“Perfect Storm” puts Murphy in FCB driver seat

By Matt Birt, FCB intern and author of www.queencityblitzers.com

In 2006, Brendan Murphy was part of the ownership group that brought the National Premier Soccer League to Buffalo in the form of Queen City FC. He wasn’t much older than the players the team would be looking for, and felt he wasn’t prepared to coach them yet.

“I was young,” Murphy said from the team hotel ahead of FC Buffalo’s match against Lansing United last weekend. “I was 26 at the time. I didn’t feel like I was capable of coaching the team. I didn’t feel like I was capable of coaching players of that level, but I saw and I watched, always hoping and dreaming that I could coach a team like this.”

As the season progressed and he watched the players put together one of the most remarkable inaugural seasons in Buffalo sports history, he continued to envision himself in a leadership position with players of that age and of that caliber.

Six years later, Murphy was ready for a change of scenery. Queen City FC had collapsed after two seasons due to financial hardship (despite being national runners-up in their inaugural season). He had spent six years between the Orchard Park and Amherst soccer clubs as director of coaching. He had two young children and a wife, but being obligated to work evenings meant he couldn’t see his family as much as he wanted.

“It was a tough job in terms of scheduling because I would be gone every single night for practices,” said Murphy. “That was the bulk of the job between the hours of 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. Missing bedtime every night, missing out on a lot of time with the kids, I just felt like I needed to make a change.”

He also wanted to do more work with college-age players, and had aspirations of becoming a full-time head coach of a collegiate soccer program. An email from Nick Mendola presented him with a golden opportunity to bring about the change he had been seeking.

In 2012, FC Buffalo limped to the finish line with a 1W-4D-7L record to claim last place in the Midwest Conference. In the offseason, the team decided to move in a different direction and part ways with their head coach. That was when Mendola reached out to Murphy and encouraged him to apply for the opening.

“It was all just like a perfect storm that happened at the same time,” Murphy explained, “I was realizing that I was going to leave Amherst, and I was hoping that there was going to be something. I just knew that, in my life, I couldn’t do the full-time D.O.C. job anymore. So I took a major risk and I decided to leave that job and I had faith that something would come around and I would be able to find a way to continue my career in soccer, and maybe try to build my resume a little bit and be a part of something special. When Nick’s email came and invited me to apply for the job, I jumped at it.”

Besides being director of coaching with youth programs, Murphy had also spent 11 years working as an assistant coach with local college soccer programs at Buffalo State, Niagara and the University at Buffalo. The FC Buffalo gig would be his first as a head coach of such high-quality athletes, and he was soon named to head men’s soccer job at D’Youville College as well.

Life, as it does, was moving forward.

“I wanted to make a change in my career that would allow me the opportunity to become a head coach as a full-time job for a college program,” Murphy said, “To be able to coach this level of players on a daily basis, college players that have had success, they’re playing all over at bigger schools, D-I schools. This is such a dream job for me.”

When Murphy came on board with FC Buffalo, he revamped the roster from the previous season. Most important would be establishing the new culture he wanted to infuse into the team and into his players helped turn the club’s fortunes around in his first year.

The Wolves won their first two matches of the 2013 season, and started the year with a 7W-1L record. The highlight of the regular season for Murphy was a 1-0 win over the archrival Erie Admirals on June 14.

It was the first time ever that FC Buffalo had defeated their longtime nemesis, and what happened after remains one of the most memorable moments in Murphy’s life.

“The fans storming the field after the Erie win. I didn’t expect it, and to see them just start invading the pitch was cool,” Murphy said. “It was really cool. You never expect that type of passion. That was, by far, the best memory of my time with FC Buffalo so far.”

The team continued their strong play, finishing with eight wins and four losses, which was good enough for second place in the Great Lakes Division of the Midwest Region and a spot in the NPSL postseason tournament.

For the playoff opener, the team drew Erie for what would be their fourth meeting of the season. The Admirals dismissed the Blitzers in the conference semi-final in Detroit, but the foundation for success had been laid.

When asked if Murphy saw the potential for FC Buffalo to make a deep postseason run like Queen City FC had done in 2007, Murphy didn’t hesitate to voice his belief in the team.

“Ever since [we made it to the championship], that’s always been one of my dreams and hopes and goals in coaching is to try and get back to that point someday,” Murphy said. “I think it’s within reach for (the team). It’s definitely a long road and it’s a very difficult road to get there, but you can see a team that we beat last year in Erie went to the national final four last year, and in the first game this year we beat them again, so to me that says we are not that far off.”

This season has been a more trying one than last year, and a six-game losing streak has put Buffalo out of position to make the playoffs again this year. Despite the woes his team has fought through, Murphy has no doubt that the club is on the right track to make serious waves in upcoming seasons.

“If it’s not this year, if it’s next year or if it’s two years or four years down the road, I fully believe it’s possible,” Murphy said. “As long as I’m in this job, that’s a massive driving force.”