Old Team Tuesday: The history of soccer in Buffalo

Old Team Tuesday is a weekly feature taking a look at former teams that have gone by the wayside. This week’s edition does not look at the history of a single team, but revisits the entire scope of upper-level soccer in Western New York as a whole.

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The relationship between Buffalo and soccer has been more unstable than a marriage to Zsa Zsa Gabor. Nine teams have set up shop here, with few finding any measure of success and most being forced to close down or move away. Now, as Americans finally seem to be falling for the beautiful game, that sentiment is echoed in Western New York, where Buffalonians finally have a team they can cozy up to.

Let’s start in 1976, near the tail end of Gabor’s sixth marriage. The Buffalo Blazers of the Canadian-based National Soccer League opened play at War Memorial Stadium. A mediocre first season didn’t disparage the team, and in 1977, the club finally made progress, going 12-3-3 to wind up third in their 10-team division. The club took a huge step backward the following year, slogging through a 3-14-3 season that forced them to regroup for a year. They returned to the pitch in 1980, but a lack of fans in the stands and wins in the standings spelled doom for the team.

A sign outside War Memorial Stadium denoting it as the home of the Blazers.

In 1979, The Buffalo Stallions took up residency in Memorial Auditorium after the Buffalo Braves basketball team decided to split and head to San Diego after an eight-year stint in Western New York. Initial reaction to the team was positive, as an announced 11,028 fans turned out for their inaugural game against the Philadelphia Fever on December 7, 1979.



The Stallions continued to draw well initially, and in their second year the team averaged over 9,400 fans per game. However, Stallions fever did not last, and despite hosting the 1982 Major Indoor Soccer League All-Star Game, attendance continued to plummet. In their fifth and final season, a meager average of 4,834 fans came out to the Aud for each game.

While 1984 saw the collapse of the Stallions, it also brought about the Buffalo Storm, who joined eight other franchises in the upstart United Soccer League and called All-High Stadium their home. The Storm won their division after a 24-game regular season, but were dispatched by eventual-champion Fort Lauderdale by a paltry 9-1 aggregate in the first round of the playoffs. Following the season, the team disbanded.

One of the lone relics from the Storm's existence is a program from their playoff match in Ft. Lauderdale.

The Buffalo Blizzard brought indoor soccer back to the region in 1992 as an expansion franchise in the National Professional Soccer League. The original owners of the team were the Knox brothers, who also owned the Buffalo Sabres hockey team at the time, and the Rich family, the long-time owners of the Buffalo Bisons baseball club. The team managed to rake in some of the best attendance numbers in the league. The 1993-94 campaign was the most successful in terms of fandom, with an average of nearly 8,500 fans per game.



Buffalo hasn’t just been home to men’s soccer teams, either. In 1996, the W-League granted Buffalo a team, and thus the FFillies were born. The team floundered both on the pitch and off. In its first year, average attendance hovered around 90 fans, and the club went 0-10. Over the course of those ten games, the squad scored only six goals while surrendering 41.

The next year was slightly better for the FFillies. The team went 3-7 and drew more than double the amount of fans than the previous season. In 1998, the roster boasted Canadian national teamer Helen Stoumbos and future U.S. Women's National Team captain Christie Pearce. Yet, in the middle of an 0-5 campaign, the team was abruptly dismantled after management realized fan support was not going to be as strong as they had needed it to be.



Despite the mullets and uniform kits, the term "look good, play good" didn't apply to the Blizzard. A lack of playoff success, an ownership change, a steady decline in attendance, and instability throughout the league led to the demise of the team. After the Blizzard vacated HSBC Arena and ceased operations in 2001, the area was without a regional soccer team for nearly six years. Then, in 2007, Buffalo got its first taste of the National Premier Soccer League.

In its first season, Queen City FC battled to a 7-2-1 record to stand atop the Northeast Division of the NPSL at season’s end. In the playoffs, the Blues played all the way to the league championship game, only to lose by one goal to the Southern California Fusion in the finals. In their next season, Queen City FC was unable to replicate the previous year’s success. A third-place finish in the division excluded them from postseason contention, and after the 2008 season, the club folded.


Queen City FC team photo.

2009 did not see the birth of just one soccer team in Buffalo, but two. NPSL soccer returned in the form of Buffalo City FC and the Buffalo Flash, a professional women’s team, opened play in the USL W-League – the same league that housed the FFillies over a decade before.

In their first season, Buffalo City FC managed to rack up eight wins and two losses, and despite having the second-best point total in the division and the third-best point total in the 27-team league, they were left out of the playoffs. Following the season, the team suffered the same fate as their predecessors and folded.


