that’s become soccer in America. That route is perilous and often thankless for players, supporters, coaches, and more. The natural inclination for every success can be easily greeted with thoughts of, “And this means we can do this” rather than soaking in the atmosphere. That can sometimes be a good thing — not to rest on laurels — but what good is the journey if you’re not taking note of the sights and sounds outside the vehicle?

I’ve got big picture points I want to make in a moment, but they can’t be shared without some of the experiences I’ve witnessed through our women’s team’s three win-collecting seasons in United Women’s Soccer, made more special by each occurring in the middle of very different but equally-passionate groups of supporters.

Take 2022’s playoff run alone. We had a men’s NPSL home game on the same day the women were taking on league powers New England Mutiny in a UWS East Conference semifinal playoff game. The women took a long ride to get there and took a 1-0 lead, but the hosts made it 1-1 as we settled in for the men’s kickoff. Our supporters at D’Youville that day joined us in peering at their phones and screens. And New England were in our end when Tess Ford and DJ Thiam did this.

Celebrations were had! Yet they could only last for so long because we had to find out where we were going — Baltimore — and confirm our hotels (Shout out to assistant coach Gabe Rutland and her husband for finding top accomodations). Some players had to get back to Buffalo. I had to pick up a couple of others and get them to Maryland. Oh, and all this while our men played a game against mighty Cleveland (a nice Derek Bartlo-inspired win, might I add).

By the time we were ready to kick off at Coppermine Norris Field, I was cooked. And unlike the players, I wouldn’t need to run 90 minutes in a sweatbox of atmosphere with a national semifinal appearance on the line. This time, I was sat amongst players’ families, friends, and loved ones for a game that would dance on every nerve until the final whistle. And our staff had yet another experience, joining supporters at Banshee Irish Pub for a virtual viewing.

The game was chaos. Ella Rudney scored after four minutes and we had to hold on — those watching to our seats and those players to the lead. Like the New England game, Coppermine tied it up and – again – we were away from home against a buzzing team who knew they were a moment from celebrating a trip to the national semifinal.

It was extra time. And fellow human, it was hot. The team had traveled 724 of the eventual 1,111 miles round trip from Buffalo to Ludlow, Massachusetts to Baltimore, Maryland… with only the long road home to go. It would feel longer if things didn’t go our way.

No (freaking) letdown. Cash Copley threw the ball into Carissima Cutrona, who drove toward goal and laid off for Kat Camper. I can still see this and even feel the humidity. Kat laid off for Morgan Kulniszewski and our unlikely hero for the moment made it 2-1.

And STILL Coppermine came back. It was a goofy own goal off a blocked cross as our women put themselves on the line in our own 18. Again, another moment where as a club owner you still believe in the team but are also preparing your response if this exhausted group doesn’t pull out the win. Then you feel like a real jerk when Carissima — who else? — delivers a winner in the 105th minute. And you’re high-fiving and hugging moms and dads and fans and strangers because this sport is the best thing, innit? I remember that day vividly thinking back to a men’s away win at Erie in the derby, a goal or two from Ngwese Ebangwese and looking up at o.g. supporters like Dale, and Brandon, and Amy, and… so many others in the crowd. I love all of them, and miss those who left us too soon.

I hope I was able to convey some amount of that feeling, that joy, that gratitude, and that mix of energy and exhaustion. Because reliving it last week… well, it was the perfect time for a reminder of why we do what we do in October, and November, and December, and January, and February. When we’re organizing meetings and training sessions and working with sponsors and fundraisers to get every last dollar in a bid to set the best stage for the next moment… for the women or the men (or, eventually, the youth).

Because we want to deliver the first pro outdoor club in town for men and women, and we want that validation for these players and those fans who were clutching their pint glasses full of water — surely, water is involved in the make-up of any beverage — at the Banshee. And for those who’ve come to the stands at All-High (or Canisius, or Will South) over the years because they know what could be but don’t need or want to wait for it. They want to create it.

I haven’t done everything right (no, not at all) and it’s been difficult as all get out. I can tell you there was a men’s game last year where I was ready to high-five a chainsaw just to feel something different. Those negative vibes are the outlier, because I’ve also been lucky enough to see a half-dozen adolescent fans develop into first team players. I’ve seen long-range bangers in Erie County derbies, penalty saves, and a long-serving captain inspire tifo that included a blood-drenched blade. Yeah, he’ll cut you in half, but he’s also gonna give a supporter and her husband flowers for their landmark anniversary. Just hope you’re not amongst the former.

Yeah after 14 years, it has 100% been worth it. This club has vivid stories at every level, and we’ve watched players, coaches, volunteers, and supporters grow. It’s why we have rooting interests in every cause.

We’ve had players become professional stars everywhere from California to Norway, and had rooting interests on teams in Moldova and Hong Kong. We’ve had an intern become a scouting director for an MLS club and a midfielder become an award-winning professional general manager. We’ve watched a young defender become a 30-under-30 winner, star players become star parents, All-Star goalkeepers become assistant coaches, staff become sponsors, sponsors become staff, and friends transition into their best selves.

It’s why these bizarre lines that pop up regularly on my gym mix make us get up after every set back and fight for our club.

“It’s why we battle, it’s why we travel.
It’s why the mascot thinks that I’m an [expletive].
We made the team without putting on the uniform.
Smart went nuts and rode a unicorn through the storm.”


Thanks for riding with us and stay tuned for more. Watch out for the horn.