Current Minnesota United goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth patrolled the posts for Buffalo City FC in 2008.

The Flash experienced a far more successful inaugural season than their forerunners, finishing second in the Great Lakes Division with a 9-2-3 record. In 2010, the team changed divisions, but the change didn’t seem to faze the team, who trounced their opponents en route to an undefeated 14-0-2 mark in the regular season. The Flash cruised all the way to the championship game, where they handed the Vancouver Whitecaps a 3-1 loss to claim the W-League title.


The Buffalo Flash played their home games at Orchard Park High School.

2011 brought about even more changes for the Flash. The team sought to play several home games in the Rochester area, essentially halving the amount of games they would play in Buffalo. After negotiations with Buffalo Public Schools fell through, the team opted to play the entirety of its games in Rochester.

The team also pulled up stakes in the W-League in favor of Women’s Professional Soccer. Another stellar season culminated on August 27, 2011, where the rebranded and regionalized Western New York Flash defeated the Philadelphia Independence 5-4 on penalty kicks to claim a second-straight league championship. The following year, they won the Women’s Premier Soccer League Elite title, and were runners-up for the National Women’s Soccer League championship in 2013.


The Flash celebrate their second of three consecutive league titles in 2011.

After back-to-back seventh place finishes left them out of the playoffs in 2014 and 2015, the Flash claimed the NWSL crown in 2016, for their fourth overall championship in four leagues in an eight-season span. In January of 2017, it was announced that the NWSL squad had been sold and moved to North Carolina. The upper tier of the Flash program would now play in United Women’s Soccer. The inaugural UWS squad moved their entire slate of home games back from Rochester and finished at 4-4-2, good enough for fifth in the east.



The high point of the Flash's final season in Western New York came in Houston, where they won the NWSL championship. The nadir, however, came against Seattle just miles from their home stadium on July 9, 2016.

While Buffalo City FC closed up shop in 2009, the NPSL returned to the region yet again for the following season. The new organization, FC Buffalo, stepped in and made it clear that they intended to be more than just another paragraph in the history of western New York soccer.

The team aimed to develop a sense of belonging within the community, with whom they could establish a foundation and fan base. A contest was held to nickname the team, and following a segment on CNN courtesy of Buffalo-raised Wolf Blitzer, the chosen name was “Blitzers”. Subsequently, “Wolves” also became a moniker for the team. The team’s mascot also happened to be a wolf.



FC Buffalo made strides to forge a name for themselves on June 29, 2011, when they hosted the Bedlington Terriers in a highly-publicized match dubbed the “Lord Bedlington Cup”. The name of the contest came from none other than former Blizzard and current Bisons owner Bob Rich, Jr. Rich traced his family lineage back to the Bedlington area of England, and his wife purchased the rights to the title “Lord Bedlington”.


A record crowd filled the stands at All-High Stadium to watch FC Buffalo take on the Bedlington Terriers.
Rich Products, the corporation owned and operated by Mr. Rich, became the jersey sponsor for both the Blitzers and the Terriers, and a crowd of nearly 4,000 packed the stands at All-High Stadium to witness a 5-1 victory for the local squad.

The 2012 season concluded with a dismal 1-7-4 record, and a team overhaul followed. On June 14, 2013, new coach Brendan Murphy and the squad pulled out a dramatic 1-0 victory over the hated Erie Admirals, a team they had previously gone 0-7-1 against in just over three seasons of play. FC Buffalo fought their way to second place in the Great Lakes Division, securing their first-ever playoff berth, and the second ever by a local NPSL team. However, a 5-2 loss at the hands of Erie in the opening round ended their postseason trip early.

2014 saw the team move out of All-High Stadium to the Demske Sports Complex at Canisius College. The team slipped in the standings to 5-8-1 and missed a chance to become the first club to make back-to-back playoff appearances in the NPSL. A third place finish and two fifth place finishes have left FC Buffalo and its fans out of the playoffs for the past three seasons.


Waleed Cassis makes a save in FC Buffalo's first-ever road win against Erie, a 4-2 decision on May 16, 2014. 

FC Buffalo's third home (for one game) at Hamburg High School's Howe Field, May 16, 2015.
With such an erratic soccer history, the path to a successful marriage between fans and teams in Western New York is a long and rocky one. The only question left is whether or not the ninth time is a charm. Maybe Zsa Zsa can offer some personal insight into that one.

Editor's Note: Matt Birt is a former FC Buffalo intern and Hamburg High School student.

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